While cats are less likely than dogs to fall victim to various insects, bugs, and arachnids, because they largely stay indoors, your feline friend is still at risk for potentially dangerous bites and stings from fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, flies, spiders, and bees. When a bug searches for a hot meal, or defends its home against your curious cat, these tiny pests can cause big problems.

By learning to identify the creature that bit or stung your cat, you can quickly and efficiently administer the appropriate treatment so they will rapidly recover. Knowing how to identify and treat your cat’s bug bites may save their life one day, so read on for tips on insect bite and sting management from our Just Cats Clinic team.

How to identify common bugs

With such a massive variety of insects, bugs, arachnids, and other biting and stinging pests, being able to identify the most common species is important. The most common bugs that can harm your cat include:

  • Fleas — Fleas are about the size of a pinhead, so are difficult to spot. Despite being tiny, the dark-brown fleas have six legs and can rapidly leap away as you try to remove them from your cat. You may also see red or black specks of flea dirt on your cat that indicate fleas are present.
  • Ticks — Ticks vary in color and size depending on species, but they have similar characteristics. Larval ticks have six legs, whereas nymphs and adults have eight. Immature ticks that have not yet fed can be as small as a sesame seed, while adult female ticks that have consumed a meal can reach the size of a small grape. Ticks can range in color from brown to red to gray, and many have unique markings.
  • Mosquitoes — Mosquitoes are the most voracious of blood-feeding flies, despite being tiny and fragile. They have two wings, a long proboscis, and vary in color.
  • Flies — Flies vary greatly in size, shape, and color. They can range from one millimeter to more than an inch long, and can be black, brown, yellow, or iridescent green. Eye placement is often key to identifying a specific fly species.
  • Spiders — More than 48,000 spider species exist worldwide, so identifying an exact species can be immensely challenging. Two spider groups are responsible for the most serious bites—widow and recluse spiders. Black widow spiders, which are the most common in the United States, are a dark grey or black with a red or orange hourglass mark on their round abdomen. Brown recluse spiders, which are the most medically significant species of recluse spiders, are yellow-brown with a violin-shaped mark on their backs.
  • Bees, wasps, and hornets — While similar in color and size, these pests have minor differences to help you differentiate them. Bees have a round, fuzzy body, whereas wasps and hornets are more streamlined and have a shiny, hairless shell.

Potential side effects of a bug bite

Bug bite side effects are as varied as the species themselves, but knowing what to look for can help you identify the biting or stinging culprit. Potential side effects when bugs bite your cat include:

  • Flea bites — While a flea bite or two likely won’t cause your cat much grief, a cat who is allergic to the protein in flea saliva will develop an incredibly itchy allergy response. You may notice your cat licking, chewing, or scratching where they were bitten, resulting in hair loss, skin inflammation, and scabs.
  • Tick bites — Tick bites can irritate and inflame the skin, and a swollen, crusted sore may appear after you’ve removed the tick.
  • Mosquito bites — Mosquito bites can cause itching, swelling, and redness, and your cat will lick, chew, or scratch at the site. They also carry heartworm disease.
  • Fly bites — Pain from a fly bite will vary based on the species and size of the biting pest. A fly that bites may transmit fly eggs, which can develop into serious Cuterebra or maggot infections.
  • Spider bites — Widow spider bites initially cause moderate pain, redness, and swelling, which then progresses to cramping, vomiting, tremors, and muscle rigidity. Brown recluse bites are typically not painful at first, but then develop a blister that becomes a bullseye-shaped lesion of tissue necrosis. 
  • Bee, wasp, or hornet stings — Pain, inflammation, and hives can develop, and your cat may begin vocalizing in pain and scratching at the sting site. Some cats are allergic to bees or wasps, so keep an eye out for a serious reaction, like vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, weakness, or collapse.

How to treat bug bites in cats

After you identify the source of the bite or sting in your cat, you can properly treat the problem: 

  • Step 1 — First, remove the bug or stinger. Do not squeeze a tick or an embedded stinger during removal, as this can cause transmission of pathogens or more venom. Using fine-tipped tweezers, carefully remove a tick from your cat’s skin, or scrape a credit card over the skin to remove a stinger.
  • Step 2 — Next, address any swelling with a cold compress placed on the bite or sting site. Wrap an ice pack in a towel to avoid placing the compress directly against your cat’s skin.
  • Step 3 — Ask your Just Cats Clinic veterinarian if an antihistamine or hydrocortisone should be administered orally or applied to the bite site.
  • Step 4 — Monitor your cat for severe allergic signs, such as difficulty breathing, drooling, disorientation, or facial swelling. If your cat signals any allergic reaction, seek emergency veterinary care.

A bug bite or sting can cause your cat more than discomfort and may require more than treatment for inflammation. If your cat has been bitten or stung by a bug, contact our Just Cats Clinic team for help.