When people talk about fire ants, they’re typically referring to red imported fire ants. Originally from South America, they were accidentally introduced to the United States from a cargo shipment. Anyone who has mistakenly stepped on a fire ant mound knows how painful the stings are, and pet owners may worry about the effect of fire ant stings on their cat or dog. Discover if fire ants can hurt your pet and how you can help him avoid fire ants when he’s outside.

Can Fire Ants Hurt Your Pet?

Fire Ants: Can They Hurt Your Pets?
Image via Flickr by tedmurphy

If your pet disturbs a fire ant nest, the ants will sting with an alkaloid venom. For most pets, this sting will cause pain and redness, but it’s not life threatening. However, for pets that are small, very young or old, have difficulty moving, or already have other health problems, these stings can be fatal.

Fire Ants and Pet Food

Along with accidentally disturbing a nest while running, playing, or digging near a mound, pets can also come in contact with fire ants if you leave food outside in a bowl. Pet food attracts fire ants, and they will swarm a bowl to eat. These swarms make it nearly impossible for your pet to get to his food, or if your pet does try to eat, he could end up with painful stings on his eyes, nose, tongue, and upper gastrointestinal tract.

Controlling Fire Ants in Your Yard

If you have a pet and notice fire ant mounds in your yard, you’ll likely feel safer treating the area to remove the nests. There are several options available. You can call a professional pest control company or use the two-step method of baits and mound treatments.

With this method, you’ll start by putting out baits that fire ants will take back to their underground nests. Next, you’ll target individual mounds with a liquid, granular, or dust insecticide and water. No matter which option you decide on, it’s best to keep your pet away from the area until the treatment is dry.

What to Do if Fire Ants Sting Your Pet

If fire ants do sting your pet, you need to immediately remove him from the area and get a pair of gloves to brush or pick off any remaining fire ants. Don’t try to hose the ants off with water because this will make them panic and bite even harder. Watch your pet for signs of anaphylactic shock, which includes trouble breathing, lethargy, drooling, and vomiting shortly after getting stung, and call your vet immediately if your pet’s behavior changes.

Fire ant bites become very itchy as they start to heal. A baking soda and water paste or ice packs can help provide some relief. Also consider an Elizabethan collar to keep your pet from digging and scratching at the bites. Finally, keep an eye out for swelling around the sting area, which could indicate an infection that requires medical treatment.

While fire ants are dangerous for certain pets, they’re also painful nuisances for everyone. These tips can help all family members avoid fire ants when they’re outside.