Now that we’re getting deep into summer, here’s a question: Does your dog chase bees or wasps?
If so, then know that pets who play with stinging insects are engaging in a dangerous pastime that could result in a trip to the emergency veterinarian.
Here’s what you should do if your pet is stung and shows signs of a serious, potentially life-threatening reaction.
After a busy night on call, I was summoning the energy to make coffee when the phone rang yet again. I recognized the voice immediately — a staff member — but she sounded unusually panicked and close to tears. Her dog had been stung while walking in the park, had collapsed and now lay limp in her arms.
We met at the clinic.
Little Fluffkins was given adrenaline, intravenous steroid and put on a drip to counteract a severe allergic reaction. About 20 minutes later, looking groggy but most definitely alive, Fluffkins sat up and licked her mom.
While rare, severe “anaphylactic” reactions to bee or wasp stings do happen — and they’re bad news.
What Is Anaphylaxis?
This is a sudden severe allergic reaction. In the case of an insect sting, the stinger injects toxins into the dog and triggers a massive release of histamine.
Bee and wasp venom contains:
- Melittin (a protein): Main culprit of the allergic reaction
- Hyaluronidase: Helps venom spread into the tissue
- Phospholipase A: Stops the body from breaking down the poison and is responsible for the sting’s pain
Anaphylaxis causes a drop in blood pressure and sends the pet into shock. The dog’s body tries to compensate with a faster-pumping heart, which leads to symptoms of anaphylaxis listed below:
- Local swelling where the dog was stung
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Weakness and collapse
- Rapid breathing
- Racing heart
- Pale gums
If your dog shows these signs, especially if there’s a possibility they’ve been stung, pick up the phone right away and call the emergency vet.
Other Reactions to Insect Stings
Fortunately, anaphylaxis is rare and is less likely than 2 other reactions, urticaria and angioedema.
- Urticaria: You can recognize this as bumps on the surface of the dog’s skin. It is more obvious in short-coated breeds because the hair over the bump stands on end, giving the dog a lumpy-bumpy appearance.
- Angioedema: This swelling is most severe close to the sting. If the swelling occurs on the face or around the throat, it can be dangerous as it can cause breathing difficulties.
Treating Insect Stings
Imagine it’s a warm summer day. Your dog pounces on a lazy bee and is stung on the muzzle. What should you do?
1. Remove the stinger.
This reduces the amount of venom injected into the dog.
To do this, use the side of a credit card scraped over the surface of the skin to pull out the stinger. This is a better option than using tweezers, as these can squeeze the poison glands and pump more toxins into the skin. However, the most crucial thing is to get that stinger out, so don’t worry too much about which method to use.
If the dog starts to vomit, seems weak or confused, then phone the vet as an emergency. However, if the dog is sore but bright, take the following actions.
2. Apply ice.
This reduces local tissue swelling and the spread of the venom.
3. Apply meat tenderizer or bicarbonate soda.
Hand apply some meat tenderizer to the site of the sting. This helps neutralize the venom and take the “sting” out of the situation. A good alternative is bicarbonate soda.
Make the bicarbonate into a solution with water, saturate a piece of cotton wool and hold it over the area. If you don’t have bicarb, then as a last resort apply a bit of toothpaste, which contains it (don’t let the dog lick the toothpaste off — it may upset their stomach).
For wasp stings, use diluted vinegar instead of the bicarb.
4. Give antihistamines as directed.
If your dog is bright and alert but in discomfort, phone your vet for advice. If approved, give an antihistamine tablet. Not all antihistamines are effective or safe for dogs, so it’s best to phone the local clinic for advice before administering.
This dog’s reaction to a sting wasn’t life-threatening, but her humans took her to the vet anyway — just in case:
Your vet may give an adrenaline or antihistamine injection plus a steroid to reduce swelling and painkillers. Some cases also need intravenous fluids to get their blood pressure back up and protect organ function.
Remember, if in doubt, seek emergency treatment — to delay could be fatal.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Oct. 11, 2018.