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What To Do If Your Dog Is Stung by a Bee

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Lindsay Butzer, DVM
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Dr. Lindsay Butzer
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Dog gets stung

Wasps, and hornets, and bees, oh my! Fuzzy, flying bugs that buzz can be tempting to curious canines. In the spring and summer, insect stings are common in dogs. Learn how you can protect your dog from bee stings and other bites this summer, what to do if your dog is stung, and how to determine when your dog might need emergency vet care.

What Happens When Your Dog Is Stung by a Bee (Or Wasp)

Bees, wasps, and hornets all have a stinger at the end of their body that they use to attack potential threats - in this case, your curious dog. But it’s not the stinger that causes pain and swelling, it’s the venom that’s injected into the site of the sting. Some dogs are allergic to this venom and could have a severe anaphylactic reaction, though this is uncommon, and symptoms are usually apparent within ten to thirty minutes.
Honey bees have a barbed stinger that detaches from their body when they sting. They’re the only flying insect that will actually die shortly after stinging. Wasps and hornets can sting multiple times.
The more times your dog is stung, the more severe the reaction can be because they’re getting a higher dose of venom. If your dog is stung many times, especially if they’re attacked by a swarm, they could be exposed to a dangerous, potentially fatal dose, even if they don’t have an allergy.

What To Do If Your Dog Is Stung

If you know or suspect your dog has been stung, you can minimize their discomfort and reduce the chances they’ll suffer a severe reaction by:

1. First, distance your dog from their winged attacker(s).
Some stinging bugs are aggressive and will sting repeatedly. The smell of the venom can also attract other bees or wasps. If possible, bring your dog inside.

2. Look for a stinger.
If the attacker may have been a honeybee, there could be a stinger still embedded in your dog’s skin. The stinger will continue to secrete venom into the bloodstream, especially if squeezed, so avoid using tweezers to remove it. Use a stiff object like a credit card to scrape it out.

3. Apply a baking soda paste
. Venom is acidic, so applying a high pH substance like baking soda is believed to neutralize it and reduce symptoms. Leave paste on the sting for at least 20 minutes.

4. Apply a cool compress.
Relieve swelling and numb pain by applying an ice pack or cool, wet rag to the sting site. If using an ice pack, wrap in a towel and leave on for no more than 20 minutes at a time.

5. Administer antihistamine (optional).
You can give your dog an over-the-counter antihistamine to control the immune system response, lessening the chances that they’ll have a severe allergic reaction. It’s safest to use Diphenhydramine (Generic Benadryl) formulated for dogs. Giving made-for-humans Benadryl can be risky as it’s difficult to dose accurately and can contain other ingredients that can be toxic to dogs, like alcohol or xylitol. The dose recommended by the Merck Veterinary Manual is 2–4 mg per kilogram of body weight or 1-2 mg per pound of body weight. Call your vet to confirm before administering any over-the-counter medication to your dog.

6. Monitor for symptoms.
Severe anaphylactic reactions to bee stings are rare in dogs, but they do happen. It’s more common for a dog to have a medical emergency after being stung many times by a swarm, or to have a sting on their face or in their mouth, which can impede breathing.

7. Seek emergency veterinary care if…
you notice extreme swelling, difficulty breathing, hives, seizures, lethargy, or if your dog has been stung on or near the face, mouth, or eyes.

Thankfully, most bee stings in dogs are mild and can be resolved at home. In rare cases, dogs can have a delayed allergic reaction with severe symptoms hours after the event. Most of the time, the pain and swelling start to diminish in a few hours and will be completely gone within a few days.


Preventing Future Bee Stings

The global honeybee population has seen a steep, steady decline over the past few decades due to climate change, parasites, pesticides, and habitat loss. We need bees to pollinate our food crops, as well as plants that provide food sources for wild animals. Wasps and hornets, too, keep our ecosystem in balance by preying on pests that damage crops. While they may pose a health risk to our beloved dogs, as animal lovers it’s important that we care for them too.
If there’s a bee, wasp, or hornet nest in your dog’s outdoor space, you may need to call an exterminator to remove it. If it’s a honeybee hive, you could find a local beekeeper to take it away from your property without harming the bees.
If there are plants on your property that bees love, which usually have fragrant, brightly-colored flowers, consider relocating them to an area that your dog does not frequent. For example, if your dog spends most of their time in your backyard, you can put bee-friendly flowers in a front garden or on your patio in planters. In the backyard, you can plant herbs that safely repel bees, such as mint, basil, and lavender.
Bees, wasps, and hornets are most active in the early afternoon just before sunset as the summer heat starts to die down, but the sun is still out. If your dog can’t seem to stay away from buzzing bugs, keep them on a leash, go for walks after 5PM, and keep an eye out for nests, both in trees and in the ground.
No matter how careful you are, there’s always a chance that your dog will get stung again. Keep a first aid kit stocked with doggy Benadryl and instant ice packs to fight back against bug bites.

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