How to Identify Insects on Dogs

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As a dog parent, you need to be aware of the insects that can affect your companion. If you see a bug on your pet, it might be an external parasite that could possibly transmit disease. Plus, some parasites could also infect humans.

You can identify what type of insects are on your dog.
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While certain insects are easy to see, others might only become apparent once your dog starts exhibiting symptoms. Either way, as soon as you're aware that your dog has parasites, it's necessary to treat the problem.

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Are the poppy-seed-looking bugs on my dog fleas?

There are more than 2,000 species of fleas, and they bite their host to eat their blood. In the process, they might spread tapeworms and diseases like typhus and bubonic plague. You might realize there's a problem when your dog starts scratching because of itchy flea bites.

These tiny dark brown bugs can be hard to spot because adults are roughly the size of a sesame seed or poppy seed, and despite being wingless, they can jump several inches to move away from a threat or reach their next host, which can be a human or another pet. But even if you don't see the bugs, you might notice flea dirt, which is their feces, in your dog's fur or on a flea comb, as it looks like black poppy seeds.

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An infestation can happen surprisingly fast if you don't eliminate every stage of the life cycle: flea eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults. So, if you spot fleas on your pet or in your home, take action by using a veterinarian-recommended treatment. Using a safe flea prevention product may help you avoid infestations.

What are the signs of bed bugs on dogs?

You might notice signs that bed bugs bitten your dog. For example, your dog may start licking, scratching, and biting themself because they're itchy, or there might be visible red bumps in a line on your pet's skin.‌ Bed bugs bite to feed on blood and can affect humans too. However, they won't stay on your dog like fleas will. Instead, they'll hide in the environment, so they might find their way to your pet's bedding. You might see the bugs, their feces, or their exoskeletons after they've shed.

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It can be difficult to notice nymphs because they're not only as small as poppy seeds but also a whitish-yellow, translucent color. Adults, on the other hand, tend to be easier to spot because they're oval, flat, brown, and roughly the same size as an apple seed. Also, when these bugs feed, they swell and become redder.

When you have bed bugs, it can be challenging to get rid of them on your own, so you might need to call experts for assistance.

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Is the brown bug on my dog a tick?

Ticks are another type of parasite that can get on your dog, feed on their blood, and drop off to land back in the environment. ‌Ticks vary in size and appearance based on their species, gender, and life stage. They can be so small that they're difficult to see.‌ Generally, a larva might look like a grain of sand, a nymph might be as small as a poppy seed, and an adult might be the size of a sesame seed or apple seed. However, after they've swelled with blood from feeding, they might be as big as a raisin. If one is latched and feeding, you might feel it on your dog while petting them even if you don't see it right away.

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These bugs can feed on humans too. In the process, they might transmit a disease, such as Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis. Hepatozoonosis is also a threat if your dog eats an infected tick. Because different types of ticks could spread different diseases, it's a good idea to learn about the ticks that are prevalent in your area.

Unfortunately, ticks are becoming increasingly common, so pet parents need to take steps to prevent tick bites whenever their dogs go outside, especially in wooded areas. Your veterinarian can recommend a regular flea and tick preventative you can give to your dog. Consistent administration of preventatives are an important part of keeping your dog safe and preventing tickborne diseases. Also, if you find a tick on your dog, it's imperative that you remove it carefully and correctly.

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Dog skin parasites

In addition to bugs that feed on blood, there are those that attack the skin.

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Dog lice infestation

Sucking lice feed on blood, while chewing lice feed on skin debris, fur, and secretions. Dog lice can be spread from one dog to another, but they won't affect humans. Symptoms might include scratching or biting at the skin because of itchiness, perhaps to the point of causing wounds that might be susceptible to secondary infections. The fur might become rough or matted, or there might be hair loss.

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These insects are flat and small, but you might see them hanging on your dog's hair if you look closely and move the fur so you can examine the skin. Adults are only about the size of sesame seeds and could range from brown to yellow. Nymphs will look like adults but smaller. The tiny eggs (aka nits) are whitish or yellowish, and they won't come off even if you bathe your pet.

If your dog has lice, your veterinarian can prescribe the right treatment to get rid of them.

Mites on dogs

Mites can cause various types of mange, such as sarcoptic mange (canine scabies) and demodectic mange as well as otodectic mange caused by ear mites and cheyletiellosis (walking dandruff). Also, some mites, like those causing scabies and cheyletiellosis, can spread to other pets and humans

In the case of walking dandruff, you might see the mites moving along your pet's fur. However, you may not always be able to see other types of mites. Instead, your dog might exhibit symptoms like intense itching that leads to scratching and biting. Skin injuries, sores, scabs, hair loss, and secondary infections might also occur. When there are ear mites, you might notice what looks like coffee grounds in your dog's ear, and your pet may scratch their ear and shake their head a lot.

Your veterinarian can diagnose the type of mite that's causing your pet's symptoms and can prescribe the appropriate treatment to get rid of mange.

Other biting bugs on dogs

Other bugs that can bite your dog include mosquitoes, which could transmit heartworm, and bees, wasps, hornets, spiders, and ants, which could sting or bite and cause allergic reactions.

To help keep your pet safe from tiny but dangerous insects and parasites, administer a year-round veterinary-recommended heartworm preventative to your dog, and do your best to stop your dog from going near stinging insects.

The bottom line

There are a variety of insects that can affect dogs. Some, like fleas and ticks, are parasites that feed on blood and might even cause anemia in severe cases. Biting insects might also transmit diseases and spread to other animals and pet owners. Therefore, it's wise to familiarize yourself with the bugs that could infect your pet and infest your home. Whenever you need to eliminate these pests, follow a veterinarian's directions carefully to ensure you do so safely and effectively.

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