A recent survey of veterinarians found that household pets are treated more frequently than any other type of animal for fire ant related injuries. |
Pet owners should prepare now for the springtime invasion of fire ants -- especially if animals are kept outdoors.
Unlike many backyard pests, red imported fire ants are capable of delivering multiple, venomous stings that create a serious health threat for family pets. Injuries include a burning sensation from the poison injected into the skin, swelling, lesions, fluid buildup in the lungs and, in some rare cases, blindness.
Animals can suffer allergic reactions to fire ants just like people. Newborn animals are particularly at risk. Caged animals such as rabbits, hamsters and even birds are more likely to be harmed because they can't escape if fire ants enter the enclosure. Some veterinarians have to treat their kennel areas and around the clinics because fire ants attack recuperating animals.
"Fire ants are dangerous because they live where pets sleep, eat, run and play," says Bryan Gooch of Bayer Environmental Science. "As fire ants continue to spread across the United States, we encourage all pet owners to seek professional help to protect their pets from these dangerous and aggressive creatures."
Texas A&M University's Texas Imported Fire Ant Education Program offers the following tips for homeowners who want to safeguard their pets:
* Survey the area and inspect your property to determine whether there is an infestation, or call a lawn care professional (many offer free inspections). If one or more mounds are present, your property should be treated -- especially if you keep pets outside.
* Fire ants are more likely to attack young and caged animals and usually sting body parts with little or no hair, such as the eyes, ears and stomach first. Open sores, wounds and areas of diseased skin are also often targeted. Pets with these conditions should be kept indoors.
* If fire ants attack your pet, carefully and quickly remove the pet from the area and remove any fire ants from your pet. Do not attempt to spray ants off with a water hose because they will hang on with their jaws and sting the animal repeatedly.
Last but not least, investigate ways to safeguard family pets and property from the invasion of these aggressive creatures.
One of the biggest problems pet owners face is fire ants getting into pet food. For pets that are fed outside, this can be a daily occurrence. Whole bags of food can be infested. The problem then becomes what to do with a bowl or bag of pet food full of fire ants. Simply putting the bag in the trash does not work and could cause a colony to migrate closer to the source of food.
"Infested food must be discarded," says Charles Barr, a fire ant specialist and principal of Barr Research and Consulting in Bryan, Texas. "For the penny pinchers among us, putting the bowl or bag in the freezer for several hours will kill the ants and preserve the pet food."
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