What to Do If Your Dog Gets Stung by a Bee
From how to get the stinger out at home to when it’s time to go to the ER.
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Spring has sprung, but stopping to smell the roses increases your dog’s chances of getting stung by a bee. I kicked off my Saturday morning shift at the vet hospital by treating the cutest puffy-faced dog who experienced his first acute allergic reaction. In my experience, most pet parents won’t even notice that their pup has suffered a bee string, which is why there’s so much bewilderment and concern when their dog’s mouth blows up like a balloon. Below, I’ve ventured to create a guide for what to do if your dog accidentally bites a bee, how to remove a stinger, and when to see a vet.
How to Know When Your Dog is Stung by a Bee
Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor and emergency and critical care specialist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that pet parents may not always know when their animal has been stung since bees are the only insects that actually leave stingers behind.
The typical culprits that bite and sting dogs are bees, wasps, and spiders. When a bee stings a dog, it usually results in an acute allergic reaction, a common veterinary emergency. Because dogs are curious sniffers, they’re usually stung on their face or a paw, but it’s important to note that stings may occur anywhere.
Symptoms of a Dog Bee Sting or Insect Bite
Dogs who are stung or bitten can experience everything from mild to life-threatening reactions. Mild reactions include a swollen or puffy face, pain in the swollen area, swelling and redness around the eyes, lumps and bumps over the skin, redness of the skin, head shaking, and itchiness.
More severe cases result in what we call an anaphylactic reaction. Anaphylaxis is nearly immediate and can be life-threatening. “Dogs that have facial swelling, severe itching, hives, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or collapse after a sting could be allergic to bee stings,” Dr. Rutter explains. Other signs to look for are staggering, pale gums, and swelling of the larynx that leads to difficulty breathing.
Most dogs that I see for anaphylaxis are reported to have vomited once followed by collapsing, and when I perform a physical exam, I generally see pale gums and a poor pulse, indicating a state of shock.
What to Do if Your Dog is Stung by a Bee or Insect
Veterinary attention is required if your dog is showing any signs of an allergic reaction. While seeking medical care, you can also remember the A-Bee-Cs of bites and stings:
“A” is for Assist
When a honeybee stings a dog, its stinger becomes detached from its body and the bee dies. What’s left in the dog is the stinger and a tiny piece of fleshy-looking tissue, the venom sac. Wasps or bumblebees, on the other hand, can sting repeatedly because their stingers do not detach.
If your pet was stung, try to locate a stinger. If there is one, try to remove it by scraping it out with a credit card or plucking it out with tweezers. Be careful not to put pressure on the venom sac during its removal, as this will inject more venom into your dog. If you don’t feel confident in removing the stinger, wait until your veterinarian can do it.
“B” is for Baking Soda
To help neutralize some of the acidic venom, apply a paste of baking soda mixed with water to the sting area.
“C” is for Cool Compress
Apply a cool compress to the area to help reduce swelling and pain. This will also help constrict the blood vessels, thereby “slowing” the spread of venom. If there are any signs of facial swelling, vomiting, breathing difficulty, or collapse, have your dog examined by a veterinarian immediately. Mild clinical signs can quickly become severe, and early treatment will generally prevent continued progression of the reaction.
Lastly, if your dog is stung by an insect, you shouldn’t give your dog any medications before contacting your vet — with one exception. Pet parents who go on remote hikes with no access to professional care often raise concern about needing more immediate emergency treatment.
In these cases, you can carry with you, and give if needed, one milligram of Benadryl (which is typically administered by injection) orally for every one pound of body weight. (For example, a 50-pound dog can get 50 milligrams of Benadryl.) This is not a substitute for veterinary care, but can be helpful at “buying time” as you make your way to the closest vet office.
Can Anaphylaxis Be Prevented?
In general, there is no way to predict if a dog will have an allergic reaction to a bee sting, or whether it will be mild or severe. Some dogs have no reaction to an initial sting, and a severe reaction to the next. If your dog has more than one severe reaction to an insect sting, address the issue with your vet.
You can ask them about getting a prescription for an “epi-pen” if your dog has experienced an anaphylactic reaction in the past. This is a special syringe filled with a single dose of epinephrine and is similar to the type used for people who are highly allergic. You can carry this with you on trips or hikes and use it if your dog experiences another severe reaction.
How to Prevent Dog Bee Stings and Bites
When outside with your dog, keep an eye out for foraging bees on flowers, swarms of bees, and beehives — especially if Africanized bees, a more aggressive version of the European honeybee, live in the area. They should also be wary of wasp nests and yellow jacket burrows, which can be a source of multiple stings if a dog gets too close.
“A single sting is usually not a big deal, but multiple stings can be life threatening and potentially have long-term complications,” Rutter says. “Keep pets from investigating under porches and houses, or in shrubbery, outbuildings, or known locations of nests/hives.”
Though insect stings are never pleasant — for dogs or humans — prompt veterinary care can minimize the effects and ensure your dog has a safe, pleasant experience with the great outdoors.
Dr. Shea Cox, DVM, CVPP, CHPV
Dr. Shea Cox is the founder of BluePearl Pet Hospice and is a global leader in animal hospice and palliative care. With a focus on technology, innovation and education, her efforts are changing the end-of-life landscape in veterinary medicine.