The summer season offers many opportunities for pets and their owners to get outside and enjoy nature. These adventures can provide wonderful opportunities for enrichment, but blooming flowers, gardening, and spending more time outdoors can increase a pet’s exposure to stinging insects.
Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor and emergency and critical care specialist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says pet owners may not always know when their animal has been stung by an insect, as bees are the only insect that actually leave stingers behind.
“A common sign that an owner can use to identify a sting is that a pet may have an acute lameness/pain or cry out for an unknown reason while outside,” Rutter said.
“Sometimes pets will have pain on their face, paws, or areas that may appear swollen. These signs can occur immediately after or within a few hours of a sting.”
If an owner suspects that their animal has been stung, they should immediately seek emergency veterinary care. Most topical medications and home remedies aren’t a good idea for pets, and a veterinarian should be consulted before administering any medications to your pet. With prompt treatment, the majority of insect stings can be managed, even if a pet is allergic.
“Pets that have facial swelling, severe itching, hives, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or collapse after a sting could be allergic to stings,” Rutter said. “It is uncommon for pets to have repeat episodes of life-threatening reactions after stings, but it does happen.”
Rutter says pets are usually stung on their face or a paw, but that stings may occur anywhere.
“Most stings are isolated and the result of an overcurious pet annoying a stinging insect that was previously minding its own business,” she said. “Keeping control of your pet and supervising them when outside is key—but it’s easier said than done. Many stings (even for supervised pets) aren’t witnessed.”
Owners outside with their pets should keep an eye out for foraging bees on flowers, swarms of bees, and beehives, especially if Africanized bees, a more aggressive version of the European honeybee, are present in their area. They should also be wary of wasp nests and yellow jacket burrows, which can be a source of multiple stings if a pet gets too close.
“A single sting is usually not a big deal, but multiple stings can be life threatening and potentially have long-term complications,” she said. “Keep pets from investigating under porches/houses, in shrubbery, outbuildings, or known locations of nests/hives.”
For pets with a known severe allergy to stings, Rutter says that there are therapies available to desensitize them to insect venom. If your pet has more than one severe reaction to an insect sting, she recommends addressing the issue with your veterinarian to see what options are best to protect your furry friend.
Though insect stings are never pleasant—for pets or humans—prompt veterinary care can minimize the risks of insect stings and ensure your pet has a safe and pleasant experience with the great outdoors.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.