This time of year, it is not uncommon for our pets (more commonly dogs) to have run-ins with bees, wasps, and yellow jackets. These stings are painful. Usually animals are stung on the face or the head area. The primary symptom you will see is swelling and puffiness in the area of the sting. Sometimes you will see inflammation at the site of the sting. The animal is usually exhibiting discomfort and pain.
Honey bees will always leave a stinger with a venom sac attached. Wasps, hornets and yellow jackets don’t leave their stingers in. They can sting the animal over and over. If you do find a stinger, try to remove it as soon as possible. You can use a credit card and try to scrape the stinger out. Be careful not to squeeze the venom sack as it will release more venom into the animal.
If breathing difficulties or anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction) is noted, get the animal to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Anaphylaxis usually occurs in seconds to minutes after the sting. Signs in dogs include a sudden onset of diarrhea, vomiting, drooling, lethargy, shock, seizures, coma and possible death. The gums become pale. The pulse is fast but weak.
Anaphylaxis in cats will often manifest itself as severe respiratory distress, sudden diarrhea and vomiting, drooling, shock, seizures, pale gums, weak and fast pulse, coma, and possible death.
Anaphylaxis is an urgent emergency and immediate treatment is imperative. If you know your animal has had an anaphylactic reaction to insect stings in the past, it may be a good idea to carry an EpiPen which is an autoinjector device that automatically injects a controlled amount of epineprine (adrenaline) to counteract allergic reactions. If you don’t have an EpiPen, the veterinarian will give injections of epinephrine as well as steroids and antihistamines.
I worked at a veterinary clinic when I was a teenager. I cleaned the kennels, the cages, assisted the veterinarian, and bathed dogs. I remember bathing a long-haired dog in the bathtub one day. It was a routine bath and dip for flea control. The dog kept jumping and acting very uncomfortable and would occasionally turn towards its back rear leg and yelp. I couldn’t find the source of its discomfort. I was baffled. It was when I went to lather up the underside of the dog’s belly with the shampoo that I discovered what the problem was. There was a rather large black hornet with yellow stripes tangled in the hair of the dog close to the groin area and it had been repeatedly stinging the dog as I bathed it. My hand ran over this very large hornet when I was rubbing the shampoo on the dog’s underside! I remember thinking it was a twig or something caught in the hair coat. Then I got a closer look. I coated the hornet with the insecticidal shampoo I was using and then proceeded to drown it. The dog had multiple stings in the groin area which were erythematous (red), swollen and painful. I checked the dog’s color which was good. The dog was trembling and anxious (poor baby–I felt so bad for it). I called for the veterinarian and he administered systemic antihistamines and corticosteroids and we sprayed the stings with a topical steroid spray. We monitored the dog for anaphylaxis. It recovered uneventfully.
Another summer, at the same veterinary clinic, I remember a very frantic client running into the clinic. Her very long hair matted dog had come across a yellow jacket nest and the yellow jackets were all over the dog. There must have been 50 or more yellow jackets stuck in the dog’s hair! They were repeatedly injecting the dog with their wicked venom. This dog was starting to go into anaphylactic shock. I remember the veterinarian came running out in the yard with a bottle of wasp and hornet spray and just started spot spraying the yellow jackets. We had to act quickly and kill them before they killed the dog. I remember we had to cut and shave the hair to remove the yellow jackets. The veterinarian administered IV epinephrine, steroids and antihistamines and the dog improved pretty rapidly. We then got the dog in the tub and I put on thick Playtex gloves and lathered the dog up with shampoo to wash the wasp and hornet spray off the dog. Did I mention I have a phobia of wasps and bees? I was terrified throughout all of this but thankfully my sympathy/empathy for the dog was stronger than my phobia. The dog needed my help to survive.
Applying cold packs or ice to the stings can help with the pain. I’ve also made a baking soda paste with water and applied that to the stings (my mother used to do this for my bee stings when I was little and swore it drew the poison out). I also like to use cortisone sprays which help with itching. I know from experience that bee stings can itch for days.