Bee stings range from a mild annoyance to a life-threatening assault on our bodies, and I'm just talking about a single sting. Some people are seemingly resistant to the pain and the venom in the stinger, while others are wildly allergic to the venom such that even a single sting can be listed as a cause of death if it isn't treated quickly.
That's people, though; what about our canine best friends? We've all seen pictures of doggos with swollen faces after they chomped on a "spicy fly" and got a sting for their troubles. They may be swollen up and maybe in some pain, but seem no worse for the ware and will live to chomp another day.
Those pictures don't tell the whole story, though. In fact, if you assume that a bee sting is just going to lead to some swollen cheeks for a few days, you may be putting your furry friend at risk.
In fact, yes, dogs can be allergic to bees, just like people.
Most dogs are barely phased by an insect bite or sting, but some will have more serious reactions, from swelling and burning pain up to the potential for anaphylaxis or systemic allergic reactions.
“Yes, dogs and cats can get anaphylaxis, too. Anaphylaxis in pets may not be exactly the same as it is in people, and it may not be as common, but it does happen.” – vin.com
Just like in people, a severe reaction can lead to airways swelling shut, cutting off the ability to breathe, which can be fatal if left untreated.
Why Do Dogs Get Stung?
Dogs see the world very differently from humans and even many other animals. While the popular perception is that dogs are color-blind, the truth is they're only partially color-blind, a type of color blindness called either protanopia or deuteranopia, also known as red-green color blindness.
To compensate for generally worse vision, dogs have incredibly increased senses of smell. Duh, right? Well, dogs lead with their noses everywhere they go, and not just because those noses stick out ahead of them like doggy dowsing rods.
Investigating everything with their nose can come back to bite them – or, in the case of bees, sting them. A curious doggo poking at a ground beehive, a fallen wasp nest, or even just a bee happily minding its own business on a flower always has the risk of leading to a sting. The closer to a hive and the more defensive the bees feel when accosted by a dog, the more likely they are to fight back.
On top of this, some of the more playful or aggressive dogs might snap at various insects, hoping either for a quick snack or just some fun times to be had with the sky raisins. When one of them snaps back, your poor doggo ends up stung on the snout or, as so often happens, inside the mouth.
Where Are Bee Stings Most Common?
Like I just said, dogs are very often stung on the outside of the snout as they push their noses where they don't really belong. They can also be stung inside the mouth if they snap at and catch a bee that is otherwise just minding its own business.
Many dogs also mess around and dig at the ground if they sense anything interesting down there. Sometimes, it's a lightly-buried bit of dead critter they want to unearth to smell. Sometimes, though, it's that weird buzzing and vibrating they sense, and they want to know more. They don't recognize the danger, so they dig for what turns out to be a hive of bees under the surface and end up stung on those very same paws.
Other parts of a dog can end up the target of stings and bites from other kinds of bugs, and of course, an aggrieved bee might sting anywhere they can reach. However, thicker fur can prevent a stinger from reaching the skin, and a flank is a lot less likely to result in bumping a hive or otherwise disturbing a bee the way a nose or paw might. Bee stings on areas other than the snout or the paws tend to be much rarer and sometimes even less obvious.
What Are the Symptoms of a Bad Bee Sting?
Bee stings can range from very mild to very severe, and there's no way to predict which it will be until your fur baby takes a stinger to the snout and learns the hard way.
Mild bee stings generally start with your fur baby yelping, running, and whining about the sudden pain. Depending on where the sting is, they'll probably paw at or lick at it; after all, it hurts, and they want to soothe it, and the only way they know how to do so is with those two actions. If your pup is stung on the leg they may limp from the pain. They may also come to you whimpering, begging for attention and relief.
Mild stings like that tend to have a bit of localized swelling and redness but not much else. It will hurt, sure, and if the insect's stinger is still in place, you'll want to remove it as best you can.
Stings on sensitive locations like the snout or inside the mouth will generally end up with even more swelling, which is how you find those pictures of dogs with bulbous snouts begging to be laughed at, even if it's kind of mean to do.
A sting inside the mouth or around it will also result in excessive drooling and swallowing and potentially an exacerbation of any tooth or gum issues they have.
Serious bee sting symptoms are a lot more dramatic and tend to happen within the first hour of being stung. This is the bee sting danger zone, and it's when you should monitor your pup to make sure they aren't going to experience significant repercussions.
What Signs Mean You Should Rush to the Vet?
So, what are those serious symptoms?
Significant swelling that obstructs breathing, vision, eating, or drinking. This can occur in the muzzle even if your fur baby wasn't stung there, if it's an allergic reaction.
Difficulty breathing. This can be external, from swelling to the nose and mouth, or it can be internal, if the throat starts to swell up.
Wheezing and coughing, and other signs of trouble breathing.
Vomiting, which is particularly pronounced if your fur baby ate the bee and got stung internally, but can be a symptom of any sting in extreme cases.
Diarrhea, for the same set of reasons.
Weakness, which can be a direct result of the sting or a secondary result of having trouble getting enough oxygen.
Hives or welts springing up all over their face and skin.
If symptoms get worse or are bad from the outset, it's time to take your pupper to the vet.
If you live in the southern states, you may be familiar with the Africanized Honeybees aka “Killer Bees.” These bees look like their more common European counterparts, but they can be much more aggressive in defending their hives. Because they are less picky about hive location, it’s easier to accidentally disturb them. Once disturbed they tend to swarm and sting as a group resulting in more severe reactions.
“The risk of such large volumes of venom in a companion animal can make these exposures life threatening. In these patients, clinical signs of facial paralysis, ataxia, seizures, and neurologic effects can occur…” – Merck Veterinary Manual
Yes, if it's mild. Bee stings, wasp stings, and other venomous insect bites and stings are generally treatable at home. The caveat is that you should only treat them at home if you're sure the symptoms are mild, and they aren't getting worse.
You can only do so much at home with the tools and medications you have on hand; a vet will have better access to things like canine epinephrine and breathing support when severe reactions occur.
Before your dog is stung, you should talk to your vet about Benadryl. Benadryl – the brand name for the antihistamine diphenhydramine – is one of the most common anti-allergy medications on the market.
Talking in advance with your vet about Benadryl will give you the confirmation needed that it’s safe to administer.
The proper dosage is generally 1mg per pound of body weight of the dog in question. Your typical off-the-shelf bottle of Benadryl is usually 25mg pills, so you're going to need a pill cutter. Alternatively, you may use liquid Benadryl.
"Generally speaking, pets under 12 pounds should be given liquid, while pets over 15 pounds should be given pills. For pets weighing between 12–15 pounds, it's often easiest to give them their dose using a half or whole pill, but some may require or do better with the liquid form." – Preventive Vet.
Benadryl comes in different strengths and can also come with other medications mixed in, which are dangerous for dogs. Make sure you know what's in the pills you're using so you can dose effectively. Again, though, only administer Benadryl if your doggo is suffering mild-to-moderate reactions but nothing life-threatening.
Note: If your dog is overweight or obese, calculate dosage based on what their body weight should be rather than what it is; otherwise, you risk overloading their system.
What else should you do as part of treatment at home?
Remove the stinger, if possible.Bees – that is, actual honeybees – lose their stinger when they sting. Other stinging or venomous biting insects, like wasps or fire ants, don't lose their stingers. They can sting more than once and very often will.
To remove the stinger, you can use a stiff, flat item like a credit card to gently scrape it away. Don't try to grab it with tweezers! The stinger likely still has venom sacs attached, and squeezing it will pump more painful venom into your poor fur baby.
Soothe the site of the sting.A single sting or a couple of stings can be soothed with a paste made of baking soda and water. This helps cut the burning sensation and draws out some of the venom. Intermittently using a cold washcloth or an ice pack can help both by reducing swelling and numbing the area. If your fur baby was stung many times over their body, an oatmeal bath can be a good option for full-body soothing.
When applying ice, make sure to place a towel between the ice and your fur baby’s skin and make sure they can move away from the ice in the event it irritates their skin.
You may also need an ECollar to prevent your fur baby from scratching or licking at the site of a sting. They'll want to soothe it, but they can end up making it take longer to heal.
Make sure they eat and drink.In particular, if your fur baby gets stung on the face and their mouth slightly swells up, they may have trouble eating and drinking. You may need to soften food for them or even hand-feed them for a day or two while the swelling goes down. If the swelling is more severe, bring them to the vet ASAP.
Call your vet. Less serious stings can still be worth calling your vet. They may want to see your poor pup just in case, or they may have more specific advice based on the number, location, and type of sting. If your pup has any underlying health conditions, you may need to be seen for minor stings to be on the safe side.
Deal with the insects. If you have a wasp nest that your dog can get to, you may want to call an exterminator to get rid of it. In the case of bees, call a bee removal specialist to have the hive relocated. Bees are important to the environment, so you want to save them if you can.
Has your fur baby been stung by a bee before? Did you do anything that wasn't on this list already that helped? If so, let me know in the comments!
K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more