Common Insect Stings and Bites on Dogs and What to Do

If there are bees or other stinging insects around, pay close attention to your dog.
Photo by Éric Tourneret, via Wikipedia

Your dog is sniffing happily around the back yard when she suddenly yelps and starts running around in circles. It’s a good bet she had a run-in with the business end of a bee. Dogs are more at risk of bee stings than humans because they explore the world with their snouts and their four paws pad through the grass and clover—exactly where bees buzz in search of nectar. Even the most well-trained dogs can end up with a bee sting, so it’s important to know what to do when it eventually happens.

Usually, the result of a bee sting is pain and localized swelling, but dogs can also be allergic to bee stings, similarly to humans. There is also the risk of a severe—even life-threatening—allergic reaction. The pain and reaction will vary depending on the type of stinging insect, the number of attacking insects, and your dog.

There are 4,000 bee species native to the US, as well as thousands of wasp and hornet species. Some—like bumblebees, sweat bees, and other beneficial ground bees—are docile and rarely sting (some don’t even have stingers). Bees with smooth stingers can sting multiple times, while bees with barbed stingers, like honeybees, can sting only once: The barb gets stuck, the stinger comes off in the body of their victim, and the bee dies. Wasps and hornets can sting repeatedly. Most stinging insects inject venom with their sting—while the stinger itself causes discomfort, this venom causes the adverse reaction.

What to Do If Your Dog Is Stung by a Bee

All dogs are at risk of bee, wasp, and hornet stings, even lapdogs who prefer the great indoors. It’s wise to know what steps to take if you suspect your dog—large or small—has been stung by a bee. There’s a chance you’ll see the sting go down, but more likely you’ll just see the after-effects. Behaviors that may indicate your dog has been stung include:

  • Yelping and whimpering
  • Limping
  • Running in circles
  • Pawing or licking at the site of the sting

Thankfully, the physical symptoms of a bee sting are usually limited to localized redness, swelling, and discomfort. If it appears to be a single sting, and your dog has experienced a previous sting without an allergic reaction, you probably need to treat only the affected area.

As quickly as you can, try to find the stinger and remove it by running a credit card or your nail over the stinger. Don’t pinch it with your fingers or tweezers as this can inject more venom into your dog as you pull it out.

Ingested or topical antihistamines are sometimes prescribed to reduce swelling and discomfort. Always talk with your veterinarian before giving your dog any medication, so the dosage and usage are correct and safe.

If this is your dog’s first bee sting and it is a single sting, watch her closely for signs of a more severe allergic reaction, including:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Collapse
  • Increased swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Pale gums

Any of these symptoms may indicate anaphylactic shock, which is an emergency. Call your veterinarian immediately and take your dog to the nearest animal hospital.

Depending on the severity of the reaction, treatment may include injected antihistamines, steroids, epinephrine, and observation. If your dog has experienced an allergic reaction to a bee sting before, your veterinarian may suggest you keep a syringe of epinephrine (EpiPen) at home. If you ever needed to use it on your dog, you would still take your dog immediately to the animal hospital.

What if Your Dog’s Stung on the Face

Unfortunately, bees often sting dogs in the mouth, or around the face and neck. That’s because of your dog’s curious and playful nature. She may nose around in the flowers, or behind the shed, and disturb a nest. Indeed, she may view flying bumblebees and other stinging insects as fun objects to chase and try to catch in her mouth. A game she’ll soon regret.

Dogs who eat bees won’t suffer because of ingesting the bee itself—the sting is the real hazard. A trip to the veterinarian is in order if your dog is stung in the face, mouth, throat, or neck. Even if she doesn’t have a severe allergic reaction, intense swelling in her mouth or throat can cause breathing problems.

What Should I Do If My Dog Gets Stung in the Eye?

A bee sting near her eye should also be checked because it’s a sensitive area, and she may further hurt herself by pawing and rubbing her eye. A cool compress can help with pain and swelling, but it’s important to contact your veterinarian for further advice regarding stings to the eye or face.

What to Do If Your Dog Is Stung Multiple Times

If your dog disturbs a bees’ nest, she is at risk of many bee stings, as they swarm to protect their home turf. If it’s a wasps’ nest, she’ll probably be stung multiple times by each attacker. In this instance, your dog is getting a larger dose of venom in her system and more extensive swelling. Even for dogs without allergies, multiple, simultaneous stings are always an emergency.

Other Common Insect Stings and Bites

Ants, horse flies, spiders, scorpions, snakes, and more—bites and stings can come from a variety of creepy crawlies. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to find a tick on a dog: Most dog owners have done all of the research when it comes to how to remove them and what to watch for after a tick bite. When it comes to bites from other insects—the kind that can fly or crawl away—we don’t always know what exactly caused the bite. That can make it difficult to proceed with the proper treatment. When in doubt, always call the vet. Otherwise, here are some tips regarding bites from nasty insects and arachnids.

What to Do When a Spider Bites Your Dog

Mild irritation from non-venomous bites can be soothed with an ice pack or by dabbing the affected area with a 50/50 mix of apple cider vinegar and water, but serious bites and symptoms require a call to the vet.

While most spiders are venomous, only a few types can penetrate the skin enough to inject the venom. Of all spider varieties, recluse and widow spiders are the types that inflict ‘medically significant bites,’ or bites that result in envenomation. Tarantula or wolf spider bites, while irritating, do not post any lasting danger. The risk of secondary infection is greater than risks posed by a spider bite.

Any spider’s bite may produce redness, swelling, or inflammation. Clinical signs of a serious bite include lethargy, vomiting, tremors, or tissue damage. If you suspect your dog has been bitten by a dangerous spider such as a black widow or brown recluse, contact your veterinarian right away.

Are Scorpion Stings Dangerous for Dogs?

From venom to stuck stingers, tangles with scorpions can be dangerous for pets. While not every scorpion is deadly—generally, the larger it is, the less dangerous—any scorpion sting should be treated as an emergency. If your dog is stung by a scorpion, attempt to identify the type of scorpion so the vet can choose the appropriate action. Contact the vet, and only provide medication if the veterinarian tells you to. If you didn’t see a sting happen but notice excess drool, vomiting, or difficulty breathing, call the emergency vet right away.

How to Prevent Your Dog From Being Stung by a Bee

You can’t fully protect your dog from bee and wasp stings or other bug bites, but you can minimize the risk. Here’s how:

  • Regularly inspect your back yard for beehives and wasp nests. Check the trees, eaves, inside dense bushes, and under any porches or overhangs. If you see more bee and wasp activity in your yard than usual, keep an eye open and they’ll lead you to their ‘home’ if it’s nearby.
  • Plant flower beds away from your dog. If your dog usually romps around the back yard, it’s best to relegate brightly colored bee magnets (flowers) to the front or side yard.
  • Stick to the paved footpaths in parks in spring and summer, especially if your dog is allergic. A lovely field of clover is a tempting place to run and play, but it’s also teeming with bees. To prevent your dog from wandering into “clovery” areas, make sure they’re on a leash with a secure collar or harness.
  • Repel ticks, fleas, and lice with regular flea protection as recommended by your veterinarian.

How to Train Dogs to Leave Bees Alone

Reel in curious dogs who chase or eat bees by training them to complete a task with a word you only use to recall him from a bee or wasp. Practice this when there are no bees present so you avoid any mishaps during training.

Choose the word you’d like to use as your recall. This word should be one you don’t use often otherwise. Skip everyday commands like “come,” “here,” or “leave it” in favor of a bee-specific recall word so it’s less likely to be ignored.

Begin training your dog to respond to your command. Follow similar steps as when training your dog to come and encourage your dog to complete a task or preferred behavior. Getting a toy, grabbing a handkerchief you’ve dangled from your back pocket, or performing a favorite trick can work—whatever you choose, make sure it’s a task he enjoys so it’s more likely to comply when it matters most.

Praise every successful recall. Praise, treats, and a clicker or marker word let your dog know he’s done a good job and encourages him to continue responding to your recall.

Practice, practice, practice. Before trusting your dog’s responsiveness to the request, practice the behavior at home, at the park, and while walking down the sidewalk so you can make sure he’ll respond no matter what’s going on.

Give it a try in a safe space. Head outdoors to an area where you may spot the occasional bee to give it a whirl.

Reward him for a job well done. Every time your dog responds to your bee recall, offer plenty of praise and treats.

f your dog is fearful of insects after a sting, it may impact his daily life. Contact a behaviorist or veterinarian for help with fearful or obsessive behaviors following an insect sting.

Now that you know how to deal with the stings, bites, and barbs of wasps, bees, scorpions, and spiders—and do your best to avoid them in the first place—you can enjoy the wide world with your best friend without fretting. After being treated for a bee sting, your dog may need some time to recuperate. Allow them to rest in their dog bed with easy access to their water and food… and plenty of love.

6 thoughts on “Common Insect Stings and Bites on Dogs and What to Do”

  1. I think it’d be better to say that dogs *can be allergic* as what you’ve written gives the impression that all dogs are allergic, and you’re the first result on google.

    Also *Bees can sting only once* is just plain not true. Bumble bees and carpenter bees can sting multiple times.

    1. It clearly stated some bees, like wasps and hornets, can sting more than once. And for the record, all dogs do have an allergic reaction to bee stings, some just don’t go full-on anaphylatic shock. Some simply get tired & sore, others worse.

      1. You are wrong Hepner; Java was correct. “Bees can sting only once—their barbed stinger gets stuck and comes off in the body of their victim, and the bee dies. Wasps and hornets can sting repeatedly.”

        Likewise, you are wrong about bee allergy. Not everyone is allergic to bee venom. An allergy is an overreaction to a foreign substance, not simply a reaction to venom, etc.

        If you are going to correct someone, it helps to be sure you know you’re right.

    2. Apparently you did not read the same article (the one above). Nowhere did I see something stating that all dogs are allergic to stings; quite the opposite. It is also stated that many bees, wasps and hornets can sting multiple times. The honey bee was the one with the barbed stinger which detaches from the causing the stinger to remain while the bee goes off and dies. Pay more attention when you read. You’ll learn more and not make yourself look so silly next time.

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