Most of us know what it’s like to sustain a bee sting... That sharp jab, the immediate stinging sensation, and then the fire in our veins, yeeooow!  It’s exactly the same for our pets. With the warmer weather and the abundance of flowering plants, the chances of our pets being stung are greater and it’s important that we know the signs of bee sting and what to do.


What to look for

Dogs and cats investigate their worlds using their noses and paws and these therefore become two of the main targets of insects. It’s usually not too hard to find the spot where a bee has stung, and these are the places to start looking. Generally, there will be mild swelling and tenderness at the site of the sting. If your dog or cat cries out, or starts to lick or paw at a certain area, check for swelling in case it’s a bee sting. Often times the sting will not be able to be found.


Dogs and cats have a similar reaction to bee stings as us, and stings will usually cause nothing more than painful, local swelling that eases within a day, but things can deteriorate if - like some people - your pet has an allergic reaction to the sting. The symptoms of an adverse reaction include swelling, hives, difficulty breathing, and pale gums. Adverse reactions normally occur within fifteen minutes  therefore the signs will usually appear quickly.


Things can get worse, and it’s possible for animals to develop an anaphylactic shock as a result of a bee sting. If your pet is reacting badly to a bee sting i.e. has difficulty breathing, experiences major swelling, swelling around the face or throat, or is vomiting, seek veterinary assistance without delay. Multiple stings can cause animals to go into shock and anaphylactic shock may be more likely if the animal has been stung previously.


It’s also possible for animals to get stung inside their mouth or throat, or on their tongue, which can be particularly dangerous as the swelling the sting causes can close throats and block airways. Fortunately, the chances of this occurring are quite low.


What to do if your pet is stung

If the you are able to identify the sting  removeit to prevent more swelling. The stinger can continue to inject venom into an animal for several minutes after being separated from the bee.


After the stinger’s been removed, apply a cold compress to the area. This needs to be done for around 15 minutes to reduce any swelling and itchiness.


Stingers in the bottom of paws are usually harder to see and remove. Limping caused by bee sting is often mistaken for injury or torn nails, therefore if your pet is limping, inspect his or her paws carefully. Once you’ve confirmed that the problem is a sting and the stinger has been removed, monitor your pet closely for more significant swelling, or any of the adverse symptoms referred to above.


Bees or wasps... does it matter?

Both bee and wasp stings are poisonous and it’s not the puncture wound that causes the pain so much, but the poison that is injected. Bees’ stingers are barbed and designed to lodge in the skin. The bee dies when the stinger detaches from its body.


Wasp stingers are not barbed and are more painful, and an additional danger with wasps is that if provoked they can sting multiple times.  The chances however are that you won’t know whether a bee or wasp has stung your pet. 


It's important that you don't try to neutralise the venom before knowing what’s stung your pet because the wrong treatment could make things more painful for them. If you do not know which it was, then the best approach is to bathe the sting in cold water or use cold compresses only.


If you know whether it was a bee or wasp sting then two simple treatments can help take the sting out:

  • Bicarbonate of soda for bee stings

  • Vinegar or lemon juice for wasp stings


Emergency treatment

If your pet has a bad reaction to a sting and requires veterinary attention, your vet might administer adrenaline or antihistamine, painkillers, plus a steroid to reduce swelling. Sometimes intravenous fluids may also be required to get blood pressure back up and to protect organ function.


How to discourage bees

It would be virtually impossible to train our pets to stay away from bees of course, but reducing the conditions under which bees are attracted to our homes can help. Vegetable and flower gardens rely on the pollination process facilitated by bees, therefore if you have these plants then the presence bees will be more likely.  Cordoning off plants such as these with fencing or trellis will make access to them by your pet more difficult.  


Jasmine can be a good option as it flowers at night which is when bees have returned to their hives. Alternatively, you could plant flowers that due to their scent, colour or bloom shape do not attract bees. Red flowers, for example, do not attract bees, and chrysanthemums contain a natural insect repellent. Also, when walking your dog try to keep him or her away from ground cover that has flowers, because there’s a good chance that they’ll contain pollinating bees.


Allergies can be SSdangerous, therefore be very careful with your monitoring of your pet if they’ve sustained a sting. Fortunately, in most cases a sting is a passing trauma but remember that when in doubt seek emergency treatment. A delay could be fatal.