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If you find you dog scratching away frequently, you might not be completely wrong in suspecting a flea infestation. However, fleas are not the only cause of itches and skin irritation. Insect stings and bites are also common in dogs. Some of them cause minimal symptoms, while others can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. Swelling and redness in the affected area are the most common symptoms of insect bites. If the reaction is more severe, you may notice hives along with swelling of the muzzle and the face. If your dog is sensitive to the proteins in the saliva or venom of the insect, you will see more obvious signs like difficulty breathing, vomiting, and in extreme cases, death.
- Flying insects – Wasps and bees are active during the summer and spring. Dogs are often stung on their muzzle when they are sniffing an insect. A sting in the oral cavity is frequent when a dog bites or snaps at a bug. If you see a stinger, remove it wit the help of tweezers and apply some topical antibacterial ointment.
- Spiders – Most of the spiders found in the United States are not poisonous, but spider bites can cause pain and localized swelling. However, the black widow, hobo spider and brown recluse are poisonous and their bites can be serious. The hobo spider and the brown recluse's venom lead to localized tissue death and will leave behind an ulcer that will take time to heal. Bites from the black widow causes little swelling, but can cause paralysis and intense pain that may last up to two days.
- Ticks – They cause not only swelling, but carry deadly diseases. Be careful when you are removing a tick. If you are not comfortable, spray the dog with an approved tick spray. That will kill the tick and make it easy to remove it. Never pull the tick by its body as it can release bacteria into the bloodstream and leave the mouth parts and head behind in the skin. Prevention is usually the best defense against ticks. There are many good tick and flea products on the market.
- Fleas – Dogs that have flea allergies often scratch and bite at their tail. Hair loss is seen on top and around the tail due to the extreme itchiness caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva of the flea. By using a flea comb or spreading the hair, you will be able to see black specks or fleas that look like dirt. Use a moist cotton ball to pick up the black specks. You will see a red color as flea dirt is just digested blood. In dogs that are allergic to fleas, treat the dog and your home for fleas to relieve the itchy dog.
You can try over-the-counter treatment like antihistamines for allergic reactions. A dose of 1 mg per pound of body weight every eight hours is recommended. Drowsiness is a common side-effect. If the affected area is localized, you can apply hydrocortisone cream. If the area is infected, a triple antibiotic like Neosporin may help. If your dog has noticeable swelling in the face, pain, difficulty breathing or intense itching, you should see a vet immediately.