Bee & Wasp Sting Guide For Pets
Although most bees and wasps are relatively small creatures, their stings can sometimes pack quite the punch. It can be a bit unnerving when our beloved pets get stung, especially if it's their first time. Symptoms from a sting can range from mild to severe, or sometimes even deadly. Many animals have a high tolerance for pain and tend to suffer in silence, so symptoms can also sometimes seem unnoticeable. There's also conflicting advice online regarding different products available to treat a sting, such as Benadryl, baking soda or oatmeal past, and aloe. Below are some tips that will help you prepare in advance, symptoms to look for, as well as steps you can take after a sting to keep your pet safe and comfortable, including information on those debated products.
1. Pet First Aid Kit
Rule number one, regardless of what type of pet situation you're preparing for, it's important to have a pet first aid kit. You can purchase a kit online or create your own. The ASPCA (scroll down to the video) and American Red Cross both have great kit tips. Click here for more on animal disaster and emergency preparedness.
2. Bee & Wasp Deterrence & Removal
Bees and wasps are essential pollinators and play a vital role in ecosystems and our lives, so deterrence should always come before elimination. There are safe and non-toxic steps you can take to deter bees and wasps before they create homes in your yard. If necessary, there are also ways to remove existing nests. Learn more here.
3. 24-Hour Emergency Vet Info
Keep contact information for your primary vet and local 24-hour emergency vet hospitals in your mobile phone and on your refrigerator. If someone is caring for your pet while you're away, be sure to show them where you keep that information.
4. Pet Allergies and Medications
Keep a list of your pet's allergies and medications in your mobile phone, your pet's care journal, and on your refrigerator. Again, be sure to share that info with your petsitters.
5. Helpful Items To Keep On Hand
Please refer to the important details for each item in the 'After A Sting' list below
Benadryl (with Diphenhydramine only)
Mild, Fragrance-Free Soap
Needleless/Oral Syringe (for liquid medication administration)
Aloe Vera Gel (without latex/aloin)
6. Benadryl Information
During your next vet visit, ask if Benadryl is safe for your pet and the recommended dose, then put the info in your mobile phone or a convenient place. In an emergency, each second counts, and this will save you a step in the future.
7. Play Environment Awareness
Of course, we always want to follow proper safety guidelines and adequate care regarding time spent outside for our cats, dogs, ferrets and other animals. With that said, be aware of the surroundings within your pets play area. Whether you're at home or on an outdoor adventure, keep an eye on where and what your pet is getting into. Bees and wasps can be found among flowers, in gardens, are attracted to sweets, and nests can be found in the ground, on trees and buildings, and near swing-sets, pools, etc.
Symptoms typically begin instantly or within approximately 30 minutes after being stung. However, some pets may experience delayed reactions, so it is best to keep a keen eye on them for at least a week. Some pets may not show any noticeable symptoms at all, while others may have serious reactions. A severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) can lead to anaphylactic shock, which can occur immediately, or progressively over several hours. Anaphylactic or other serious reactions cannot be treated with home remedies or oral Benadryl, and often require an IV and other treatment. If not treated rapidly, anaphylactic reactions are fatal. Whether symptoms seem mild or severe, it's best to take action promptly after a sting.
Common Symptoms - Call Vet as Precaution
Whining or yelping
Tenderness and redness around the sting site
Thickening ear flaps
More Serious Reactions - Requires Immediate Medical Care
Swelling in the face or throat
Difficulty or quickened breathing
Coldness (sometimes in the gums or mouth, or other areas that are usually warm)
Disorientation or lack of response
Weakness or lethargy
Immobility or paralysis
Increased heart rate
Anaphylactic shock (symptoms can include those listed above, as well as inability to hold their bladder or bowels)
After A Sting
1. Stay Calm
We help our pets best when we're calm and collected. Animals are very intuitive and when we're not composed they become more stressed, causing symptoms to worsen. Approach your pet slowly and gently.
2. What Was It?
Some pets are allergic to certain species, so if you're lucky enough to catch a glimpse of what caused the sting, that's helpful. Bees have noticeable body hair and golden-yellow stripes, whereas some wasps have more vibrant/neon yellow stripes and you likely won't see their hair. The image below may also help you. Click here for more on wasps and bees.
3. Multiple Stings
If your pet has been stung numerous times, take your pet to the vet immediately. Multiple stings at once can cause severe allergic reactions, kidney damage, and even death from complications.
4. Find Sting Location
Sometimes it's challenging to do so, but if you're able, locate where your pet was stung and inspect the site. If you're unable to find the sting sight, keep an eye on your pet - scratching or licking may guide you to the right spot. It sometimes helps to look from a side angle rather than straight on.
5. Stings Inside the Mouth/Throat, to the Face or Nose
A sting inside the mouth can be more harmful. If this occurs, it's recommended that you take your pet to the vet immediately, as this can cause difficulty breathing and swallowing. Stings to the face or nose are also typically more tender and can cause more swelling than other parts of the body - if this occurs, it is recommended to at least call the vet promptly.
6. Bee Stinger - Do NOT Squeeze
Stingers are typically black and small. If you find a stinger in your pet, do not pinch or squeeze it. Stingers have venom and pheromones in them, and removal takes finesse so that it's not injected into your pet. Use a credit card or a sturdy straightedge to scrape the stinger out of the skin. Be careful not to break the stinger, which can also release toxins. If you feel uneasy, have your vet do it for you ASAP.
7. If You Already Know Your Pet's Allergic To Stings
Take your pet to the vet instantly. Promptly call ahead or on the way if safely able to do so. The vet may recommend you give a dose of Benadryl at once before heading to them. The goal is to get a head start before your pet begins to experience systems, which can be life-threatening.
8. If Pet Has A Serious Reaction
If your pet starts experiencing any serious reactions (see 'Symptoms' above), bring your pet to the vet immediately. Try to calmly keep your pet conscious and warm on the way to the vet. You can keep your pet warm by wrapping them in a blanket, make certain that you don't cause them to overheat and that you don't cover their face.
9. Pet's First Sting
If this is your pet's first sting, call the vet. The vet should provide general insight over the phone, free of charge. Ask if Benadryl is safe for your pet, when to administer, and the recommended dose. If you're not talking with your primary vet, make sure they're aware of pet's known allergies, and any medications your pet is taking. Even if you don't give the Benadryl to your pet at that moment, it's good to have the info in preparation so you can act promptly if your pet starts to show symptoms. See more on Benadryl below.
Potentially Helpful Products
Below are products that some recommend and could potentially be helpful when our pets are stung. These products are not meant as a substitute for treatment from your pet's veterinarian, rather as an additional option to reduce swelling, stinging, or provide comfort for your pet - under your veterinarian's guidance.
Benadryl can be given to animals to prevent symptoms from allergic reactions with the following in mind:
Only give Benadryl to your pet under the recommendation of your vet.
Use Benadryl with Diphenhydramine Only - No other medications/active ingredients.
Some Benadryl products and other medications with diphenhydramine also contain pseudoephedrine or acetaminophen, which can be life-threatening to animals.
Children's Benadryl may be more suitable for your pet (ask your vet).
Use of over-the-counter Benadryl for animals may technically be illegal. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that the use of medication is consistent with its labeling. Benadryl does not include usage information for animals on their labels. Therefore, vets are required by law to issue a prescription, providing a 'proper label' which includes that information. The truth is, many vets are either unaware of this, or somehow seem to let it 'slip their minds' in certain situations...
For cats, it may be easiest to use the liquid form with an oral syringe. Point the syringe towards the inside of their cheek, then slowly and steadily push on the syringe to prevent choking. It will taste bitter and may cause some drooling.
It is a higher risk for certain animals to take Benadryl, such as those with lung or heart disease, an over-active thyroid, glaucoma, or high blood pressure.
Animals can experience side effects from Benadryl, and it can also cause reactions when taken with other medications.
Click here and here for more on Benadryl, precautions, side-effects, and drug reactions.
Before Applying Products - Clean The Area
Clean the area with mild, fragrance-free soap and lukewarm water; not hot or cold. Be sure to rinse all the soap off. Gently pat dry.
2. Baking Soda Paste
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) can help reduce redness, itchiness, and pain. Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda with enough water to create a thick paste and gently apply it onto the sting site. If you have a long-haired pet, you may have to trim the hair just a bit before application. You can apply this every ten to twenty minutes or so. Keep an eye on your pet to make sure they don't lick it off; ingesting small amounts of baking soda is okay (such as if accidentally swallowed while brushing their teeth), but it can be toxic in large amounts, causing electrolyte imbalances (low/high sodium levels, low potassium), muscle spasms and even heart failure. What's a large amount? Some say approximately 2-4 teaspoons per kg of body weight, others say one cup total (48 teaspoons). As always, it's best to consult your vet. Oatmeal paste is often preferred over baking soda.
3. Oatmeal Paste
Like baking soda, oatmeal paste can help sooth skin and reduce itchiness and inflammation. However, unlike baking soda, it's often considered a bit less risky in terms of digestion. While it's not meant for a meal replacement and should only be fed in moderation, it's often safe for some consumption, especially if just from a few quick licks your pet may sneak in when treating a sting site - as always though, consult your veterinarian. Your pet could have an allergy to oats, and too many grains could lead to digestive or other issues.
To make oatmeal paste, put equal parts plain oatmeal and warm water in a bowl (such as one 1/2 cup oatmeal, 1/2 cup water). Do not use oats with other ingredients or flavors. Mix with a spoon until the oatmeal becomes 'cooked' and forms into a paste. Let the oatmeal sit until it cools (you can test the temperature on your wrist). Apply the paste to your dog's irritated skin, and cover it with a hand cloth or small towel. Try to let this sit for about 10 minutes. You can try patting them or letting them chew on a toy (if the sting wasn't on their face) to keep them distracted. It's recommended to repeat this three times per day.
4. Ice Pack
Applying a cold compress, an ice pack, or ice wrapped in a handcloth/paper towel can reduce swelling. You can apply the ice in five-minute increments; five minutes on, five minutes off. Some animals are more tolerant to ice packs than others, take cues from them; if it's stressing them out - don't force it.
5. Aloe Vera Gel - NOT For Ingestion - NOT For Cats - Has Risks
Some recommend aloe vera gel for sting sites; however, this comes with risks. The aloe plant is toxic to many animals if ingested, in part due to its latex. Latex is the yellowish sap-like fluid that is on the first inner layer of aloe plants between the aloe rind (the outside) and inner green center. Latex has a natural chemical in it called aloin. However, if purchased and used properly, aloe can be wonderful due to its soothing and healing properties. Aloe vera gel without latex, aloin, perfumes, or unnecessary chemicals can be used on some animals (check with your vet) at a sting site to reduce swelling and pain. Aloe is often not recommended for cats.
Badger Balm offers a great aloe vera gel without latex/aloin, which is also cruelty-free and certified organic. However, according to an email confirmation from Badger Balm, their aloe vera gel is okay for use on dogs and horses, but they do not recommend the product for cats. Additionally, like other certified organic manufacturers, their certification is for 96% of their products, and their aloe does have sodium benzoate in it. Sodium benzoate is a chemical that is widely used as a preservative in foods and products. Sodium benzoate is considered safe for human use and consumption unless ingested in very large quantities. As for non-human animals, it's best not to let them eat it. Therefore, it may not be the best idea to allow their skin to absorb it either.
However, to be fair, it's nearly impossible to find pure aloe vera gel that has no latex/aloin, is preservative free, that also doesn't have any other questionable ingredients (even if 'natural', such as fruit juices/acids, etc.) - which may or may not be the best for animals, while also being certified cruelty free. Additionally, sodium benzoate and other similar preservatives are used by some of the leading 'natural product' manufactures, such as Sun & Earth, and Seventh Generation. And to be realistic, if some kind of preservative was not used in aloe vera gel, it would grow mold.
If you do decide to take advantage of the positive aspects aloe has to offer, be certain that your dog/horse does not lick it off. If you happen to have aloe plants at home, be absolutely sure that when you cut the plant open, you do not apply any of the latex/aloin sap on your pet. If in doubt, don't use it at all.
Watch for Signs of Improvement/Worsening
Remember, stay calm. Whether you're at home or the vet, stay by your pet's side as much as possible, to provide reassurance and reduce their stress. Do not use any medications, products, or treatments without consulting with your veterinarian, and do not force unnecessary treatments that increase your pets stress. Keep a watchful eye on your pet to ensure symptoms improve. If symptoms do not improve or worsen within 30 minutes after being stung or following treatment, contact a veterinarian right away.