One of the best parts of having a yard is sharing it with furry friends. But when fire ants invade your neighborhood, backyard play becomes hazardous for dogs, cats and other pets. Veterinarians report that small animals and pets comprise more fire ant patients than any other animal type.1 By taking simple steps to prevent fire ant injuries, you can protect your pets against fire ant stings and bites.
1. Identify Fire Ant Hot Spots in Your Yard
Fire ant mounds can pop up just about anywhere, especially after a nice heavy rain. But most yards have hot spots where fire ant mounds are more likely to appear. Fire ants often build their mounds in sunny open areas, making lawns prime fire ant zones. Other spots to watch include:
- High-traffic or grass-free paths.
- Cultivated soil in and around flower gardens.
- Areas near water faucets, sprinklers or pools.
- Lawn strips near sidewalks and driveways.
- Utility boxes, which fire ants sometimes take over.
By keeping an eye on spots where fire ants may strike, you can intervene quickly if mounds appear. If you're new to fire ant country, learn how to identify fire ants and fire ant mounds so you're prepared to protect your pets and family.
2. Know Your Pets and Their Habits
Understanding your pet's personality and behavior can help predict and prevent fire ant run-ins. If your dog likes to patrol the property line, creating a path where they walk or run, fire ants may choose that same path to build their latest mound. If your pets like to roll or dig in fresh, fluffy soil, new fire ant mounds can be irresistible — until painful, burning stings occur.
Times of change, such as moving into a new neighborhood or welcoming a new pet, are ideal times to alter pet habits and your own. Train your pets to avoid mounds of dirt and digging. Establish clear boundaries around gardens and other hot spots. Designate special rest and play zones for your pets in shaded areas, which fire ants tend to avoid.
Spilled or leftover food in outdoor pet bowls can lead to a frenzy of foraging fire ants, so remove excess food and bowls to prevent predictable stings. If your pets usually rush out the door ahead of you, slow them down in fire ant country. Take a few minutes to scan your yard for new fire ant mounds before you turn pets loose to run and play.
3. Get Proactive With Fire Ant Treatments
Most fire ant activity happens underground, not in the mounds you see. Even when your yard seems free of fire ants, they may be at work beneath your feet. By being proactive and treating fire ants before they make themselves known, you can prevent new mounds and protect your pets in the process.
Fire ants go deeper and cause fewer problems for pets and people during winter and hot summer months. Fire ant season peaks in spring and fall. The best way to kill fire ants and fire ant mounds starts with treating your entire yard. Then treat any individual fire ant mounds that appear.
Always read product labels carefully to make sure products are okay for use around pets. Avoid ineffective fire ant home remedies, which can put pets at further risk. Clear the area of people and pets when applying fire ant treatments. Then follow label guidelines for when you can all reenter the yard and play again. Depending on which fire ant product is best for you, you may need to wait until liquids dry, dust settles or a certain amount of time has passed.
Never leave fire ant baits in piles that can look like food to pets or kids. Never apply any type of lawn and garden product, including fire ant killers, directly to an animal or a person.
4. Be Prepared for Fire Ant Bites and Stings
Most fire ant stings don't require medical attention, but pets can have reactions just like humans do. When curious pets disturb mounds, fire ants attack in unison and sting repeatedly. Thick fur provides some protection, but tender noses, muzzles, ears, eyes, mouths and feet are vulnerable. The danger is most significant for small or young animals.
Keep a pair of heavy gloves and a pet brush handy. (Long, thorn-proof "rose" gloves work great.) If fire ants attack your pet, don't try to dislodge them with water from a hose. Fire ants bite to hold on, then they sting and release their venom. Hosing makes them cling harder and sting more. Instead, get your pet away from the area. Then brush fire ants off with gloved hands.1 Check for fire ants hiding deep in fur.
Watch stung pets carefully, just as you would a person. Sting sites can swell and form itchy, fluid-filled pustules, just like people get. Swelling from nose stings can interfere with breathing, and other reactions can occur. If your pet starts breathing heavily, can't stop scratching or biting, or worries you in any other way, call your family veterinarian immediately.
Whether you're new to fire ant country or you've been fighting fire ants for years, you can take back your yard for yourself and your pets. By staying alert and proactive with the best fire ant killers for yards and mounds, you can protect your pets and the rest of your family from fire ants.
1. Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project, "Fire Ant Control Methods and Pets," Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.