If your dog ate a bee, rest assured you are not alone. Countless dog owners deal with this issue every year, once spring and summer are in full swing. Dogs are naturally curious creatures and voracious eaters. Dogs like to investigate their environment and are willing to put just about anything in their mouths – including bees. However, eating a bee is a decision most dogs will probably regret. This is because, more often than not, bees try to defend themselves by striking back – stinging.
Help, My Dog Ate a Bee!
Dogs usually get stung on their faces while investigating the stinging insect or the get stung inside the mouth or throat while trying to eat the stinging insect.
The bee’s stinger is barbed and specifically designed to detach from the bee’s body and lodge into the victim’s skin. The sting is a tiny spike with a venom sac at the end. The detachment of the stinger kills the bee, but not before causing damage upon the victim (inserting the spike and the sac into the skin).
It should be noted that the tiny puncture wound made by the stinger is not problematic at all. The actual problem is the small amount of venom injected during the sting. In most cases, bee stings are just painful and irritating for your overly curious canine baby. However, sometimes the situation may escalate thus warranting a trip to the vet’s office.
The consequences of a bee sting depend on 3 factors: 1) where the dog was stung, how many times the dog was stung and whether the dog is allergic to the bee's venom. Based on whether there are consequences or not, bee stings can be classified as non complicated bee stings and complicated bee stings.
Non-Complicated Bee Stings
Simple or non-complicated stings are self-limiting and can be safely left alone. Although painful and uncomfortable, they are not typically dangerous.
What are the clinical signs of non-complicated bee stings in dogs? Dogs that have suffered a non-complicated bee sting will show the following signs:
- Swelling at the stinging site
- Excessive licking, chewing, rubbing or biting the affected area
- Whining and agitation
- Running in circles
How are non-complicated bee stings treated? First of all, it is important to scrape the sting out of the skin. This is best done with a fingernail, ring or the edge of a credit card. Avoid using instruments like forceps and tweezers because they can easily force more venom to come out of the sac.
Then mix baking soda with water to form a paste and apply it to the area (the baking soda neutralizes the acidic venom). You can also apply a cold pack to the area to reduce swelling. Applying corticosteroid ointments or creams will reduce the inflammation.
If you decide to bring your dog at the vet’s office, the vet will probably apply topical local anesthetic (lidocaine) at the stung site (to relieve the pain) and prescribe oral antihistamines (such as Benadryl).
Complicated Bee Stings
Generally speaking, immediate help and veterinary attention are needed if the dog has been stung on the tongue, mouth or throat. Being stung on the paw is not equally dangerous as being stung inside the mouth or throat. Tongue, mouth and throat stings may potentially cause subsequent swelling that can easily close the dog’s throat thus blocking its airway.
What are some signs of complicated bee stings? Dogs that have been stung on the tongue, mouth or throat and developed subsequent swelling will show the following signs:
- Visible face and neck swellings
- Impaired breathing
- Blue gums
The treatment of complicated bee stings in dogs includes administration of corticosteroids and antihistamines. The goal is to reduce the swelling and prevent further complications.
Dogs Stung By Bee Multiple Times
Being stung more than once or twice may lead to secondary hemolytic anemia (IMHA). If IMHA develops, the number of red blood cells falls significantly and their normal function is impaired.
Case reports show that dogs may actually die if stung too many times. In those cases, the cause of death is envenomation. A single’s bee venom is not enough to cause fatal outcome. However, if the amount of venom in the body increases to a certain level, it can envenom the dog. It should be noted that bees die after stinging so one bee cannot sting more than once.
Dogs that have been stung multiple times will show the following signs:
- Pale gums
- Bleeding (in the vomit, feces and urine)
- Lack of alertness
- Throat and nose congestion
- Difficulty walking
- Tense abdomen
- Dilated pupils
- Facial paralysis.
The exact course of treatment depends on the clinical manifestation. However, in cases of severe anemia, blood transfusion is recommended.
Dog With Allergic Reaction or Anaphylactic Shock
For an allergic dog, a single bee sting can be fatal. The anaphylactic shock is a life-threatening allergic reaction. Usually allergic reactions occur within 10 minutes of the sting. However, in some cases they can be delayed and occur several hours after the actual incident.
The clinical signs of an allergic reaction to bee stings in dogs include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty wheezing
The clinical signs of anaphylactic shock include:
- Excessive swelling
- Impaired breathing (the most definitive sign)
- Strange behavior (nobody knows your dog better than you do. Keep a close eye on your dog and look for what might seem even as a minor body language change).
The treatment protocol includes:
- Epinephrine or adrenaline – to increase the cardiac activity, heart rate and blood pressure.
- Antihistamines and corticosteroids – to reduce the swelling and the intensity of the allergic reaction.
- Fluid therapy – to replace the lost fluids and restore balance.
- Oxygen supplementation – if the breathing was severely impaired and the dog is lacking oxygen.
Once the patient is stable, it is advisable to perform blood and urine tests just to be sure and rule out possible organ damage. Because of the risk of a second anaphylactic reaction, these patients require close monitoring for at least 3 days. The second anaphylactic reaction usually takes place within 8 to 10 hours of the initial sting, but it can also occur up to 72 hours later.
Is Eating Bees Dangerous for Dogs?
Bees are venomous but not poisonous, which means if a dog ingests a bee or two nothing bad will happen. This is because unlike poisons which act passively and just need to be ingested, venoms need to be actively administered in the body through a needle like instrument (in this case the bee’s stinger). Therefore, ingesting, inhaling or even touching venom is not harmful at all.
The Bottom Line
In dogs, as in humans, bee stings can cause a variety of problems ranging from pain and mild irritation to potentially life-threatening allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock. Therefore, it is safe to assume that although not all bee stings are dangerous, they are all unpleasant.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.
She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.
Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.