We’ve all seen the viral photos circulating on social media. The dogs with the swollen faces, their eyes peeking bleakly out of the folds of their oedematous skin. They are amusing to look at from afar, but what should you do if you suspect that your dog has been stung by a bee or wasp? What does it really look like? 

Why happens when they are stung? 

As we all know and may have had the experience of ourselves, bees and wasps carry a venom containing different toxins and allergens that can cause a wide range of reactions in the body. At the very least they can cause a sting with some localised pain and irritation, but depending on one’s sensitivity, can cause a major response in the body resulting in anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that occurs when the body’s immune system releases a wave of chemicals in response to a specific stimulus that the body has become hypersensitive to. Including those in the Hymenoptera species: bees and wasps. 

Though at first glance they have many similarities, bees and wasps fundamentally have a very different sting. Bees have a barbed stinger that is injected into the skin. It will remain there and can continue to pulsate venom into the area over a period of a few minutes. Wasps, on the other hand, preserve their sting on their body. This means that they can sting multiple times. 

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What are the symptoms and what should I look out for? 

Since dogs use their nose and mouths to satiate their curiosity, they are usually stung in the mouth or around their face. This means that it may not be obvious at first glance. The signs you should look out for are: 

  • Whining/ agitation 
  • itchiness (locally or over the body) 
  • pawing or rubbing the face
  • drooling
  • mild or severe swelling over their mouth or face
  • lameness
  • an area of localised redness, swelling and irritation

More generally, you may see: 

  • hives 
  • vomiting
  • pale gums
  • difficulty breathing 
  • collapse

If you think that your dog has been stung in the mouth, you see severe swelling, itchiness, drooling, panting, or any of the systemic signs it is important to get your dog down to your closest veterinary clinic for treatment. Ordinarily clinical signs will be apparent within 10-30 minutes of your pet being stung, however it is recommended to monitor them for  the following twenty-four hours after a sting in case of a delayed reaction. 

A delayed hypersensitivity reaction, which is rare but far more serious, may occur anywhere from 3 to 14 days after the initial sting, and may include vomiting and diarrhoea, lethargy, swelling, bruising, collapse and seizures. 

What should I do? 

In very mild cases usually no intervention is required. For initial treatment at home, you can try applying a cool compress to the area to help reduce swelling and inflammation. If see the sting, and your dog will allow it, you can try removing it by scraping with a fingernail or firm piece of cardboard. However, this may be uncomfortable for your pet. Please do not administer any medication like oral antihistamines without talking to your veterinarian first. 

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How can I treat my dog? 

Just like people, there is no rhyme or reason that determines why some have more of a severe allergic reaction than others. If you observe the more severe signs of reaction, then you should immediately take your dog to your vet. The treatment plan will vary between cases depending on the severity of the reaction at the time of assessment.

Milder cases ordinarily involve an antihistamine injection and a steroid to help with the inflammatory response. In more severe cases they may need to hospitalised for shock treatment which includes oxygen, securing and maintaining an airway, intravenous fluids and emergency drugs such as adrenaline (epinephrine).

Prevention 

Some pets do not learn their lesson, and as the warmer weather brings all the bees and wasps out, it is important to watch for any preoccupation your dog has around the flowers that feed our foraging friends. It is important to acknowledge that in some cases, just like people, dogs can work up a heightened allergic response over multiple incidences of being stung, so as always, prevention is better than a cure. 

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