Bee and Wasp Stings in Your Cat or Dog

One of the most delightful parts of our furry friends’ personalities is their curiosity. But that same curiosity can get them into trouble sometimes! Sniffing a bee or pouncing on a wasp or hornet are common ways that cats and dogs can get hurt. Here’s what you need to know about how to help them in case they get stung. 

What’s in a Sting?

Insect stings can cause reactions that range from mild to life-threatening, so if your pet is stung, it’s important to try and identify the culprit and keep a watchful eye. If you didn’t witness the event but notice that your pet is pawing at its face, chewing at a paw, or swelling up somewhere on its body, there’s a good chance it was stung or bitten. Look around the area to try and identify the insect.

Bee stings can often be cared for at home unless your pet has an allergic reaction. If your pet seems to be having anaphylactic shock or any other extreme reaction, you should seek veterinary treatment right away. In most cases, however, a cat or dog will merely have a localized reaction with mild swelling, redness, and tenderness where the sting is, especially since bees can only sting once. 

Wasps and hornets, on the other hand, can sting multiple times, which increases the chance of your pet having a dangerous reaction. If your pet is stung multiple times on the face or is stung on the inside of the mouth or throat, this could increase swelling and make it difficult for your pet to breathe.

Picture of wasp

Signs of an Extreme Reaction

  • Extreme swelling
  • Extreme redness 
  • Severe pain or distressed vocalizations
  • Lameness or limping
  • General weakness
  • Compulsive licking at the site
  • Swelling that extends beyond the site
  • Breaking out in hives
  • Changes in behavior or mental function; agitation
  • Seizures
  • Anaphylactic shock

Signs of anaphylactic shock include:

  • Severe swelling of the head or neck
  • Shallow or rapid breathing
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Disorientation, dizziness, or stumbling
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Pale gums
  • Low body temperature and cold limbs
  • Very slow or very fast heart rate
  • Collapse 

If you notice any of the above signs, you’ll want to take your pet to a veterinarian right away.

How to Care for Minor Stings 

If your pet is not exhibiting signs of an extreme reaction, a little home care may be all that’s needed. Because our curious friends tend to try and sniff insects first, stings most often occur on the face or nose. They can often be found on the back or side of a paw as well. 

  • If you think that a bee was the culprit, check to see if the stinger is still in the wound, and if it is, gently scrape it off using a fingernail, credit card, or rigid piece of cardboard. Avoid using tweezers since squeezing the stinger may force out more venom.
  • Wash the site of the sting with soap and water, and if your pet will let you, wrap the area with a cold compress or cool washcloth to reduce swelling. 
  • Mix together a soothing paste of baking soda and water and apply it to the sting. If the sting is on the nose or mouth, this likely won’t be possible since your pet will try and lick it off, but if the sting is on a paw, you could try to lightly wrap gauze bandages around the wound to protect the paste.
  • An Elizabethan collar or cone could help by preventing your pet from chewing, licking, or scratching the area, causing more irritation or infection.
  • Give your pet plenty of fresh water, and if the sting was on the mouth or throat, be sure to provide wet food or dry food softened with water in case there’s swelling that’s making it difficult to eat. 
Dog in cone

Keep a close eye on your pet. Extreme reactions can still occur after an hour or two. If your pet seemed to have only a minor reaction, yet the swelling or symptoms haven’t gone away after a couple of days, there may be an infection developing, in which case you would want to take your pet to the vet. 

If your furry friend has a history of severe allergic reactions to bee or wasp stings, your veterinarian may prescribe an EpiPen (an epinephrine automatic injector) to keep on hand. Otherwise, there’s a good chance that your pet will be just fine after being stung as long as you keep a watchful eye on them for any dangerous reactions.