Fire ants–putting our pets in danger
This past weekend I faced a small enemy that caused me a great deal of pain and aggravation. As I knelt down on what appeared to be a sandy clearing and began to photograph a spider, I felt as if my knee was being stabbed by small needles. I quickly got up and realized that I had just been attacked by fire ants that were defending their home from an unwelcome knee. At first the pain was localized but within a minute or so I began getting dizzy and my vision became blurry. After about another 10 minutes, most of my body surface was covered with a raised rash and I began to swell. My hands felt like balloons holding on to the steering wheel as I made my way to the emergency clinic that luckily was just minutes away down the road. “You’re wheezing and you got here just in time” the doctor said as he injected me with the lifesaving epinephrine and dexamethasone.
If such a dangerous condition could occur to a 185 pound human from the bites of a few fire ants, I can’t even imagine what could happen to a 6 pound cat. Fire ants do present a very serious danger to any cat or dog that is allowed to roam or left outside in the yard. Although not every animal will develop a serious allergic reaction to the venom like I did, the envenomation from these fire ants is powerful enough to be dangerous on its own.
A fire ant sand mound can be an attractive curiosity for an unsuspecting dog or cat. Fire ants have the potential to seriously injure or even kill a small animal if the animal is not able to move away from the sand mound. Once a potential danger is spotted, the colony of ants immediately attack with speed and ferocity injecting a poisonous alkaloid into the victim.
The best way to protect a pet is never to leave them outside alone. If there is no other option but to leave an animal outside in the yard alone, taking daily walks around the yard to inspect for dangers may help make it safe. Some over-the-counter topical medications such as Frontline Plus that contain Fipronil may provide some protection against fire ants and other dangerous insects.
If your pet has been bitten or is getting bitten, the first thing is to immediately move the pet away from the danger. If any fire ants are on the pet, brush them off (being careful not to get bitten by the ants yourself). There are conflicting ideas about using water to remove the ants but there is some evidence showing that the ants tend to “dig deeper” if exposed to water. I have never heard of a problem with just brushing them off. The ants are usually protecting their queen and home and have no interest in staying attached to the pets after moving away from the mound. After the ants are off the skin, inspect the area and wash it with some soap and water. Applying a diphenhydramine cream or a hydrocortisone cream to the site may provide some relief.
If you notice any kind of swelling or rash at a different area than the area that has been bitten, this could be a sign that the pet is allergic to the venom. Other signs that your pet is allergic could include vomiting, difficulty breathing, seeming disoriented, or if the pet appears to be in pain not related to the bite. Any symptom for which there is a whole body reaction taking place is a signal to get the pet to a veterinarian immediately. Waiting until the pet is having difficulty breathing will create a seriously life threatening situation that many pets do not recover from. The veterinarian may have to administer epinephrine and a steroid or diphenhydramine which will help ward off a life-threatening situation before it occurs. The veterinarian may also recommend giving the pet diphenhydramine for a few days until the danger has completely passed and the itching and scratching has improved.
Some of the best times that I can remember having with my dogs is running around with them and playing fetch in an open field. Understanding the dangers that come with spending time outdoors with our pets is crucial for keeping everyone healthy. As always, the best way to keep our pets healthy and safe is to develop a good relationship with your veterinarian and by asking questions when something is not clear. Additionally, if you have any questions about your pet’s medication, you may give one of the 1800PetMeds Pharmacists a call for assistance. It is never a good idea to use a product or give a medication to your pet that you do not fully understand how to use, or are not clear about the reason for its use.