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Ask the Vet: The problem with bee stings By Stefanie Wong, DVM
September 25, 2014

Did you know that just like people, some dogs are allergic to bees? Whether it’s because they stepped on one, were investigating a bush too closely, or were thinking that the bee was a fun toy to play with, dogs will frequently get stung. Their reaction can vary from mild (treated with Benadryl and then at-home monitoring) scaling all the way up to severe (requiring IV fluids and hospitalization).  

The signs of a bee sting

  • While on a walk your dog suddenly yelps, starts licking their paw, starts limping or stops putting weight on their foot
  • You see them catch one in their mouth, yelp and attempt to spit it out
  • In the majority of cases, owners are not present for the actual bee sting itself. You will just see the aftermath, including:
    • Facial swelling
    • Hives
    • Single area of swelling 


When it becomes an emergency

In allergic reactions, histamine is released into the body (hence, why we treat them with antihistamines like Benadryl). In rare cases, an allergic reaction can become much more severe. We call this anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. During this process, a flood of chemicals are released, leading to precipitous drops in blood pressure, narrowed airways and severe stomach upset. Below are the signs of this life-threatening reaction:

  • Sudden onset of vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Diarrhea
  • Pale gums
  • Difficulty breathing or collapse


If you see your pet display any of these signs, they should be seen IMMEDIATELY. Without treatment, anaphylaxis can be fatal. Most pets will need to be hospitalized on intravenous fluids, receive multiple injections and may need oxygen support.

What to do if your pet is stung  

If your pet has facial swelling, hives or signs of anaphylactic shock you should bring them in to be seen. Facial swelling and hives can progress to a more severe reaction, which can be seen up to 48 hours later (called a delayed hypersensitivity reaction), therefore it’s important to treat them promptly.  We will recommend that we give them an injection of Benadryl, and in some cases, an injection of a corticosteroid as well.  This is to stop the reaction in its tracks. We may recommend that you continue oral Benadryl at home.

If your pet just has tenderness or mild swelling at the site of the sting, then you can do the following:

  • Look for the stinger – common places are in the paw (between the toes or in the paw pads themselves.  If you find it, use a credit card or other flat/firm object to scrape it out. This is to avoid injecting more venom into your pet.
  • Benadryl – call Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center so we can make sure it’s safe for you to be treating your pet at home. If there are signs of a more severe reaction, oral Benadryl will not be enough!

Links to pictures (in order):

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