Getting stung is never fun! If your dog or cat is ever stung by a bee, wasp or yellow jacket, you may be able to treat them effectively at home, or you may need to make a trip to the vet.
The severity of any pet's reaction to a sting is difficult to predict and can be highly variable. The information below will guide you through what to look for, how to treat the sting, and how to prevent future stings.
What to Look Out for When a Sting Happens
In the event your dog gets stung, you should watch them closely for:
- Hives/welts on the skin
- Swollen eyes
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Breathing problems, or even collapse.
If it's just mild itchiness or swelling (that isn't present on or around their face), and your pet isn't too uncomfortable with it, you may be able to treat them at home, so continue reading along.
Go immediately to a veterinarian or the nearest Animal ER if you see any of the following after your dog is stung:
- Wide-spread swelling (especially around the face and/or neck if your dog got stung in their mouth)
- Welts on the face or covering a large portion of the body
- Increased itchiness and scratching
- Swelling, welts, or scratching that's getting progressively worse
- Digestive Upset (vomiting and/or diarrhea)
- Trouble Breathing
Have a Pet First Aid Kit at Home
It's a good idea to keep some diphenhydramine (Benadryl or other, see below) at home and in your pet's first aid kits, and to check with your veterinarian in advance to ensure that it's safe for you to give your dog this medication in the event of a sting. That way, should your dog ever get stung, you can just go ahead and give them their dose early and hopefully prevent some of the swelling, hives, and other problems.
Diphenhydramine is the active ingredient in regular Benadryl, and it can be very useful in sting allergic reactions. Note that it doesn't have to be Benadryl brand, as you can also get the generic diphenhydramine, which should work just as well and costs you less.
Whether you go with generic or brand name, it is vitally important to ensure that you get a medication that ONLY has diphenhydramine as an active ingredient! You don't want any additional pain relievers, decongestants, or other drug types in there. So no Benadryl Cold and Flu, Benadryl Cold and Allergy, Tylenol PM, Advil PM, or any other combination medications containing diphenhydramine – just straight up diphenhydramine.
Many human medications and pain relievers are highly toxic to dogs, so don't forget to check the ingredient labels. And also make sure that the liquid does NOT contain any xylitol, as this can be fatal if given to your pup!
What to Do When Your Dog Gets Stung
- Give your dog a dose of diphenhydramine (e.g. Benadryl), as long your veterinarian has given your dog the okay to take it. Use this handy liquid dosage calculator to figure out the correct dose for your dog.
- Remove the stinger. Here is a video and tips for stinger removal. If you don't feel comfortable doing this yourself, take your dog to their veterinary clinic.
- Monitor the area. If the swelling around the sting site is not responding to diphenhydramine or the at-home treatments described further below, you should see your veterinarian. Some dogs have more severe reactions to bee or wasp stings than others and will need more immediate veterinary care.
How to Calculate Benadryl Dosages for Your Pet
Enter Diphenhydramine Concentration of the Liquid Medication
(From Label – see photo example below)
Maximum Dosage (in teaspoons):
The typical dose of Benadryl (diphenhydramine) for dogs and cats is 1–2 mg per pound of body weight (please refer to "Warnings When Giving Your Pet Benadryl").
Generally speaking, pets under 10 pounds should get liquid, while pets over 15 pounds should get pills. For pets weighing between 10–15 pounds, it's often easiest to give them their dose using a half or whole pill, but some may require or do better with the liquid form.
For liquid dosages, determine the concentration of diphenhydramine based on the medication's label (use the illustration below as a guide) and enter those values and your pet's weight into our "Diphenhydramine Liquid Dosage Calculator."
The calculator will tell you the maximum diphenhydramine dosage of that specific liquid formulation for your pet (in teaspoons). To get your pet's "low-end" of their dosage range, simply divide their calculated maximum dosage by 2.
To determine your pet's dose in pills, simply multiply their weight (in pounds) by 1 to find their low-end dose in milligrams, and multiply their weight (in pounds) by 2 to find their maximum dose (again, in milligrams). Give them a dose that falls within that range, using whatever combination of whole and half pills it takes to get you to a dose within the dose range you've just calculated.
For example, if your pet weighs 40 pounds, their dose range would be between 40 mg and 80 mg. You then look at the medication box to find out how many milligrams (mg) of diphenhydramine is in each pill and give them the combination of full and half pills that gets them within that dose range.
Use an old credit card to remove bee and wasp stingers! Tweezers are actually not the best way to remove a bee/wasp stinger, as they can squeeze the venom sack in the process and worsen the reaction and resulting pain. To see how to use an old credit card (or driver's license) check out this video:
What If You Don't Have Benadryl, or Your Pet Has a Known Allergy to It?
If your pet does get a sting that just causes mild itchiness or swelling around only the site of the sting (that’s not present on or around their face), and your pet isn't too uncomfortable with it, you may have success treating them at home with one of the following.
- Ice Pack
Once you identify the sting area, you should apply an ice pack over the swelling area. Five minutes of icing followed by five minutes without. Repeat this for the first hour or two. Wrap the ice pack in a washcloth to prevent direct skin contact, as direct prolonged skin contact with ice can cause damage.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
You can apply the vinegar to a cotton ball or pad, or Q-tip and hold directly on the stung area. Apple cider vinegar can often neutralize the venom from a bee sting. Do this several times until the swelling subsides. Take care not to get any near your pet’s eye(s).
- Baking Soda
You can easily make a paste of baking soda and water (three parts soda / one part water). Simply apply the paste to the sting area once every two hours for the first day until the swelling goes back down. Take care not to get any near your pet’s eyes and discontinue use if your pet is licking the paste off (as too much can cause digestive upset).
- Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe gel can help soothe your pet’s stung area. You should only use pure aloe (not a lotion or other gels mixed with alcohol or chemicals). Or better yet, use the gel directly squeezed from an aloe plant. Take care not to get any near your pet’s eye(s).
If you ever have any concerns or questions following a bee, wasp, or yellow jacket sting you should always contact your veterinarian or your local Animal ER.
And remember, if your pet’s swelling is widespread (especially around the face and/or neck), the itchiness is intense, or there are any digestive disorders, breathing problems, or collapse — your pet needs to be seen immediately by a vet for evaluation and treatment.
Repeat Stings in a Short Period of Time
An important point to remember is to not let your pet right back out into the yard after treatment for a sting — though you wouldn't be the first pet owner to do so! Consecutive (repeated) stings that happen close together have a greater chance of resulting in a more severe, rapid, and more likely-to-be fatal reaction. Keep your pets out of the yard until you've had an exterminator over to take care of any bee/wasp/yellow jacket problem.
Some dogs sadly have a silly habit of eating bees and wasps, which is quite dangerous. When a dog eats a bee or other stinging insect, any sting that occurs within the mouth or throat carries a much greater risk of breathing problems due to the swelling that could close up their airway.
So along with taking steps to keep bees and wasps out of your yard (like using a good exterminator, setting traps, etc.), I'd also recommend outfitting your dog with an Outfox Field Guard whenever they're outside during bee and wasp season. Whether it's on a walk or at play in your backyard, the Outfox Guard will allow your dog to pant, drink, and even fetch... all while preventing them from eating bees, wasps, and other flying insects!
Dogs With Known Severe Sting Reactions: Bee Proactive
Once a dog has had a severe reaction to a bee, wasp, or yellow jacket sting, there's a good chance that their reaction to any future stings will also be severe. Follow the preventive steps above, but even with the best preventative steps stings may still happen.
With anaphylactic reactions the risk is just too great to not be prepared! So, if your dog has had a severe, anaphylactic reaction to a sting in the past, I recommend you always know where your nearest Animal ER is and look into and discuss with your vet the following three additional options to help protect your dog in the event of any future stings:
- Pre-treat with Benadryl: If you have a relatively defined "bee season" where you live, giving your dog Benadryl daily may help to lessen the severity of any stings they may suffer. This is known as "pre-treating." Unfortunately we don't know for certain whether or not it will work for all dogs and in all situations. Additionally, Benadryl doesn't stick around in a dog's body for too long and typically needs to be dosed every 8–12 hours, meaning that the Benadryl you've given your dog in the morning may not still be around and active in their system come the afternoon or evening if they're stung. Lastly, Benadryl can make some dogs quite drowsy, so daily dosing (especially multiple times a day) may not be the best way for your dog to be.
- Go for course of "bee allergy shots": Just like other allergies in people and in pets, some dogs can be "desensitized" to the effects of bee and wasp venom. This series of "allergy shots" — a process more correctly called "hyposensitization" — aims to prevent your dog's body from overreacting to any bee and wasp stings they may get. This is great, given that severe reactions can lead to death before you could even get your dog to the vet, and also because you may not always be around to actually see your dog get stung. If you have a dog with known severe bee/wasp sting allergies and live near a veterinary dermatology practice that offers this service, I'd highly recommend contacting them and finding out if the hyposensitization series might be right for your dog. Some locations of the Animal Dermatology Clinic in California provide this service, and their vets were instrumental in testing the safety and effectiveness of this treatment.
- Carry an EpiPen: When dealing with severe, anaphylactic reactions to stings, time is truly of the essence. If you know that you've got a dog that has severe allergies to bee, wasp, and yellow jacket stings, it may be a good idea to have an EpiPen with you whenever you're out or traveling with your dog. The quick shot of epinephrine that these devices deliver may just be the thing that can help save your dog's life and buy you the time you need to get them to the vet. Note that EpiPens come in both "regular" and "junior" sizes — your vet is best equipped to let you know which size your dog will need (and you'll need a prescription from your vet to get your pet(s) one anyway). Of course, EpiPens aren't cheap, and they do expire. To easily check around for best prices of EpiPens near you, check the pharmacy price-shopping website GoodRx.com.
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