Merck Manual

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Professional Version

Insect Bite Dermatitis in Dogs, Cats, Horses, and Rabbits


Sandra Diaz

, DVM, MS, DACVD, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, The Ohio State University

Reviewed/Revised Aug 2021 | Modified Oct 2022

Insect bite dermatitis is a worldwide problem caused by inflammatory mediators or toxic substances present in the saliva of various hematophagous insects. It typically affects dogs, cats, and horses. Clinical signs are characterized by small papules and wheals with central hemorrhagic crusts that can progress to multiple small ulcers. Lesions are found on the apexes of the pinnae of cats and dogs with erect ears or on the folded surfaces of the pinnae of dogs with flopped ears. The causative insect can vary with the season and environment and include, among others, mosquitoes Mosquitoes of Animals Mosquitoes are members of the family Culicidae. Important genera include Aedes, Anopheles, Culex, Culiseta, and Psorophora. Although they are tiny, fragile... read more (Aedes spp, Culex spp), the stable fly Stable Flies The stable fly, Stomoxys calcitrans, is often called the biting house fly. It is about the same in size and general appearance as Musca domestica, the house fly. It is brownish... read more (Stomoxys calcitrans), and black flies Black Flies of Animals Members of the family Simulidae are commonly called black flies (although their coloration may vary from black to gray to yellow to olive) or buffalo gnats (because their thorax is humped over... read more (Simulium spp). Mosquitoes can also cause a hypersensitivity reaction in cats Allergy in Dogs and Cats Allergy in Dogs and Cats , characterized by inflammatory lesions on the pinnae, face, and paws.

In horses, bites of the stable fly, black flies, and Culicoides spp Biting Midges of Animals The biting midges, “no-see-ums,” or punkies belong to the family Ceratopogonidae. The most common biting midges are Culicoides spp. They are associated with aquatic or semiaquatic habitats... read more can cause a hypersensitivity reaction or severe dermatitis that results in lesions on the dorsal and/or ventral trunk and face in addition to the pinna. Treatment includes fly repellents, controlling the fly population with environmental clean up (manure, compost, etc), and insecticides. Topical or oral short-acting glucocorticoids may be necessary to reduce the inflammation and pruritus in severe cases. Therapeutic face masks with ears can be use to decrease insect exposure.

The rabbit flea (Spilopsyllus cuniculi), found mainly in Europe and Australia, can affect dogs and cats, and it adheres tightly to the skin of the tip and edges of the pinna, where it may cause dermatitis. The rabbit flea is an important vector of diseases, including myxomatosis,

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