Insect stings are probably not the first hazard you consider when you and your pet are enjoying the outdoors. While most stings are not life threatening, there are several factors that can mean the difference between an itchy lump and a trip to the emergency vet. Stings can occur anytime, though they are obviously more common during warmer months when insects are more active. It’s important to know how to recognize reactions and symptoms of stings so you know how to treat them and when to seek veterinary attention.
When I was a teenager, fall was the time for firewood collection in the wooded lot behind my family’s home. It seemed simple enough, we used a tractor and cart, collecting wood from fallen trees as my father sliced them into fireplace-sized logs to warm us through winter. Collection trips were family affairs: me, my parents, siblings and several of the family dogs who would romp through the underbrush and creek beds in search of wayward squirrels, muskrats and other wildlife to chase. The chill in the air that brought an end to humid summer days lulled the woods into a quiet dormancy, but not everything had quieted for the winter on one particular evening — and an unfortunate disturbance spurred a night to remember.
The work was done, the cart was full, and it was time to make our way back through the oaks and hickorys to the house. We were making our way through a clearing carpeted with leaf litter when the attack occurred. Not a bear, or a coyote, or any other furry beast, but a nest of ground bees stirred unintentionally — hundreds of yellow jackets with ferocity like you wouldn’t believe. Before we had a chance to process what was going on, I felt the first painful stings. Chaos ensued. The next thing I knew I was lying in the icy creek water with our Black Lab, Luke, the only place we could think to run to stop their pursuit. Wet and yet feeling like I was on fire from the bee venom, we all made our way back to the house. We all endured some stings, some more than others, and even the dogs had a few. Most of us, larger dogs included were left to nurse the throbbing, swelling welts left behind by the agitated bees. But Poppy, our 5 pound Yorkie didn’t fare as well. Her little body went limp like a ragdoll by the time we made it home. She was rushed to the vet, and it was a few days before she was (fortunately) home and on the road to a full from the severe anaphylaxic reaction.
Symptoms of Stings
Just as for humans, dogs and other animals can react in different ways to the stings of bees and other insects. Reactions can be mild or severe depending on the number of stings, the size of your dog, the location of the sting, and how allergic your dog is to the venom of that particular type of insect.
You may see your dog being stung or hear them yelp, or you may only see the effects of the sting as they develop. Redness, swelling and/or hives (large bumps) are usually the first physical symptoms, and depending on where the dog is stung, you may not even notice them. If your dog has a mild reaction, the area may be tender or itchy in the days following the sting as the area heals.
Bee stings in dogs can also produce severe reactions and can even be fatal. Initial symptoms of severe allergic reaction to a sting may include sudden diarrhea, sudden defecation and/or urination, severe itchiness, severe hives. Severe reactions quickly progress to show weakness, drooling, labored breathing, pale gums, cold limbs and confusion or listlessness — full blown anaphylactic shock.
Whether you witness the sting or not, bee stings of any type or severity should not be ignored. Observe your dog closely…if you notice sudden onset of these symptoms, seek immediate veterinary attention.
Benadryl (Diphengydramine) is often used to treat bee stings in dogs, the same medicine you probably have in your medicine cabinet, though in liquid form. Your vet will probably give your dog an injection as it will act faster than a pill. Your dog may also develop scabs, hot spots or irritated areas at or around the sting site. Dogs instinctually lick or chew these areas, just be sure to keep an eye on the site and keep it clean until it heals.
Severe reactions may require additional treatment measures, including prednesone (steroid) injection to reduce inflammation. If your pet lapses into anaphylactic shock, respiratory and cardiovascular support will probably be required as well as IV fluids. Antibiotics may be administered to prevent bacterial infections. Pets suffering anaphylactic shock will probably need to stay in your vet’s care for a day or two for monitoring and continued treatment.
Bees and other insects should not keep you and your pet from enjoying the park or a hike in the woods. Keep in mind that while some reactions may be severe, the majority of dogs do not show severe symptoms, and in some cases you may not even realize that your pet was stung. Be vigilant and in tune to your pet, you know them best, and learn to recognize behaviors and actions that are out of the ordinary so you can get your pet to the vet if his condition declines.
Eastern Yellow Jacket image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Eugene Zelenko