Your dog is playing on the lawn. It’s a sunny afternoon and there are lots of bees around. Suddenly he starts pawing at his face and is more agitated than usual. Your dog has been stung by a bee.
Dogs are particularly prone to stings because they explore the world with their noses, bringing them in close proximity to bees, wasps, and hornets. While we humans often get stung on our extremities, dogs experience a disproportionate number of stings right to the face. If they are exceptionally unlucky and their exploring brings them in contact with a nest, they can be the victim of multiple stings.
What Happens During a Bee Sting?
A honeybee’s barbed stinger is actually a modified ovipositor. When a victim is stung, the stinger remains in the wound, killing the bee. The stinger is fed by a venom sac, which can continue to pump venom into the wound even after the bee has detached. For this reason, it is best to remove the stinger as quickly as possible. That’s easier said than done in a pet with lots of fur.
Most bee stings cause localised irritation and pain, so you will notice your pet pawing at his face or licking his toes, the two most common places for them to be stung. If you can locate the stinger, remove it immediately, as it can continue to release venom into the skin for several minutes.
How do I remove the sting?
Use a credit card or similar firm piece of cardboard or plastic. It’s best to remove the stinger by using a scraping action. Pinching the stinger with tweezers or fingers can actually squeeze more venom into the wound.
How do I treat the wound?
The sting area will be painful and swollen. Wash with cool water and soap, and apply a cold compress to reduce swelling if your pet will stand for it. There are some over-the-counter creams that will help reduce swelling but it is always best to ask your vet what’s best as some pets may be allergic to some ointments. Swelling is usually mild and resolves within a day or two. If the swelling or pain does not improve or continues to worsen, contact your vet immediately.
When should I take my pet to the vet for a bee sting?
Just as in people, some dogs are allergic to bee venom and can have a sudden and life threatening reaction to a sting. This is a true medical emergency. It usually happens shortly after the sting – within minutes. Pets may have vomiting and diarrhoea, seem disoriented and weak, show difficulty breathing, or even collapse. Their gums turn pale as they lapse into shock.
If your pet exhibits signs of shock, do not hesitate. Head to the nearest veterinary clinic. Pets in shock need an IV catheter, aggressive fluid therapy, and injectable steroids and antihistamines. They may even require epinephrine. Shock can be reversed if addressed rapidly, but without treatment it is quickly fatal. Fortunately, these reactions are rare.
Having your pet evaluated by a veterinarian is never a wrong choice; if you feel your pet’s swelling and discomfort is significant, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, particularly when swelling in the head area is involved.
How to Avoid Bee Stings
Bee stings may be a part of life in the outdoors, but you can take some precautions to reduce the risk of your pet being stung.
Bees are attracted to flowering herbs, wildflowers, and fruits and vegetables. If you have these plants in your garden, consider keeping them in a fenced-off area to reduce your pet’s exposure to bees. Bees aggressively protect their hives, but bees out foraging for pollen are generally less likely to sting unless they are directly provoked.
Bees forage for water, so keep an eye out for bees near pools and birdbaths. When out on walks and hikes, keep your pet on a lead if he does not have excellent recall, and make sure to call him to you if you hear the tell-tale buzzing of a nearby hive.
While the thought of enduring bee stings is never pleasant, bees are an important part of our ecosystem. If you have a hive in an area your pet frequents, consider consulting a professional pest control service to relocate the hive instead of exterminating it.
Better to live in a world with bee stings than a world without bees!