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Fire Pants

by User Not Found | Oct 25, 2012

This is the true story of a golden retriever named Gus.  One day he ate a fire ant nest and gave his mom a heart attack.  Perhaps it is time, once again to talk about emergencies.

With three dogs at my house, wiping feet when its wet outside is a regular assembly line.  It’s like a clown car of goldens thru the sliding door and happily those in my pack are on their own time line.  Gracie is always back first, Shaggy second and Gus is last.  He takes the scenic route thru the backyard also known as the longest way to the back door possible.  When I stood up from wiping Gracie’s feet, Shaggy was waiting at the door and Gus was out in the far reaches of the back yard.  It took a moment to register that he was chomping away at something and approximately one nano second after that to put together that it was the mound of sand I had seen earlier in the week.  I know what you’re thinking, you saw a fire ant hill in your backyard and just left it? Oh heck no, I poked it with a stick earlier in the week and saw no sign of ants so I figured they had moved on and then just left it.  I yelled (probably a little too loud and panic-like) NO!  GUS COME!  I think he sensed it because he immediately stopped and started his mosey back toward the house.  All of a sudden he broke out in a full run right towards me.  When he got close enough, I could see his face covered in what looked like dirt, but it was not dirt.  I grabbed him by the collar and threw (he’s 85 pounds, so I use that term loosely) him back out on to the deck.  I couldn’t hear the ants because they have little bitey mouths and they speak ant, but I’m pretty sure if I could translate, they were all yelling GET HIM!!!  Whether it was God or evolution, I feel like something went terribly wrong to have created a little bug that can latch on with pinchers and sting you repeatedly (up to 20 times) and simultaneously call 1000 of its closest friends to do the same.  Gus’s entire head, front legs and feet, and chest were covered in ants.  The little creatures were even hanging from his whiskers and eyelids.  It’s amazing what runs thru your brain in moments like these.  In my human brain, when faced with this kind of pain, you do things that you would never imagine yourself doing, like being compelled to pull off my pants in the middle of the backyard and run around screaming (my true fire ant story).  Those of you who have been attacked are not laughing right now….you know.  Given that it is impossible for me to remove my dog’s clothing or fur as it were, my first thought was the hose.  I instead decided to grab the towel that was hanging on the railing nearby.  Franticly I raked the towel over the ants trying to knock them off.  This technique was just successful enough to get the visible ants off and keep me from grabbing the hose.  Now for those of you that know your golden retriever’s hair intimately, you know how awful the next 45 minutes were.  Meticulously I picked thru his hair with my fingers grabbing any of the little buggers I could find.  They were everywhere, between his toes, hanging from his lips and nose and nestled in between layers of fur.  Not so fun fact: fire ants actually have pinchers positioned on their heads that they use to grasp their prey, in this case, my poor, or dumb depending on how you look at it, dog.  Affixed at the other end of the ant is a stinger which is actually used to inject venom.  The pinchers allow them to grab on and move in a circle, repeatedly stinging (up to 20 times) and injecting venom.  Gus was by no means cooperative as he pawed incessantly at his face trying to stop the stinging pain. 

At last the ants were gone and what was left of my beautiful dog was red, swollen and wagging.  Emergency tip number one was executed perfectly by Gus, Run like hell.  Getting out of the immediate area reduces the number of ants.  Remember that part about calling 1000 of its closest friends, a charming trait of the fire ant is that it sends chemical signals to its buddies and before you know what’s happening, they have swarmed.  Emergency tip number two, DO NOT use a hose or water.  Water only makes the ants panic which means they latch on tighter and sting more aggressively.  Emergency tip number three, never let your guard down.  When at last Gus was clear of the ants, I was able to regain my logical scientific brain, which went immediately to things like venom + dog = allergic reaction.  Gus appeared to be fine, tail wagging and such, but with the number of stings he had and the red swollen welts that were obvious, I knew we weren’t out of the woods.  Naturally as we picked off the last few ants, these thoughts crossed my mind and I ran to the kitchen where I keep a reserve of Benadryl.  I grabbed three pills and some cheese and Gus gobbled them down happily.  Because I am such a nerd, I also own a copy of the Merck Veterinary Manual where I was able to track down reliable information on fire ant venom.  To summarize, in lay terms, aside from learning some interesting history on the little demons it went on to say that big red welts were common and usually resolve within an hour.  Whew!  Unfortunately, it continued….then these welts turn zit-like and can get infected because they itch like crazy!  Ok that’s not too bad….in areas where there are lots of bites, swelling and fluid build-up can stop blood flow to a limb….ok that’s not great…..blah, blah, blah, anaphylaxis!!!  “Deaths due to anaphylaxis occur within minutes following the sting, whereas deaths due to venom toxicity occur >24 hours after the sting.”  Crap.

Most people have heard of anaphylaxis, it’s a life-threatening allergic reaction to something.  Humans who are aware of these allergies carry special medication called EpiPens.  I knew Gus was ok for the time being, he had Benadryl on board and he would have reacted already if he was going to as we were well into an hour of this ordeal.  I carefully watched around his face and nose to make sure his nose didn’t swell too much and obstruct his breathing.  I used cool compresses to soothe his skin and to help the swelling go down.  However, what is known as a “delayed” allergic reaction was still a concern and he was at risk.  My gut was to continue to give him Benadryl for a couple of days to at least ward off evil spirits.  I also phoned a friend.  On the advice of an actual veterinarian, I would continue to give Gus Benadryl for at least 72 hours.  And here he lays on his spot on the couch just fine and no worse for the wear.

Nearly anything can cause an allergic reaction, so always be on your guard.  Moral of the story…

  1. Fire Ants are Bad News so keep your dog and everyone else for that matter away from them (and anything that stings, bites, or swarms)
  2. Keep Benadryl on hand, (1mg per pound, i.e. one 25mg tablet for a 25lb dog) but make sure you understand how and when to use it and if you don’t, call the vet.  Most clinics have emergency vets on call who are happy to answer your questions. 
  3. Remember that all allergic reactions can be serious, so make sure to take precautions and keep a close eye on your furry friends.

Cheers,

Katie and Gus

Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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