Bee or wasp stings are common and distressing problems in cats. Stings are particularly common during early spring and late autumn, when bees and wasps are slower and more prone to being caught. Younger cats are especially susceptible due to their natural curiosity and inexperience.
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While the effects of bee or wasp stings can be quite dramatic, it is rare for cats to suffer really severe reactions to a bee or wasp sting. Prompt first-aid treatment will limit the impact of stings. So knowing how to recognise the signs of a bee or wasp sting and what to do if your cat has been stung will help make them more comfortable while you seek further advice from your vet.
Why do cats get stung?
A cat’s strong hunting instincts and inquisitive nature makes them prone to bee or wasp stings. The size and movement of these insects makes them irresistible playthings for cats to investigate, chase and catch. But this play behaviour also makes them more likely to sting in self-defence.
Stings are especially common in young cats and during periods of warmer weather. They usually result from play with a bee or wasp in the house or garden, but also occur if a cat steps on a dozy bee or wasp. This is more likely during sudden snaps of cooler weather in early spring or later autumn which make bees or wasps slower than normal and easier for cats to catch.
Solitary stings are far more common than multiple stings, which can happen if a cat disturbs a beehive or wasp’s nest.
What happens if my cat gets stung?
Bee or wasp stings in cats produce effects similar to those in people, although they are not always as noticeable.
First – it hurts!
Typically, a cat that’s been stung will suddenly show of distress and pain – they may cry out in pain and display immediate and obvious signs such as limping, or frantically licking or pawing the affected area. Some cats however will run and hide following a sting, becoming quiet and withdrawn. If your cat suddenly displays odd behaviour and there’s been a bee or wasp around, you should suspect a possible sting.
Stings can occur anywhere on a cat’s body but the most common areas are the front paws and the face. These are the parts most likely to come into contact with the insect.
Then it swells
Heat and swelling around the area that’s been stung is common, but not always obvious due to their fur, especially if they have a long coat. This swelling can be quite itchy, puffy and firm and sometimes be quite dramatic, especially if it involves the face. Thankfully, swelling around the face does not usually affect a cat’s ability to breathe, except in a few severe cases. In most cases, these swellings recede after a few hours.
Sometimes, effects are delayed
Some cats experience a delayed or distant reaction to the sting. These individuals develop ‘hives’ – small raised red swellings across the body, well away from the site of the sting, which are more obvious in less hairy parts of the body such as the groin. These reactions can also be itchy and may cause small clumps of hair loss. They often appear several hours after the initial sting and may last for a day or so.
Occasionally, there are more general signs of being unwell
Some cats may also suffer vomiting and diarrhoea. This is often from the shock of being stung but it is also seen with a rare but potentially very serious complication to the bee or wasp sting known as anaphylaxis. This is an extreme allergic reaction to toxins in the sting. Cats suffering from this go into severe shock. They will be very weak or collapsed, with fast or shallow breathing, a fast heart rate, weak pulses and pale or brick-red gums.
While such cases can be life-threatening they are fortunately rare. These individuals will not recover without prompt emergency veterinary treatment. So if you suspect your cat has been stung, it is always best to contact your vet so they can make their own assessment of your cat and give you further advice or reassurance.
What treatments do stings need?
If your cat gets stung, some straightforward first-aid treatments will help while you seek veterinary advice. These treatments are very similar to treating stings in people.
If your cat has been stung by a bee, start by removing the sting if you can find one (it looks like a thorn). Try to flick the sting out with the edge of a bank card as using tweezers may make the sting worse but, ultimately, the quicker you can remove it, the better. Wasps don’t leave a sting behind, so you won’t need to do this if your cat has been stung by a wasp. If you’re not sure whether it was a wasp or a bee that stung your cat, it’s best to check for a sting anyway.
The next step is to cool the area that’s been stung for five to ten minutes, using an icepack, or a bag of frozen peas. Never use these directly on the skin – always wrap them in a tea towel to avoid damaging the skin. For wider reactions or multiple stings, a wet or cooled towel is more helpful.
Traditional remedies for stings – such as applying bicarbonate of soda or vinegar to the affected area – are not recommended, as there is no evidence they help. You should also never give your cat human antihistamines or painkillers without checking with your vet first as these may be quite harmful.
To avoid tummy upsets after a sting, don’t feed your cat for a couple of hours. Then give them only small portions for the rest of the day. You should let them drink as normal.
Finally, watch for other signs developing within a few hours of the sting. If your cat goes outside, keep them in for six to eight hours so you can monitor them closely.
Although most cats will only need first aid treatment to settle a bee or wasp sting, it is always best to seek advice from your vet if you think your cat has been stung. Your vet will be able to tell whether your cat is suffering from a mild, moderate or extreme reaction to the bee or wasp sting. They can also decide on whether further treatment is necessary.
In moderate and extreme cases, your vet will administer anti-inflammatory treatment to reverse the effects of the sting and reduce the swelling and the pain it causes. In extreme cases, your cat will need to stay with the vet for a period for treatment to help them overcome the shock. This typically involves a drip and treatment to neutralise the anaphylactic reaction. Most cats that need veterinary treatment make a good recovery.
Although bee or wasp stings are common problems and most cats recover well, because a small number experience severe and potentially life-threatening reactions, giving first-aid and then contacting your vet for further advice ensures that you are doing all you can to help your cat.
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