How to Keep Your Dog Safe From Mosquito Bites (and the Diseases They Carry)

·5 min read

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You go outside, and you're buzzed by mosquito after mosquito. Maybe you're that person who always gets swarmed. You're constantly slapping them away!

So, how come your dog seems unfazed? Does that mean Buster's not getting bit? No way, say veterinary and parasitology experts. Your dog may not show it, but dogs do get bit by mosquitos right along with us.

Can Dogs Get Mosquito Bites Like We Do?

The big difference between you and your dog in getting mosquito bites is you're more likely to notice them. For whatever reason, many dogs don't seem as bothered. They're not thinking about how these insects are sucking their blood and potentially leaving behind disease and ugly, raised welts.

Your dog's fur isn't much of a deterrent either, says Cassan Pulaski, PhD, acting director of the Parasitology Diagnostic Lab at the University of Georgia Department of Infectious Diseases. A mosquito's proboscis (the pointy, blood-sucking part) can go right past a thick layer of fur. A mosquito may choose to go for more vulnerable parts of a dog, like the ears, nose, mouth, and belly, but bites can happen almost anywhere on a dog.

Signs Your Dog Has a Mosquito Bite

Because a mosquito can bite past your dog's fur, you may never see evidence of a bite. Some dogs, however, just like people, can have a more extreme reaction from their immune system.

"Some can get tons of bites and have no reaction," Pulaski says. "Other dogs get itchy and may develop rashes or redness."

Tennessee veterinarian Gene Maxwell, DVM, says he occasionally sees dogs or cats that spend a lot of time outdoors develop skin lesions on the bridge of their noses or tips and inner surface of the ears.

"We diagnose these pets with mosquito bite hypersensitivity," Maxwell says.

Types of Diseases Mosquitoes Carry

Bites are annoying, but the big problem is disease that mosquitoes carry: Zika virus, West Nile virus, Chikungunya virus, dengue, and malaria, to name a few. The biggest threat for dogs? Heartworms.

Heartworm disease in your dog is impossible to see at first, as a tiny egg left behind from a mosquito bite grows into a worm that slowly travels through your dog to reach the pulmonary arteries between the heart and lungs. Eventually, heartworms grow large enough to make it difficult for your dog to breathe and for your dog's heart to pump enough to stay alive.

"It's an awful way to die," Pulaski says. "Dogs get fluid in the abdomen because the heart can't pump enough. Organs fail."

Heartworm disease used to be prevalent just in particular areas of the country, but cases have now been seen in every state. Both the American Heartworm Society and the Companion Animal Parasite Council track heartworm or other parasite dangers for your pets. You can even check out forecast maps of parasite problems for your pets.

Veterinarians strongly recommend year-round heartworm preventive medication for dogs. If cost is an issue, Pulaski says there are a variety of options, from once-a-year injectables to monthly pills.

"Dog owners need to talk to their veterinarian about this," she says.

Maxwell agrees: "Heartworm treatment is expensive, long, and difficult." Preventive is cheaper.

How to Treat Mosquito Bites on Dogs

If you're not administering heartworm preventive medicine consistently to your dog, talk to your veterinarian. A mosquito bite means your dog may have been exposed. If your dog is on heartworm preventive and the bite isn't driving your dog crazy with itching, there's probably nothing you need to do.

However, Pulaski says a dog who's "aggressively allergic" and really bothered by bites may need medicine. Because doses are very different for dogs than people when it comes to medicine, check with your veterinarian for the right over-the-counter human medicine or pet-specific medicine to help. For bites you can see, pet-specific or sensitive-skin baby wipes on the bites may soothe the itching a little.

How to Keep Mosquitoes Off Your Dog

The old advice used to be that dawn and dusk were the worst times to be bit by mosquitos, but Cassan says new imported breeds of the bugs bite all day, every day. Here are some ways to keep your yard and dog mosquito-free year-round:

Get rid of standing water.

Mosquitoes lay eggs in standing water. Look for collected water in your front yard and backyard, and get rid of it. If your dog is prone to getting bit and reacting badly, steer clear of watery spots on your hikes.

Fan out.

If your dog sits out on the porch, consider a box fan. Mosquitoes are terrible flyers, and the fan can help to blow them away. Sounds funny, but it works, Pulaski says.

Talk to your veterinarian about pet-safe mosquito repellent.

Dogs react differently to chemicals than people, so it's always good to go for a pet-specific product. Maxwell has recommended the K9 Advantix products for use on dogs.

Use year-round heartworm preventive.

Remember, the worst part of mosquitoes for most pets is the risk of contracting heartworm disease. (That goes for cats too.) Talk to your veterinarian about a heartworm preventive medicine that fits your lifestyle and your budget.

Mosquitoes seem terrible, and they can be. Pulaski just cautions dog owners not to get angry at these blood-suckers. They provide an important role in nature, pollinating plants (like bees) and getting eaten by the birds you love around your backyard.

"It's just a handful of species that are the troublemakers," Pulaski says. If we can cut down on the ones that carry heartworm disease and other terrible illnesses that ravage pets and people, maybe we can all tolerate a little buzzing and biting occasionally.