They say that curiosity killed the cat, but curious dogs don’t fare much better. They become intrigued or aggravated by stinging insects, such as bees, hornets and wasps, and zing! They’ve been stung. Although most of our dogs have a protective covering of fur over their skin, a bee sting hurts them as much as it does us. Besides being painful, it can trigger an allergic reaction that ranges from mild to wild — in a bad way. Here’s how to recognize signs of trouble and relieve the pain if a bee, wasp or hornet stings your pet.
What a Sting Looks Like
Pets, dogs in particular, often get stung on their noses — because they stick them where they shouldn’t go — or in their mouths, after snapping at buzzing bees. So the first sign of trouble may be a swollen muzzle.
If you didn’t see your dog get stung but he’s running in circles and crying out, or pawing at his face and rubbing it on the ground, it’s a good bet that’s what happened. Look around for evidence, such as a bee on the ground, bees buzzing around flowers in your yard or a nearby beehive or wasp nest.
Canines can experience a variety of reactions to bee stings. In mild cases, you may notice them scratching, rubbing, licking or biting at the area stung. The skin may look red. If you’ve ever been stung yourself, you know that it can cause a burning or itching sensation for several minutes.
More serious signs include the aforementioned swelling in the head or neck area, severe pain, hives, vomiting and difficulty breathing. A severe allergic reaction to a sting can result in anaphylactic shock, and it’s an emergency. Some pets may collapse or die if they are extremely sensitive or if they are stung many times. Earlier this year, three dogs in Scottsdale, Arizona, died after being stung multiple times by a swarm of bees.
What to Do When Your Dog Gets Stung
Dogs explore the world with their noses, so it’s not unusual for one to be stung on his face or nose. And snapping at a bee can result in a sting inside the mouth or in the throat.
An allergic reaction to a sting in these areas can cause swelling that compresses the trachea, making it difficult or impossible for the dog to breathe. That’s a serious problem for any pooch, of course, but flat-faced Fidos, such as Pugs, Bulldogs or Boston Terriers, are especially vulnerable if their breathing is further compromised. If you know that your dog has been stung on the face and he starts swelling up within a few minutes, seek veterinary help right away.
Otherwise, try to find where your pet was stung. If a bee used him for target practice, maybe on the “bee-hind,” the tiny aggressor probably left a souvenir stinger behind. Part your pet’s fur to get a good view and see if you can find it. Using a fingernail, credit card or the dull blade of a butter knife, try to scrape the stinger out. Do this as soon as possible after the sting to reduce the amount of venom that enters the wound.
Avoid using tweezers or any kind of pinching motion. This can release more venom from the stinger’s sac.
Easing Pain and Swelling
After scraping out the stinger, apply a paste of baking soda and water to the area. The alkalinity of the soda helps to relieve the itch. Meat tenderizer mixed with water can also help to break down the irritants in a sting. Over-the-counter products, such as hydrocortisone creams, can have soothing effects as well. In all cases, try to prevent your dog from licking at the area and rinse the skin clean after 15 minutes. (But don’t waste time with this if your dog has facial swelling or difficulty breathing.)
For minor swelling, or to help control severe swelling while you’re on the way to the veterinary hospital, your pet may benefit from a dose of Benadryl (diphenhydramine). Check with your veterinarian to learn the appropriate amount to give your dog and make sure it contains only diphenhydramine and no other additives.
At our house, we keep a generous supply of generic Benadryl on hand. I use a label printer to list the dose for each dog right on the package. You can do the same with the information from your veterinarian. When minutes count, it can save a life.