Dogs have quite simple pleasures, many loving nothing more than having something to chase, whether that be you, cats, birds or even insects. Most of these creatures will run or fly away, but a bee or wasp will do quite the opposite and fly straight towards your pooch.
Our inquisitive little pups can be keen to investigate everything, sticking their snouts into unwanted places. This is all well and good until a bee or wasp emerges to give your dog a good old telling off!
Insect stings are a lot more prevalent in summer, with the bee and wasp pup-ulation coming out in full force during the hot weather.
The bustling, buzzing sound of a bee is enough to get on our nerves, never mind our dogs who hear everything at a much more intense level.
It’s really no surprise that our dogs get triggered by these irritating insects. They tease our poor pooches, buzzing, flying around and landing on them, so we can’t really blame them for going bonkers over a bee.
Dogs have a natural prey drive - some more than others – so chasing all types of animals is completely normal canine behaviour. It’s in their genetics, and dashing after insects can keep your dog entertained for a good while.
However, there are several insects that can bite or sting your dog, obviously bees and wasps but also parasites such as fleas, ticks and mosquitos. Even spiders can inflict a nasty bite on your poor pooch.
Pawing at face (if bitten on the nose or mouth)
Holding up their paw
Biting at the affected area
Generally, bees and wasps target their sting on either your pooch’s paw or around their face and mouth.
It’s likely that your pooch could be trotting around the garden as usual and suddenly feel a sharp pain because they’ve unknowingly stood on a wasp or bee.
However, a sting to the paw or mouth can often occur because of your dog’s curiosity. It’s likely that your pooch has been pawing at the insect trying to touch it, or they’ve been chasing it and trying to catch it in their mouth. As lovely as it is for our dogs to be so inquisitive, it can have its downfalls.
Typically, a bee or wasp sting can be dealt with at home and will only cause your dog temporary discomfort.
First and foremost, try to be as relaxed as possible as you don’t want your dog to get more agitated by your stress. Most dogs won’t even be that phased by the sting, so don’t worry too much.
If you’re certain that your dog has been stung, it’s im-paw-tent that you look out for a stinger left behind. Bees work slightly differently to other insects, they’re the only ones that’ll discard of their stinger, leaving it implanted in its target and flying away to die shortly after.
Thankfully, this means bees can only distribute their painful poison once, whereas a wasp can attack several times.
The bee’s stinger has jagged edges, all crafted with the purpose to stick into the skin. Removing the sharp sting is essential, as it’ll continue to inject its nasty venom into your pooch for as long as it’s there.
If you’re unsure if your dog was stung by a wasp or a bee, make sure you give your dog a thorough check over in search for a stinger.
If you spot no signs of a remaining stinger, clean the affected area to make sure your dog isn’t at risk to any subsequent infections. Be careful not to scrub too hard, the area will be very sore and irritated! Afterwards, hold a cool, wet towel over the area to soothe the pain and reduce chances of swelling.
However, if the bee has left its mark on your dog, it’s essential that you remove the stinger.
A bee sting can be removed at home, just make sure you’re careful to not push it in further.
To remove a bee sting, make sure your hands are clean and you keep a steady hand. Take a flat but sturdy item like a bank card (make sure it’s clean) and carefully scrape the sting from your dog’s skin. Make sure you scrape from underneath the poison sac, a small, fleshy-looking ball of tissue. If this isn’t removed, more venom could enter your dog’s body.
If your dog was stung on their paws, it might be a little tricky to remove the sting, so just take your time and be extremely gentle.
Don’t try to pinch and grasp at the sting to pull it out, whether that be using your fingers or a pair of tweezers. Ultimately, this could result in more venom being squeezed out and pumped into your poor pup.
Once you’ve removed the sting, keep the area clean and cool using a damp tea towel.
Applying ice to your puffy-looking pup can be incredibly soothing on the swollen area. Just make sure you don’t apply ice straight to the skin as this will be painful and give your dog a shock. Use a piece of cloth or a thin towel and wrap the ice in that. Holding the ice on the affected area for 5-10 minutes is plenty.
Make sure you give your dog lots of cuddles and positive attention (this is definitely the easiest step!). Your pooch will be pitying themselves, possibly even feeling slightly distressed. Therefore, trying to keep your dog calm, distracted and happy is crucial.
If your dog is biting, licking or itching at the area surrounding the sting, you might need to bring out the dreaded protective cone to prevent your dog from reaching the area.
Staying vigilant is also one of the most vital things you can do to make sure your pooch isn’t having an allergic reaction to the sting.
Similar to us humans, dogs can experience severe allergic reactions to insect stings or bites which must be urgently attended to.
An insect sting will impact our pups in different ways with varying levels of severity. Some may only experience a slight irritation and swelling, whereas a few unfortunate pooches are more sensitive and can suffer an allergic reaction.
Wheezing and struggling to breathe
Major swelling (this could be just in the area of the sting or spread to other places depending on severity. Would likely swell to mouth and neck even if they weren’t stung there)
Disorientation and confusion
Allergic reactions can differ in seriousness, however, if your dog has a severe response to the sting then they must be taken to the vet immediately. Swelling around the neck and mouth can be extremely dangerous, potentially blocking up the airways and making it im-paw-sible for your dog to breathe.
An extreme response to the sting, such as displaying any of the symptoms detailed above, means your pooch is experiencing an anaphylactic reaction. Anaphylaxis describes a fatal, intense reaction to a trigger, typically an allergy, and it requires urgent treatment.
Usually, an anaphylactic reaction will happen almost instantly. Sometimes, symptoms may arise after a couple of hours or even a couple of days, though this is very rare.
If you spot any signs of a severe allergic reaction, you must take your dog to the vet immediately as the implications could be life-threatening. This is particularly crucial if your dog is having breathing difficulties.
Your vet will likely provide your dog with antihistamine injections or steroids that work quickly. These should ease the swelling and reduce the discomfort your dog is experiencing.
The simple answer to this question is no, don’t give your dog antihistamines without medical guidance.
Some of the antihistamines we humans take are actually okay for dogs, but it’s strongly advised against giving any to your dog. You could be putting your pooch in severe danger by doing this.
The tablet itself could be dangerous for dogs, or the amount of medication could be totally wrong for your dog’s size.
The only time you should give your pooch an antihistamine at home is if it was supplied by your vet and they’ve told you the accurate dosage for your dog.
You’d like to think that if a dog has been stung once before they wouldn’t be so interested in chasing insects anymore.
Annoyingly, our dogs just don’t learn. More than likely your pooch will still be just as enticed by a bumbling bee and will do almost anything to catch it.
Unfortunately, you can’t really prevent your dog from getting stung. The only thing you can do is to distract your pup if you notice them actively pursuing a bee or wasp. Some pooches are persistent though and nothing will be able to distract them from their end goal.
All in all, a sting from a bee or a wasp will most likely be minor and easy to manage at home. It’ll just inflict some discomfort, itchiness and pain upon your dog.
However, constant monitoring of the sting is essential so you can notice quickly if your pooch is suffering from any extreme symptoms that indicate an allergic reaction.
In the summer months your garden will thrive, flowers blossoming, green grass growing, and countless op-paw-tunities to spend time outside with your canine fur-iend.
Although this is great, bees and wasps see this as an open invite into your garden and this will be enough to drive a lot of dogs wild. Be careful in the warmer weather, watching out for any irritating insects gearing up to give your dog a nasty sting!
Knowing the correct steps to take if your dog is stung, alongside knowing the signs of an allergic reaction is the best thing you can do to protect your pup against those pesky insects in the summer months.
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.