Dog Stung By A Bee? Here’s How to Treat It

Dogs stung by bees can be hurt or even killed - bees, wasps, hornets, and fire ants may all cause allergic reactions. Learn what you should do if your dog gets stung or bitten by these flying insects.

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Spring is springing forth all over the country. Flowers, grasses, and trees are blooming, and the pollinators are out in force. This is great news for plants, and less great news for our canine friends. Dogs are more prone to being stung by insects than we are, given that they aren’t always aware that some of the buzzing, flying insects they love to chase can hurt!

The most likely sting suspects are the Hymenoptera species, which include bees, wasps, hornets, and fire ants. As an emergency veterinarian, I often treated dogs who suffered bee and wasp stings, with reactions ranging from very mild localized swelling and pain to anaphylactic shock. These symptoms were sometimes caused by a direct sting to the muzzle or paw, but in some cases, they occurred when a dog ingested a bee! It’s important to know what is normal and what is not when this happens.

The typical dog bee stinging event leaves the dog with a single sting on the muzzle or foot. This is because of dogs’ horizontal, four-footed orientation and their innate curiosity. The feet often find the insects when running through the grass, and the curious muzzle will follow.

What to Do If Your Dog Gets Stung

In the case of most stings, there will be very mild redness and swelling. Your dog may suddenly limp and/or favor a paw, or have a red, swollen spot on the face. In some cases, a stinger can still be found in the wound. This is extremely difficult to find without a still, calm dog and a magnifying glass. In some cases, removal of a stinger must be done at a veterinary office. You can try to visualize and remove it at home, but it may not be possible.

Initial treatment for a sting or bite of this severity can consist of rest and a cold compress to relieve swelling and pain. Do not administer over-the-counter medications; these are generally not safe for dogs. If you are concerned that your dog is in significant pain, contact your veterinarian to discuss a pain-management strategy.

Hives, wheals, and welts are a moderate reaction to stings. Just like their human counterparts, dogs who have been stung can break out in unsightly hives. These are usually very itchy and uncomfortable. The first sign often noticed is the dog rubbing along furniture or scratching at the face and eyes. The hives may manifest as bright red streaks or lumps all over the body or be confined to a single place.

As long as there is no attendant vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, or collapse, this can be managed at home successfully. Diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benadryl) can be given at 1 to 2 milligrams per pound of body weight. If using a Benadryl product, check to make sure there are NO other active ingredients. Some Benadryl products contain decongestants as well, and these can be dangerous for dogs.

Diphenhydramine can be repeated every six to eight hours as needed to help with hives. They can sometimes take hours to a few days to completely resolve. Diphenhydramine can cause drowsiness, but in some dogs, it can cause excitement (called a paradoxical reaction).

Severe Bee Sting Reactions in Dogs

In the most severe cases, dogs can develop anaphylactic shock. In canines, the shock organ is the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (in contrast to cats and humans, in which it is the lungs). Dogs in anaphylactic shock do not necessarily develop difficulty breathing. They are much more likely to develop sudden onset of vomiting, diarrhea, and collapse. The diarrhea and vomit can both be extremely bloody, in some cases.

This is an absolute emergency and should be treated as such. Once evaluated by a veterinarian, your dog will be treated with intravenous (IV) fluids, epinephrine, possibly steroids, oxygen, and very close monitoring. Diagnostic testing will likely include blood pressure monitoring, bloodwork, and maybe an abdominal ultrasound.

hymenoptera species

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Often, when dogs are stung, it is not witnessed, so it can be difficult to determine the cause of the signs. Anaphylaxis can also look like an Addisonian crisis; severe, acute hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE); or mesenteric volvulus. One helpful test is the abdominal ultrasound. Gallbladder wall swelling (edema) can be used to determine if anaphylaxis is the true cause of the signs. Another indicator is that anaphylaxis is a very sudden onset in a previously healthy dog that has just been outside.

With rapid and aggressive treatment, most dogs will recover from this type of shock, but early treatment is essential. In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend carrying an EpiPen Jr for future outdoor travels with your dog. Despite having this on hand, any suspicion of an anaphylactic event should prompt immediate evaluation by your veterinarian.

When Your Dog Suffers Multiple Bee Stings

Initial symptoms in dogs include multiple bites, marked pain and swelling, hyperthermia (temperature can elevate to a deadly 107 degrees), heavy panting, rapid heart rate, and in some cases, muscle tremoring.

There is no antidote, so treatment is aimed at supportive care. This must be aggressive, as dogs can later develop systemic effects such as kidney failure. The kidney failure develops due to generalized muscle trauma from the stings and hyperthermia. When the muscle is damaged, extra myoglobin (a muscle enzyme) is released into the bloodstream. This must be metabolized by the kidneys, and excess amounts can cause renal damage. This will lead to a dark brown color to urine and elevated blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine.

Treatment is centered on maintaining hydration with IV fluids, pain relief medications (generally strong drugs like opioids), and close monitoring of vitals and bloodwork. NSAIDs like carprofen and meloxicam should be avoided due to the risk of kidney failure.

A different and less-common scenario is a sting to the inside of the mouth or the tongue. These stings can be more severe because of the amount of pain and swelling. In rare cases, swelling in the mouth could lead to airway inflammation, obstruction, and labored breathing. While this isn’t common, it can happen. If you know that your dog was stung in the mouth or on the tongue, monitor closely for any signs of respiratory distress. These include wheezing or other noisy breathing, coughing, and difficulty pulling air into the lungs (inspiratory dyspnea). Seek veterinary care!

In these cases, your dog may need to receive respiratory support. This might include an oxygen mask, nasal oxygen prongs, or in serious cases, where the upper airway is obstructed, the placement of an emergency tracheostomy tube. This allows the veterinarian to bypass the swollen upper airway and provide the patient with life-saving oxygen. These are temporary and will be removed when the swelling has resolved enough to allow normal respiration.

Most reactions to bee stings are mild, but it is important to recognize the more severe symptoms so that immediate treatment can be started and systemic effects minimized.

dog stung by bee

What About Killer Bees?

A special note about Africanized killer bees should be made. These are a hybrid of two honeybees: the western honey bee and the Iberian honey bee. They were hybridized in Brazil in the 1950s with hopes of increasing honey production. Unfortunately, swarms escaped quarantine and migrated through Central America and into the Southwest and Florida. These bees are still largely isolated to those areas, but with global temperatures in flux, they can be expected to spread.

Unlike the usually docile honey bee, these bees can be very easily aggravated and aggressive and even chase victims. When annoyed, they tend to attack in large swarms. Interestingly, the venom is the same as other honey bees, which are rarely fatal. It is the multiple stings that can be fatal for animals and humans.

Catherine Ashe, DVM, practiced emergency medicine for nine years and now works as an associate veterinarian at Skyland Animal Hospital in Asheville, N.C.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I have a lab doodle that came upon a swarm of hornets???. I immediately took him to the shower to get them off.
    He had no physical symptoms but afterwards was very reactive to anything that moved. It took a couple years to settle him down.

  2. Our 1st experience with discovering we had a bee & fly eating dog was when she came running in the house with her whole face swollen. I called her the neanderthal dog as her forehead was swollen & protruding over her eyes. She was frantic. With little experience at that time I called the vet & hysterically told him what happened & that we were bringing her in. He asked about her symptoms & was able to calm me down & direct me to give her benadryl. It took time but it worked.

    After that I learned to recognize when she had eaten a bee or a fly when we hadn’t seen it. She would exhibit specific agitation behaviors & if I caught it in time & gave her benadryl, she was fine in about 15 minutes. If I waited too long, it took hours to recover.

    She’s 13 & STILL tries to eat any flying insect that gets near her…lol

  3. My one year old Mal/Dutch shepherd mix just suffered anaphalactic shock from ingesting a bee. It was terrifiying to see him like this. He vomited and then collapsed. We immediately took him to the ER and are happy to say he will be fine. However, we are terrified and very vigilant in watching him outside now. He chases everything and likes to eat everything too, just like puppies are prone to do. We are going to get him immune therapy to start with, he is a search and rescue dog and is in the elements contstantly. This will be a challenge for sure. The doctor said the EpiPen needs to be specially formulated for each dog and only gives a little extra time to get them to the ER.

  4. I’m based in the UK and the only recommended anti histamine product for dogs (over the counter) is piriton. Benadryl in the UK has a different composition to the American version. Please make this known to UK dog owners as could be fatal.

  5. This site keeps me going in circles!
    Signed up for something and never received.
    Then message saying wait – you forgot etc. and three bonuses.
    Clicked on one and when I closed that one the page was gone never to be seen again!

  6. Thank you for this outstanding article. I had read about bee/wasp stings and dogs and knew what the signs of a sting looked like. Then one summer day, my young Norwich terrier grabbed a wasp in her mouth and off to the races we went! In a matter of seconds, I watched her vomit, her tongue and gums turn gray, and her body go limp. What!? I contacted the vet immediately and whisked her off for emergency care. After that initial sting, the vet prescribed epinephrine preloaded in a syringe for emergency use at home prior to the emergency vet visit. She is too small for an EpiPen Junior.
    Now it is six years later and we’ve had about 5 run-ins with bees and wasps including ingestion and stings. It is a horrible thing to watch such a severe and life-threatening reaction take place in a beloved pet. This article will help many dog owners better understand the signs and symptoms and when to seek emergency veterinary care.
    Thank you for sharing this important information!

  7. The most horrifying event I’ve witnessed in my 52 years of loving and showing Standard Schnauzers was seeing Mini Schnauzer CH Miown Exotic Poppy being awarded Best in Show in Cape Girardeau MO–as the trophy was given, she snapped at a bee, went into anaphylactic shock, collapsed, and died in the ring before the show veterinarian could get to her. Ever since, we’ve trained our dogs to stay away from all flying insects.

  8. Well actually instead of using stupid drugs from BigPharma that all have side effects not only to humans but to your dogs & cats(pets) as well – you should use Homeopathy which has been around just as long as BigPharma without the side effects and since I’ve studied for years and have also become Certified and not only use on myself for a severe back injury but have also used on my dogs & cats as well with “excellent” results, and no side effects(including knowing their internal organs which nobody can see other than a vet and taking hundreds to thousands from you LOL) —

    Clean the wound/sting and keep the Homeopathic Remedy in your house(or if you hike a lot on your person – or in your vehicle) of Apis 30C(the 30C is the potency) I will even give you free advise here since these are easy cases of bee stings(as long as there isn’t anything truly going on with you, your pets after the sting as there ARE other remedies for specific symptoms if they occur which then you’d need to do a consult with me instead 😉 )

    You’d give 3 doses(one dose is 3 pellets) the first day and as long as everything is fine – and no swelling is still left (bruising can be dealt with another remedy although Apis can help out as well just other remedy that is good for bruising from the sting which I will not advise of that remedy) IF everything is fine – then stop dosing. If you think the animal(or yourself) isn’t perfectly totally fine – then dose the next day depending on how bad it may or may not be would depend on giving either 2 doses the next day or continue with 3 doses. This is why a certified homeopath; doctor of homeopathy; or Homeopathic vet should be consulted IF there are bigger issues from the bee sting

    You do not need Benedryl nor an allopathic vet for bee sting(now if it is a swarm of bees -that is a different story)

    • For your dog’s sake please ignore this dangerous and terrible advice. Homeopathic “remedies” are generally harmless as they contain no active ingredients. However, if you do not give your dog the necessary proper care you are risking his/her health and life. Please search the theory of how this snake oil is supposed to work and the preparation of a 30c solution. (That dilutes the ingredient by a factor of 10 to the power of 60. That’s a fraction of 1/10 followed by 60 zeroes.)

  9. Thanks for the great info about dog anaphylaxis to bees. I had an incident with my my English Setter involving multiple bee stings. She came howling and running into the house and dove under the toilet of our kitchen. I gave her an appropriate dose of diphenhydramine AFTER WE COULD GET HER OUT FROM UNDER THE TOILET!!!!! It took a couple of days for the swelling to go down but her anxiety went on for a long time when she heard a plane flying near us. I felt so bad for her. We found a big ground nest at the end of our yard and had to burn it out. We never knew it was there until this incident. You just can’t beat a good vet!!!!!!

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