Dogs typically don’t like to mind their own business and love to stick their noses into things. They get great pleasure in chasing after things as well.
One thing they like to be nosey about and chase is flying insects. The bad thing about this is that they often get stung.
Bees, wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets tend to be the most common types of stinging insects. When they sting, they inject a small amount of poison that causes pain. The stinger of bees is barbed. When the bee stings, the stinger gets stuck in the skin, and the bee dies when the stinger is separated from the body.
On the other hand, wasp, hornet, and yellow jacket stingers are not barbed. They do, however, cause more pain and can sting multiple times.
Pets, just like people can have severe reactions to being stung by a bee. In some cases, this reaction can threaten your dog’s life. While being stung once can be bad, multiple stings or being stung in the mouth or throat can be very dangerous and require a visit to a veterinarian.
Signs your dog has been stung by a bee:
- Redness of the skin
- Itchiness – moderate to severe
- Thickened ear flaps
- Swelling of the eyes, muzzle, neck, etc.
- Hives/welts on the skin
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Difficulty breathing or even collapse
Go immediately to a veterinarian or the nearest Animal ER if you see any of the following severe symptoms 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
- Continuous vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Trouble Breathing
If it's just mild itchiness or swelling (that isn't present on or around their face or neck), and your pet isn't too uncomfortable, you may be able to treat them at home.
What to Do When Your Dog Gets Stung
Give Your Dog Benadryl® (diphenhydramine)
Give your dog a dose of diphenhydramine (e.g., Benadryl) as long your veterinarian has given your dog the okay to take it.
Your Dog and Benadryl: You may not know if your dog can handle or is allergic to Benadryl if they have never had it before. If your dog's reaction seems to worsen or you do not notice any improvement within 30 minutes of being given Benadryl, contact their veterinarian immediately and stop using it.
It's always a good idea to preemptively talk with your veterinarian about whether Benadryl is okay to use for your pet in case they ever get stung.
How to Calculate Benadryl Dosages for Your Dog or Cat
The typical dose of Benadryl (diphenhydramine) for dogs is 1 mg per pound of body weight (please refer to the warnings when giving your pet Benadryl). Use the calculator below to determine your dog's minimum and maximum dosage of pill/tablet or liquid diphenhydramine.
Generally speaking, pets under 12 pounds should be given liquid, while pets over 15 pounds should be given pills. For pets weighing between 12–15 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.
Using Benadryl Pills
To calculate your dog's dosage in tablet form, enter their weight in the pill calculator further below. Give them a dose that falls within the minimum to maximum 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.
You do want to look at the medication box to find out how many milligrams (mg) of diphenhydramine are in each pill or tablet and give them the combination of full and half pills that gets them within that dose range. Diphenhydramine pills are typically 25 mg each, but there are smaller 12.5 mg tablets and larger 50 mg tablets. You can adjust the tablet dosage in the calculator below to help you determine how many tablets to give within their dosage range.
Using Benadryl Liquid
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 the Diphenhydramine Liquid Dosage Calculator below:
PRO TIP: If your dog is difficult to give pills to, consider using a pill popper. Pill pockets are also a good option, but if your dog's face or throat is swollen, swallowing a pill pocket may be uncomfortable.
How Often Should You Give Your Dog Benadryl After a Bee Sting?
Give the calculated dose of diphenhydramine (Benadryl) the moment you notice any swelling. Repeat that dose 4 to 6 hours later. Then give every 8 hours, repeating the calculated dose for 2 to 3 days.
Other Uses of Benadryl for Dogs
Diphenhydramine is often given to dogs for other reasons besides bee stings. Before giving Benadryl to your dog, make sure you have discussed its use with your veterinarian. For some dogs, but not all, Benadryl has been found to help lessen the effects of seasonal allergies and itching. The calculated dose can be given every 8 to 12 hours.
Since Benadryl can make some dogs sleepy, pet owners have found giving the calculated dose about 1 to 2 hours before traveling helpful if their dog has travel anxiety. Use caution, especially if you have never given Benadryl prior, as it can make some dogs hyper.
No Longer Used for Snake Bites
For years, Benadryl was recommended to give to dogs that were bitten by snakes. This is no longer the recommendation due to the fact that some contraindications have been found. It is often only used as a pre-treatment if the dog is getting antivenom to help prevent a reaction to the antivenom.
WARNINGS WHEN GIVING YOUR PET BENADRYL
- Make sure your medication ONLY has diphenhydramine as an active ingredient! Don't use any additional pain relievers, decongestants, or other drug types. 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.
- Double-check that there is no alcohol listed in the active ingredients of the diphenhydramine you're using for your pet.
- Make sure that the formulation of diphenhydramine you get for your dog does NOT contain xylitol, a common sweetener that is fine for people but highly toxic to dogs!
- If your pet is overweight or obese (be honest), calculate their dose based on what their ideal/target "lean" body weight should be.
- Benadryl overdosing can cause pets to suffer agitation, sedation, vomiting, heart abnormalities, and other problems. So please be sure to double (and triple) check your doses before giving your pet this medication.
- Monitor your pet's swelling. If it is no better within an hour or gets worse at any point, you should take them to a veterinarian immediately for evaluation and further treatment. Similarly, if the swelling is present on their face or neck, or if they are having any difficulties breathing, they should be brought immediately to the vet.
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 a veterinary clinic.
- Scrape a credit card over the skin and in the direction of the fur at the site of the sting to gently remove the stinger. Once removed, flick off the stinger into the trash.
- Wash the area with warm water and a mild soap following the removal of the stinger.
- Apply a soothing paste of baking soda. Use a 3:1 mixture; three parts baking soda to one part water.
You do NOT want to use tweezers unless it is necessary. Tweezers can potentially force more venom from the stinger.
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.
Prevent Your Dog from Chewing, Licking, or Scratching at the Sting
It may be necessary to put an Elizabethan collar and/or socks on your dog’s paws to help control trauma to the skin from chewing and scratching. Continual trauma or irritation to the affected skin can delay the sting from healing and cause an infection.
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.
What If You Don't Have Benadryl or Your Dog is Allergic to it?
If your pet does get a bee 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 at-home bee sting treatments.
7 Drug-Free At-Home Treatments for Bee Stings
These treatments can be used on dogs or cats who have been stung by bees, wasps, or hornets:
Once you identify the sting area, you should apply an ice pack over the swelling area. Wrap the ice pack in a washcloth to prevent direct skin contact, as direct, prolonged skin contact with ice can cause damage.
Apply the ice pack for ten minutes, followed by ten minutes without. Repeat this for the first hour or two. A bag of frozen peas or vegetables works well if you don’t have ice available. If there are several stings or bites to the body, soaking a towel in very cold water and applying it helps.
Apple Cider Vinegar
You can apply the vinegar to a cotton ball, cotton pad, or cotton swab and hold it 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 dog’s eyes.
You can apply witch hazel several times per day with a cotton swab or cotton ball to clean the area and help with irritation. Witch hazel provides the benefit of reducing inflammation and itchiness. Take care not to get any near your pet’s eyes.
Baking Soda Paste
You can easily make a paste of baking soda and water (3:1 — three parts soda to one part water). You can also use baking soda capsules to make small amounts of paste. 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). Additionally, if there are multiple stings on your dog’s body, a soak in an oatmeal bath may be soothing.
Additionally, if there are multiple stings on your dog’s body, a soak in an oatmeal bath may be soothing. To make an oatmeal bath, grind ½ to 1 cup of plain oatmeal into a powder (do not use instant oatmeal with sugar added). Fill up a tub with lukewarm to room-temperature water. Add the oatmeal powder (you can also include a ½ cup of Epsom Salt) and mix to blend. Allow your dog to soak in the tub for 5 to 10 minutes. Rinse well and gently towel dry.
Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera gel can help soothe your dog's bee sting. You should only use pure aloe vera (not a lotion or other gels that are mixed with alcohol or chemicals). Take care not to get any near your dog's eyes.
Milk of Magnesia
Milk of Magnesia helps reduce itchiness and irritation. Apply a soothing coat of the milk of magnesia to the affected area several times per day. Be careful not to get any near your pet’s eyes and discontinue use if your dog is licking it off (as too much can cause digestive upset).
Apply a thin layer of .5% hydrocortisone cream to irritated areas.
Repeat Bee or Wasp Stings in a Short 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 trained in the relocation of bees, or an experienced beekeeper comes over to take care of any bee, wasp, or yellow jacket problem. The best way to find local beekeepers is to get online. Visit your favorite search engine and type in your zip code, county name, or city name and the phrase “beekeepers association” as the search query.
Do not attempt to relocate any hives or nests by yourself. This can be dangerous.
Preventing Bee Stings in Dogs
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 (such as having the bees relocated by a professional), 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!
For Dogs with Known Severe Bee Sting Reactions
Once a dog has had a severe reaction to a bee, wasp, hornet, 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 not to 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 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.
Bee Allergy Shots
Just like other allergies in people and 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 your dog has severe allergies to bee, wasp, or 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 veterinarian. Note that EpiPens come in both "regular" and "junior" sizes — your veterinarian 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 the best prices of EpiPens near you, check the pharmacy price-shopping website GoodRx.com.
Have a Pet First Aid Kit at Home
It's a good idea to keep some diphenhydramine (Benadryl) 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 a Benadryl brand, as you can also get the generic diphenhydramine, which should work just as well and costs you less. ALWAYS be sure that you know the milligrams per tablet. Some tablets are 12.5 mg, and others can be 25 mg or 50 mg.
Whether you go with a 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!
If you are traveling with your pet, ice or ice packs are not always available. You can pack these instant cold packs in your pet's first aid kit. Just be sure to put something between the ice pack and your dog's skin. Also, do not leave the pack around where your dog can chew on it.
For outdoor activity pet emergency kits, get baking soda capsules so you can make a quick paste to apply to a sting. Be sure to store them in a water-tight container. Witch hazel pads are available that you can also keep handy in an outdoor activity pet emergency kit.