Bee stings hurt, but dogs rarely seem to see them coming. Dogs love to sniff around and inspect things with their noses, so it's not uncommon for them to find insects that bite or sting, like bees. When a bee stings a dog—usually on the face or paw—the immediate sensation is sharp, burning pain. In some dogs, an allergic reaction may follow that involves life-threatening swelling, airway constriction, and seizures. So, it's important to monitor a dog after a bee sting to watch for serious reactions that may require treatment.
What Is a Bee Sting?
Bee stings are small injuries inflicted by the stinger of a bee. Some people mistake bee stings for bites, but bees don't bite. When a bee stings, the stinger appendage on the bee's hind end pokes through the skin and can get stuck due to the tiny barbs on the end of the stinger. The stinger injects a bit of venom that causes a dog's skin and immune system to react.
Symptoms of Bee Stings in Dogs
The first sign of a bee sting is usually a bark or cry from your dog after being stung. If the sting is on your dog's foot then it may limp, hold up the paw, or lick at it. If the sting is on your dog's face or in its mouth, it may paw at the site, lick its lips, drool, pant, and rub its face on the ground. Redness and swelling at the sting site occur fairly quickly before any other symptoms.
While stings are of little concern in most dogs, some individuals are more prone to intense allergic reactions. Systemic symptoms that involve labored breathing, gastrointestinal upset (vomiting or diarrhea), and neurological issues like seizures are potentially dangerous. Dogs that are allergic to bees may need veterinary support rather than basic at-home treatment.
Causes of Bee Stings
A bee sting is generally the result of a dog getting too close to a bee in one of the following situations:
- Sniffing a buzzing bee
- Stepping on a bee
- Rolling over on a bee
Diagnosing Bee Stings in Dogs
Unless you see the bee that stung your dog, neither you nor your vet will be able to definitively identify the source of a sting. However, your dog will likely "tell" you where it feels pain by licking, pawing, or limping, and you may also see swelling at the site. These clues can help you locate the sting so that you can take a closer look.
If a stinger is still embedded in the dog's skin, you'll know that you are either dealing with a bee or wasp sting, both of which have similar symptoms and treatments. Keep the stinger in case you need to take your dog to the vet. Knowing the cause of your dog's distress will help your vet formulate a diagnosis and treatment plan as quickly as possible.
If your dog is stung by a bee there are a few things you can do at home to help the inflammation and pain. Be sure to monitor your dog's breathing and behavior for several hours after the sting. If at any point your dog experiences trouble breathing or has symptoms other than some minor redness, itching, pain, and swelling at the sting site, it should be seen as soon as possible by a veterinarian who can administer fast-acting injections of steroids and anti-histamines along with oxygen therapy, if needed.
- First, remove the stinger from your dog's skin by scraping it with the edge of a credit card. Don't use tweezers to remove the stinger because this can squeeze more of the venom into your dog.
- Once the stinger is removed, dab a mixture of baking soda and water on the sting site to soothe the pain.
- To reduce swelling, you can hold an ice pack to the sting site for 10 minutes.
- If your dog is scratching at the sting site and causing trauma to itself, consider putting a sock on your dog's foot to cover its claws, or try a temporary E-collar to keep it from causing further damage.
- Finally, call your veterinarian to ensure it is safe to administer an antihistamine like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to your dog. This medication will reduce the symptoms of the bee sting and help your dog feel more comfortable.
Prognosis for Dogs with Bee Stings
Dogs with minor symptoms have no trouble recovering from bee stings—although they may not learn their lesson and get stung again. Dogs with more serious allergic responses generally recover well with prompt veterinary treatment. In rare cases, a dog may die from a bee sting, but this is not common.
How to Prevent Bee Stings
The only way to prevent bee stings is to keep your dog away from bees. Of course, this is easier said than done, and any dog that ventures outdoors may encounter a bee. If you know that your dog is extremely reactive to stings, then keeping it on a short leash (literally) might be a necessity to make sure the dog steers clear of stinging insects.