Dogs have amazing reflexes, particularly when it comes to their mouths. Many can pluck a thrown treat from the air with the grace and skill of a Gold Glove shortstop.
But unfortunately for our furry friends, these reflexes occasionally get them into trouble.
Problems occur when dogs instinctually snap flying bugs from the air. This isn’t usually a big deal when said bug is a butterfly, housefly or mosquito, but dogs sometimes grab bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets without understanding the painful sting they are likely to suffer.
This usually results in a whimpering dog and a worried owner. But don’t panic – most bee stings are harmless, and even those stings that cause a serious reaction can often be treated successfully by your vet.
Can Dogs Become Sick from Eating Wasps or Bees?
Let’s get this out of the way first: The only danger from your dog eating a bee or wasp relates to the sting.
Nothing bad is likely to happen unless the insect injects some of its venom into your pooch’s body. Otherwise, your dog will just digest it like most other packets of protein.
This is true because bees are venomous; they are not poisonous. Forgive me for putting on my uber-pedantic hat here, but the terms poison and venom refer to two different types of toxin.
Poisons cause unpleasant effects when they are touched, inhaled or eaten. This means that poisons are administered “passively.” By contrast, venoms are injected via some type of syringe-like anatomical structure. This could be a stinger, a fang or even specialized hairs. Venoms are “actively” administered.
For example, some mushrooms, many amphibians and nightshade plants are poisonous. Touch or eat these things and you’ll regret it.
By contrast, bees, spiders, rattlesnakes and ants, among other things, are venomous. It is theoretically safe to eat or touch any of these animals without danger (note that I did say “theoretically” – touching rattlesnakes is usually a bad idea). But you sure don’t want to get bitten or stung by them.
Usually, venoms are ineffective if ingested or touched. This means that you don’t need to worry about your dog being poisoned from digesting the bee.
How to Care for Minor Bee Stings on Dogs
Most dogs will only suffer relatively mild symptoms following a bee or wasp sting. They’ll experience some localized pain and swelling, and they’ll probably make a mental note to avoid eating bees and wasps in the future.
If your dog suffers a minor sting, you’ll want to start by removing the bee’s stinger, if present (only honeybees leave behind a stinger).
Always try to “scrape” out a bee stinger, instead of “pinching” and pulling it out, which can force more venom into the wound. So, put the tweezers down. Pick up a credit card and start scraping (just be gentle!).
The video below demonstrates how to scrape out a stinger from a human arm, but the same procedure will work for your dog — although you may have to push some hair aside to access the wound.
The Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine recommends applying baking soda and water or a cool compress to the wound to try to reduce your pup’s pain.
However, they note that while bee venom is acidic, and can therefore be neutralized with baking soda, it will potentially make a wasp sting – which contains alkali venom – worse. In such cases, some diluted apple cider vinegar may prove helpful.
How to Care for Serious Stings
Dogs who have an allergy to bee or wasp venom may require immediate medical attention. These unfortunate pups may quickly experience an anaphylactic reaction, which can make it difficult for them to breathe. Without medical attention, allergic dogs may die following a sting.
It can be difficult to determine whether your dog is suffering from nothing more than an ordinary, run-of-the-mill bee sting, or if your dog requires prompt medical care.
You’ll always need to use your best judgment, but consider any of the four symptoms detailed below as a sign that your dog needs to see a vet pronto.
- Significant swelling of the mouth or nose area. Significant swelling can cause severe pain and it may block off your dog’s airway. Your vet can administer medications that will help reduce the swelling and halt an allergic reaction, if that is what lead to the swelling.
- Your pet is having trouble breathing. Difficulty breathing is a sign of an allergic reaction, and it is also a sign that you need to pick up your dog and get to the vet ASAP. Call the vet’s office on the way and let them know you are coming.
- Your dog becomes depressed, lethargic, unusually sleepy or uncoordinated. All of these symptoms can indicate an allergic reaction and necessitate a hasty trip to the vet.
- You feel like your dog is experiencing a serious reaction. This is an admittedly vague sign, but it speaks to an important point: You know your dog better than anyone else, and you pick up subtle body language cues you may not even consciously realize. If you think something is wrong, go ahead and head to the vet. There’s no real harm in overreacting in this case.
A Couple of Crucial Caveats For Dogs and Bee Stings
While most dogs who are not allergic to bees or wasps won’t require any veterinary care after eating a bee, there are a couple of situations in which medical care is warranted, despite the lack of an allergic reaction. These include:
Dogs Who Suffer a Sting to the back of the Tongue or down the Throat.
Dogs who are stung in these areas may be in greater danger than you’d otherwise think. Bee and wasp venoms almost always cause swelling, and if this swelling occurs in your dog’s airway, he could be in serious trouble.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine if your dog was stung in his throat. So, you’ll have to use your best judgement to act in your dog’s best interest.
Obviously, it is better to err on the side of caution and seek veterinary assistance if you have any doubts.
Dogs Who Suffer from Multiple Stings
While a single dose of bee venom won’t cause most dogs any great hardship, the venom contained in several may very well prove taxing.
So, you’ll want to keep a close eye on any pup that suffers more than one sting and be ready to head to the vet if any troubling signs appear.
Using Benadryl for Your Dog’s Bee Stings
Diphenhydramine – or Benadryl as those of us not wearing lab coats call it – is often used to combat the effects of bee stings and help prevent allergic reactions.
You should always consult with your veterinarian before giving her any medication, but most dogs can tolerate Benadryl well.
Usually, Benadryl is administered to dogs at a rate of 1 milligram per pound of body weight, but only your vet can determine the proper dosage for your pup. It is often wise to discuss the potential for bee stings with your vet during a normal office visit, this way you can determine how much Benadryl you should give your dog in the event of a sting.
For the record, it doesn’t matter if you use Benadryl or the generic equivalent.
It does, however, matter that you always avoid antihistamines that contain other medications, such as analgesics (NSAIDs, Acetaminophen, etc.), or decongestants. Stick to boring old diphenhydramine.
Was It a Wasp, Hornet, Yellow Jacket or Bee?
The various bees, wasps, yellow jackets and hornet flying around our homes and the parks we visit actually exhibit some substantial differences. These differences are important from a dog-owner’s point of view.
As stated before, the venoms of different species require different types of first aid and cause different levels of pain. This is obviously somewhat subjective, but at least one scientist has tried to quantify the stings of different species.
It’s also important to note that these bugs all exhibit different habits and personalities, which makes some more likely to sting your pup than others.
For example, hornets and paper wasps tend to nest and live high above the ground, so they probably aren’t responsible for many stings. Instead, most dogs are probably stung by ground nesting (and somewhat aggressive) yellow jackets, garden-visiting honeybees, and clover-pollinating bumble bees.
You’ll just have to familiarize yourself with the appearance and habits of the most commonly encountered wasps and bees to give yourself a good chance at identifying the bug in question.
Has your pup ever eaten a bee? Were you there when it happened, or did she just run up to you crying? We’d love to hear your experiences.
I went through this myself a few weeks ago. I often leave the patio door open while I work, and paper wasps fly in from time to time. Usually, they just crawl around on the window by my computer. But on this particular day, one fell to the ground.
I hardly noticed, but my Rottmonster was intrigued by this curious turn of (potentially edible) events, so she pounced. A few seconds later, the tiny wasp delivered a strong objection that caused the attacking predator to withdraw with a yelp.
My beloved pooch didn’t actually swallow the wasp, she just got stung on the lip and it wasn’t a big deal. Save for some lip-licking and rubbing her snoot on the carpet for a few minutes, she was fine. A little wiser, perhaps, but no worse for the wear.
Share your best dog stinging story in the comments – what happened?
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