Can a dog be stung by nettles?

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Few things are worse than walking around in shorts in the summer and stumbling into a patch of stinging nettles. Anyone who’s unwittingly walked into this pesky plant soon knows about it, especially since they leave behind nasty rashes and red welts on the skin and cause pain and itching that leave us humans wary of their leaves for years.

Yet some of our dogs dive into nettle beds or walk over them without so much as a flinch, and you might wonder if a dog can be stung by nettles at all. Other pups are much more reluctant to go near nettles, and might yelp and jump a mile if they brush their nose or belly against them.

So is it worth avoiding nasty nettles on walkies and can dogs be stung by stinging nettles?

Can a dog be stung by nettles?

You might think that because your dog has a nice thick fur coat, they won’t feel stinging nettle stings. However, their fur only gives them a little bit of protection from these nasty nettles, and dogs can be stung by nettles and definitely feel it! Stinging nettles are just as uncomfortable and irritating to our furry friends as they are for us.

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Even though your dog's fur offers some protection from scratches and stings from the likes of thorns and nettles, it can’t offer complete protection. It’s just hair after all, and your pooch can still be stung by nettles through their fur and suffer the same horrible itchy feeling and pain from a sting as we humans do. You might even notice your dog’s skin becomes red and swollen, and they might break out into hives.

Areas of your dog’s body which have little to no fur, like their belly, are particularly vulnerable to stinging nettle stings because there’s no thick coat to protect the skin. Just like you get stung on your exposed leg when walking around in shorts, your pooch’s bare belly can get stung on the exposed skin.

Plus, their belly is close to the ground so it’s even more vulnerable, because even if they walk over a patch of nettles, the plant could easily go between their legs and brush underneath them.

Can a dog be stung by nettles on their paws?

Yes, your dog’s paw pads are exposed skin and so they can get stung by nettles. Since dogs are probably going to step on nettles or walk through them, it means their feet are likely to come into contact with these nasty plants.

However, most adult dogs have hard, calloused pads on their feet which offers some protection from scratches and stings, and it means they won’t feel stings on their toe beans as harshly as they would on sensitive, exposed skin.

However, a puppy or young dog that hasn’t walked on pavements much will still have soft and sensitive little paw pads, so stepping on a stinging nettle at this stage will hurt!

Are some dogs more at risk of stinging nettle stings?

Generally, all dogs of any age and breed are just as vulnerable to stinging nettle stings as one another.

Dogs with a thick double-coat of fur might be slightly more protected from stinging nettles, since their top coat is meant to protect their skin from being hurt by thorns and brambles. That means a working dog with a thick double coat, like a German Wirehaired Pointer, might seem less phased by stinging nettles compared to a single-coated pooch like a Whippet.

Meanwhile, a hairless breed of dog like a Chinese Crested Dog or a Xoloitzcuintli could be more at risk of stinging nettle stings because they don’t have any fur to protect their skin. You’re also much more likely to notice a rash on these dogs because you can see their skin more easily.

Dogs suffering from Cushing’s Disease often have thinner skin than normal, which means they might suffer much greater discomfort if they are stung by nettles.

Symptoms of stinging nettle stings in dogs

Even with a thick coat of fur to protect their precious skin from stings, dogs still get hurt by nettles. The symptoms of stinging nettle stings in dogs are also surprisingly similar to the effects of stings on us humans.

It can be hard to spot some symptoms on dogs, like a rash, just because all that fluffy fur is covering their skin. However, you’ll probably notice your pooch scratching and chewing at their fur more than normal.

The symptoms of stinging nettle stings in dogs are:

  • Pawing at their face and ears

  • Chewing and licking their paws

  • Red, swollen skin

  • Hives

  • Itching

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Constricted pupils

  • Shivering

  • Twitching

  • Myokymia (eyelid twitching)

  • Weakness

  • Ataxia (lack of coordination)

If a dog has suffered from a lot of stings from nettles, or repeated stinging in a short period of time, they can suffer more serious symptoms than a dog who’s just wandered past a few bushes and brushed against a nettle.

A dog who has endured multiple, repeated stings can suffer from rapid breathing, shivering, teeth chattering, weakness, and a raised heart rate.

Stinging nettles aren’t known to be poisonous for dogs, and typically stings cause only mild discomfort for a few hours. However, there have been cases of dogs suffering from toxicity.

It is worth bearing in mind that it has only been recorded in two dogs, and these poorly pooches were working gundogs that had spent a significant amount of time running through nettles and suffering from repeated exposure to stinging nettle stings. More study is needed, and currently, vets aren’t certain on the exact effect of stinging nettle stings on dogs.

What happens if your dog eats stinging nettles?

It’s not uncommon for our furry friends to munch on some grass or other greenery they find on a walk. Sometimes, they might eat some stinging nettles by mistake amongst a bunch of grass, or they might actively try to scoff some stingers.

You should discourage your dog from eating stinging nettles and coax them away if you see them trying to eat them. Surprisingly, stinging nettles are full of antioxidants and vitamins and make a healthy ingredient in teas or stews, but eating them raw is a sure-fire way to a sore mouth.

If your dog eats stinging nettles, it’s likely they’ll have some discomfort and mild gastrointestinal illness. Signs that your dog has eaten nettles include:

What to do if your dog is stung by nettles

If your pooch has become itchy and irritated and you’re not sure why, it’s always best to take them to the vet for a check up because there are many skin conditions and pesky parasites that could be causing their discomfort.

If you know your pup’s suffering from stinging nettle stings, it can help to give your pooch a gentle bath which will help to remove any stings that are still in their skin, and it will help to soothe and relieve the itch. Soap is an alkaline, so it will neutralise the acid injected by the nettle which causes the irritation.

Another home remedy you can use is a paste of baking soda and water rubbed onto the area your dog has been stung. Just make sure your dog can’t lick it off, and wash it off thoroughly after a few minutes. Similar to soap, this solution works to soothe the sting because baking soda is alkaline.

Your vet can provide a topical lotion for your dog’s skin that will help to relieve their discomfort and itching, and they might give your dog a pet-safe antihistamine to relieve itching, reduce swelling, and counteract the body’s reaction to the stings.

However, stinging nettle stings usually only cause dermatitis, and the discomfort and itching will clear up within a few hours, alongside any symptoms like hives. Although your pooch will be feeling uncomfortable after a stinging nettle sting, it will usually go away on its own and veterinary treatment is rarely required.

Stinging nettle stings are rarely serious and most dogs make a full recovery within a day. But if you’re worried, or want to help relieve your dog’s discomfort, it’s always best to ask your vet for advice.