The presence of red-imported fire ants (RIFA) in Texas is well known to residents of the state, as this insect species’ sting transmits a dangerously potent venom into the bloodstream, making RIFA a public health concern. While most people likely associate RIFA with the painful and dangerous stings that they inflict on humans, pets and small animals are far more likely to sustain RIFA stings than humans. In fact, a survey conducted by veterinarians found that pets (mostly dogs) are treated for RIFA stings more often than any other type of animal.
There are several reasons as to why pets are particularly vulnerable to sustaining medically significant RIFA stings. Some of these reasons are obvious, while others would surprise most people. For example, it is not well known that RIFA are attracted to pet food. RIFA often blanket pet food bowls, covering the pet’s food source entirely. Not surprisingly, this ant behavior leads to many nasty and dangerous pet injuries inflicted by large numbers of RIFA. In addition to the pain and medical significance of RIFA stings inflicted around and inside of the nose and mouth of pets, these encounters can make pets avoid consuming their food in fear of a repeat attack.
Most pet owners are mindful about where they allow their pets to wonder, as disease-spreading ticks are abundant in many regions of the US, but most residents feel comfortable allowing their pets to run and play within the confines of their property. Unfortunately, RIFA are known for establishing habitats in a vast array of environments and landscapes, and the ants are by no means uncommon in residential yards in Texas. When RIFA are disturbed, thousands will emerge from their underground nesting galleries with the intention of stinging the source of the disturbance. The roughhousing and digging behaviors demonstrated by many dog breeds is more than enough to rally the ants from their nests. Given the much smaller size of pets compared to humans, RIFA venom has a far more dangerous effect on pets, and multiple stings are sufficient for delivering a lethal dose of venom into an animal’s bloodstream. Although RIFA habitats cannot be eradicated entirely, the ants can be controlled to the point where they no longer pose a threat to humans or pets. Simply keeping an eye out for RIFA specimens and nesting mounds on a property can prevent dangerous encounters between the ants and your pet/s.
Has your pet ever sustained a medically significant insect or arachnid sting or bite?