What do I do if my dog gets a bee sting or insect bite?

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What do I do if my dog gets a bee sting or insect bite?  - a dog looking at a bee on a wall

Warmer months allow for fun, outdoor activities that, unfortunately, bring our dogs closer to annoying insects that can give painful bites and stings. While most bug bites and stings resolve on their own, it’s important for pet parents to know when to consult a vet if your dog has an unfortunate encounter with one of these tiny terrors. Read on if you’ve ever asked:

  • What type of insects can hurt my dog?
  • How do I know if my dog has been bitten or stung?
  • How do I remove a bee stinger from my dog’s skin?
  • Can I treat bug bites at home?
  • Should my vet see my dog after a bite or sting?

Painful stings and bug bites on dogs can be scary for both the pet and their owners. Recognizing the difference between a normal and abnormal reaction is important for your dog's safety after a run-in with an insect.

What is the difference between insects and arachnids?

While both insects and arachnids are commonly known as “bugs,” they are different, and it’s helpful to know how to distinguish them when trying to identify a critter that has bitten or stung your pet. There are three ways to differentiate between insects and arachnids:

  1. Insects have three body segments. Arachnids have two.
  2. Insects have six legs. Arachnids have eight.
  3. Insects have wings and/or antennae. Arachnids have neither.

Both insects and arachnids can have painful bites or stings which cause reactions that require vet care. Common insects that can bite or sting dogs include bees, fire ants, and mosquitoes. Arachnids that cause painful bites and stings include spiders and scorpions. Ticks are another type of arachnid, but their bites are usually painless.

What are the common symptoms of insect stings and bites on dogs?

Different species of insect may cause different clinical signs when a dog is bitten or stung. Bites and stings generally cause localized redness, minor swelling, and itching. Sometimes, a stinger may be left behind, though most bugs do not release their stingers. A dog may also have a fear reaction after a painful interaction with a critter, causing a temporary change in behavior. Allergic reactions to bee stings and bug bites can occur, causing symptoms such as:

  • Hives
  • Mild swelling around eyes, lips, and muzzle
  • Minor vomiting or diarrhea
  • Heavier swelling in the immediate sting or bite location

A minor allergic reaction is not considered a veterinary emergency, but it is never a bad idea to consult a vet if you are concerned or if symptoms seem to be worsening over time. Severe allergic reactions leading to anaphylaxis are life-threatening and require immediate emergency treatment. These severe reactions are very rare and typically occur quickly after the bite or sting. Visit an emergency veterinarian as soon as possible if your pet experiences symptoms of anaphylaxis, which include:

Anaphylaxis progresses quickly and can rapidly lead to coma or death if not immediately treated by a veterinarian. Note that most allergic reactions to bites or stings are not this severe but should be addressed quickly if symptoms develop.

Can insect bites spread disease?

Some bugs, such as ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas, can spread disease to dogs. Mosquito bites on dogs can lead to heartworm disease, and ticks often spread tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease. Bites from fleas can also spread disease and cause flea allergy dermatitis. Ticks and fleas can be prevented with monthly flea, tick, and heartworm prevention.

Can I remove a bee stinger from my dog at home?

Some, but not all, species of bees have barbed stingers that are left behind when they sting. Wasp stings and other insect stings rarely leave a stinger behind. If a stinger has been left behind in your dog, it is best to remove it so less venom is absorbed by your dog’s bloodstream.

Use a credit card or other stiff item to scrape off the stinger or remove it with tweezers. It is a myth that stingers release more venom into the area when squeezed. When using tweezers, grasp only the stinger, not the venom sack, and pull outward to remove it from the area. “Some dogs may become fearful or reactive after a bee sting,” warns Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “Only attempt to remove a stinger if it is safe to do so, and visit a veterinarian if you need assistance.”

How can I soothe a painful sting or bite on my dog from home?

Always observe a dog that has been bitten or stung for signs of an allergic reaction. If no signs are present, bites and stings can be left alone to resolve on their own once stingers are removed. If your dog tolerates it well, you can try to provide some relief at home by applying a cool compress or a soothing paste of water and baking soda to help neutralize the stinger’s venom. These steps are not essential, and most bites and stings resolve completely on their own. Never administer medications such as Benadryl, pain medications, or any human medications your veterinarian has not approved. If you feel your dog would benefit from an antihistamine or pain medication, consult a veterinarian.

When should I take my dog to the vet for insect stings or bites?

Stings and bites on dogs can result in symptoms that need veterinary care. Immediate medical care for an insect bite or sting is needed if your dog:

  • Shows signs of anaphylaxis or a severe allergic reaction
  • Disturbs an entire nest, hive, or ant hill
  • Has a bite from a black widow or brown recluse spider

Consult a vet the same day of the event for assistance if you have difficulty removing a stinger or if your dog is experiencing a mild allergic reaction. In addition, prolonged symptoms, including stomach upset, lethargy, appetite loss, and swelling at the sting or bite location, need to be addressed by a veterinarian if they have not resolved within a few hours. If you are concerned about your dog’s health and safety after a painful bite or sting, it never hurts to consult a veterinarian.

How do veterinarians treat bug bites, stings, and allergic reactions in dogs?

Most bug bites and stings resolve on their own within a few days. However, bites from these critters can result in a vet visit if:

  • Anaphylaxis or severe allergic reactions occur
  • A dog is too reactive after a sting to safely remove the stinger
  • Pain or other mild symptoms do not improve after a few hours

Bug bites and stings may be treated with pain medication or anti-inflammatories after removing any stingers. A vet may also recommend some at-home treatments for pet parents to help alleviate minor symptoms. Depending on the severity, allergic reactions may be treated with adrenaline (epinephrine), antihistamines, pain medication, anti-inflammatories, and supportive care for other symptoms. In the case of an anaphylactic reaction, an overnight stay may be needed for additional vet care and observation. Finally, brown recluse spider bites or bites from black widows have the potential to turn into an open bite wound resulting in infection and further complications if left untreated.

What should I do if an insect or arachnid bites or stings my dog?

Dogs often become fearful after a painful bite or sting. Calmly and safely lead them away from the insect, nest, or hive. If a stinger is present, remove it quickly if it is safe to do so. Monitor your dog for signs of an allergic reaction for the next few hours. If your dog will tolerate it, you can try to ease the pain with a cold compress or a baking soda paste for stings. Consult a veterinarian if signs of an allergic reaction occur or if minor symptoms do not resolve in a few hours.

If you have questions about what to do when your dog encounters a bug that can bite or sting or if you want to learn how to remove stingers after a bee sting, you can consult an online vet with Vetster, who will gladly help!

FAQ - What do I do if my dog gets a bee sting or insect bite?

What does a bug bite look like on a dog?

Sting sites and bug bite marks can appear swollen, red, or inflamed in the immediate area after the event, but those symptoms should resolve quickly on their own. In some cases, bee stings can result in stingers that are left behind. Stingers stuck under the skin can be removed with tweezers or a stiff item, such as a credit card, that can scrape the stinger out.

What does a spider bite look like on a dog?

Most spider bites appear similar to other bug bites. However, bites from brown recluse spiders or black widow spiders can result in open and infected wounds if untreated. If your dog has experienced a venomous spider bite, consult a vet promptly.

Should I take my dog to the vet for a bug bite?

Consult a veterinarian immediately if your dog experiences severe symptoms, is affected by multiple bugs at once, or is bitten by a venomous spider. A veterinarian can also help remove stingers or alleviate minor allergic reactions to insect bites or stings. Most bug bites quickly resolve on their own at home.

Can I give my dog Benadryl for bug bites?

Never give your dog medication that your veterinarian has not approved. Many human medications, including some types of Benadryl, contain toxic ingredients. If your dog has been bitten or stung by a bug, consult a vet before administering medication at home.

Can bug bites make my dog sick?

Flea, tick, and mosquito bites on dogs can spread diseases like heartworm and Lyme disease. Using monthly prevention is essential in reducing spread of these diseases to animals and people alike.