Being stung by a bee can be just as alarming and painful for dogs as it is for people. While most bees don’t target them for attack, dogs can run afoul of the stinging insects due to their curiosity and prey drive. When they get stung, it’s typically because they tried to snap at or chase a bee, or stumbled upon a sweet-smelling hive.
Some bees are more aggressive than others. Typical honeybees (western or European honeybees), for instance, tend to sting only when provoked, yet Africanized honeybees are aggressive and may swarm your dog and sting as a group. As the stinger(s) remain in your dog, venom continues to be released. Similarly, wasps and hornets are more aggressive than bees and may sting multiple times. If a dog disturbs a wasp nest, you may be dealing with an emergency: the situation can prove fatal if there are high levels of venom in a dog’s bloodstream after being stung too many times.
The good news is more often than not, bee stings are not an emergency. Unless your dog has an allergic reaction, being stung by a bee is a painful nuisance, but one that can be alleviated with prompt treatment. Here’s what you can do to provide some relief at home, and how to know when you should take your dog to the vet.
How do I know whether my dog has a bee sting?
There might be signs that your dog has been stung by a bee, such as your dog whimpering, limping, or pawing at their face.
Since dogs often get stung by putting their snout where it doesn’t belong, the muzzle or nose is a common site for stings, so you might see immediate swelling there—but if your dog decided to snap at a bee, you might also discover a sting in the ears or mouth.
If your dog has been stung in an especially furry area, you might not be able to locate the stinger, or even notice that your dog has been stung.
Some dogs may have a mild reaction to a sting, such as the area being warm to the touch, swollen, or itchy. And a moderate reaction might involve more swelling, lethargy, or loss of appetite; this requires a prompt call to the vet, as well as monitoring for any dramatic changes. Note that location matters: bee stings close to the eyes, in the ears or mouth, on the nose, or near the rectum, can be potentially worrisome. Call your vet, or take your dog to the vet, just to be safe.
A severe reaction is the most obvious, and the most alarming—immediate medical attention is needed, and the incident could prove life-threatening. Allergic reactions tend to occur within the first 20 minutes of being stung. This could trigger anaphylaxis, which may cause your dog to experience difficulty breathing. It’s an emergency.
Can bee stings be prevented or avoided?
Sadly, there’s no way to prevent bee stings. But there are some common sense steps you can take to minimize the chances of occurrence. It’s all about practicing bee safety. That means:
- Wear light-colored clothing if you’re taking your dog out for a hike–bees may interpret darker colors as threatening. And try to go out in the early morning, when bees are less active.
- If you’re out for a park or trail walk, keep your dog on a leash.
- Carry a natural repellent while you’re out and about with your dog: make a concoction of one cup of white distilled vinegar to two gallons of water and spray some on your dog’s fur. Bees apparently dislike the sour scent. (Never use bug sprays intended for humans on your dog.)
- Additionally, you might want to keep your grass mowed in the summertime. Call a pest control service to remove any wasp or hornet nests.
How to treat your dog after a bee sting
If your dog has a mild reaction to a bee sting, you can treat it at home. For a moderate reaction, it’s a good idea to call your vet and then monitor your dog closely. Here are some steps you can take for treatment at home:
- If you can, carefully remove the stinger (warning: avoid tweezers, which can make things worse by pushing extra venom into the sting. Instead, scrape a credit card or similar item over the sting)
- Apply an ice pack to the affected area to relieve pain, swelling, and discomfort
- Try to keep your dog from scratching the affected area
- Give your dog fresh water
- Watch your dog for any changes in behavior, or to see if the swelling spreads
In certain cases, such as when your dog encounters a hive unexpectedly, a bee sting can result in a dangerous situation. Head to your vet or an urgent care vet clinic immediately if you observe signs of a severe reaction to a bee sting—or if your dog has multiple stings—as some of these may indicate anaphylactic shock. These signs include:
- Trouble breathing, possibly caused by swelling of the airway
- Swelling in the head and neck, or swollen throat, and difficulty swallowing
- Inability to walk, or difficulty walking
- Vomiting or diarrhea
Let’s face it: stings happen. Knowing how to respond in this situation, and how to provide relief as soon as possible, will help you stay calm if it does occur. Never give your dog medication before consulting with your vet, and to confirm the correct dosage. If you feel unsure whether a bee sting is moderate or severe, err on the side of caution and go see the vet right away.