During the warm summer months, trees, plants, and flowers are flourishing, the birds are singing, and our cats are spending more time outdoors. The local wildlife is reaching peak activity, taking advantage of all of the fruits on offer during summer. Unfortunately, this is a time when insect stings affect both us and our pets the most. Bees and wasps are a common cause of insect stings in cats. In general, bees and wasps do not sting unless provoked. Cats may be ‘accidentally’ stung by touching, stepping on, or batting away wasps and bees.
Bees and wasps are known as a venomous insect, injecting venom into their unsuspecting victim when they sting. When venom is injected into an animal it can cause local tissue reactions or a whole-body reaction in allergic or sensitive cats. Cats that are more adventurous or inquisitive, such as kittens, may be more likely to be affected by wasp and bee stings, as they are more likely to investigate or try to catch these insects. Cats have a strong prey drive which may also make them more likely to be stung by wasps or bees than other species.
Signs Your Cat Has Been Stung by a Bee or Wasp
If you’ve ever been stung by a bee or wasp you will understand that it can be painful and irritating. Bee venom is acidic with a pH of around 5.0 to 5.5 and is therefore very irritating to the affected tissues. Wasp venom is closer to neutral at a pH of around 6.8-6.9. Non-allergic reactions tend to develop over several hours – however, severe, allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) tend to appear more quickly and often within one hour of a cat being stung by a bee or wasp. The effects of the bee or wasp sting will depend on where your cat has been stung, how many stings they have received, and whether they have been stung before. Cats are very good at hiding pain or discomfort but some of the symptoms that they show if stung by a bee or wasp are below:
What Happens When a Cat is Stung by a Bee or Wasp?
In most cases, a bee or wasp sting is not life-threatening to your cat. However, they can be extremely irritating and distressing for your pet and if they are stung in certain places or multiple times this may lead to more serious symptoms.
Stung cats that develop severe swellings in the mouth and neck can suffer from narrowing of their airways. If your cat has been stung by a bee or wasp and is struggling to breathe then this is an emergency, and you should contact your vet immediately.
Stings affecting paws may result in pain whilst walking and therefore your cat may limp. It may take a couple of days for limping to resolve as it will take some time for the swelling to go down.
Can Cats Have Allergic Reactions to Bee and Wasp Stings?
Severe and life-threatening reactions can develop in cats stung by bees or wasps if they have an allergy to the insect venom. This reaction is mostly seen in cats that have been stung before. This is a result of the cat’s ‘sensitization’ to the sting and an over-reaction of the immune system the second time they are stung. Anaphylaxis (see symptoms described above) is an emergency and can be fatal if your cat does not receive prompt veterinary treatment, which typically involves supplementary oxygen, a drip, and medications such as adrenaline, steroids, and antihistamines.
Can a Wasp or Bee Sting Kill a Cat?
It is possible for cats suffering from anaphylaxis to die if rapid treatment is not given. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you are concerned about a cat that has been stung by a bee or wasp.
What To Do If Your Cat Has Been Stung By a Bee or Wasp
- Examine your pet – find out how many times your cat has been stung and where they have been stung e.g., nose, mouth, face, paw, or body. Beware, your cat may be in pain and they may attempt to bite or scratch you. Check your pet for signs of anaphylaxis.
- Remove the stinger – if your cat has been stung by a bee, then the stinger may still be in the skin. Stingers left in the skin may cause the continued release of venom and therefore a bee sting must be removed promptly. The best way to remove the stinger is to use a bank card or something similar. The card is stroked along its edge, carefully across the pet’s coat to remove the stinger. If you are unable to remove the stinger with the card, then a tweezer may be used, however, this may cause the further release of toxins if the stinger is squeezed. It is not essential to remove wasp stings.
- Keep an eye out for an allergic reaction – this reaction tends to occur quite quickly after the sting, usually within one hour. If your cat has collapsed or is having breathing difficulties contact your veterinarian immediately as they will require emergency treatment.
- Call the veterinarian if your pet has a sting on the face, mouth or throat or multiple times – urgent care is necessary for stings involving the face, neck, or mouth as severe swelling of these areas may make it difficult for your pet to breathe. Your veterinarian may want to give your pet treatment to reduce the swelling such as steroids and antihistamine. They may also want to monitor your pet for a couple of hours to ensure the swelling is not worsening.
Home Remedies for Bee and Wasp Stings in Cats
If the sting is mild, it may be appropriate to treat a bee or wasp sting at home. You should take care, however, as stings are often painful, and your cat may lash out. Ice packs can be placed on the sting to reduce the swelling and pain felt by your cat. Be sure to cover ice packs in a tea towel or something similar to avoid frostbite or discomfort for your cat. Papain, a meat tenderizer, may also be applied to an affected area as this may help reduce swelling.
As bee venom is acidic, the addition of an alkali treatment may help neutralize its effects. Bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) can be diluted with water and applied as a paste to the local area. Chamomile lotion has a similar effect. If these products are not available, then a small amount of toothpaste applied to the affected area may also help. Do not apply any other alkaline treatments without checking with your veterinarian first.
Antihistamines such as Benadryl may also be useful as a bee or wasp sting treatment in pets. However, call your veterinarian first for advice on whether this is safe for your pet and how much to use, as dosage for pets is different than for humans. There are lots of different antihistamines available on the market, but certain ingredients are harmful to pets so check with your veterinarian if this is safe first.
How Can You Tell If a Stinger is Still in a Bee Sting?
In some cases, it will be clear that a stinger is left behind after your cat is stung by a bee. In other cases, it is not that obvious but if you can see a black knot in the center of the sting then it is likely that the stinger is still present. As previously described, use the sharp edge of a bank card to try and scrape the stinger out. If this method is not successful, then using a tweezer can be attempted, however, this may result in the release of more toxins into the skin as if the stinger is squeezed. If both these methods fail, then talk to your veterinarian who can schedule an emergency appointment to have the stinger removed and to administer any necessary treatments.
How Long Does Bee or Wasp Sting Swelling Last?
The swelling that develops after a bee or wasp sting usually only lasts from a couple of hours to a couple of days. If swelling is progressively worsening or if you are at all concerned about your cat, then give your veterinarian a call, as your cat may require treatment to alleviate the sting symptoms.
Will My Cat Be Ok?
Bee and wasp stings usually cause mild and short-term discomfort. However, some cats will develop a life-threatening allergic reaction. Therefore, bee and wasp stings should be treated seriously, and your pet should be monitored closely after a sting for signs that may indicate a more serious reaction. Bee stings should be removed as quickly as possible as the venom is continually released until it is removed. It is not often necessary to remove wasp stings.
Home remedies can be used to alleviate the symptoms of both bee and wasp stings, but make sure to speak to your vet first. Owing to the acidic nature of the bee venom, baking soda and chamomile lotion can be applied to bee stings to help neutralize their pH. If it looks like your cat is developing a severe allergic reaction to the sting or they have been stung on the face, mouth, or throat, and/or they have sustained multiple stings, call your veterinarian immediately. Prompt veterinary treatment will result in the speedy recovery of your pet and may help avoid or mitigate the life-threatening complications of anaphylaxis.
Bee and wasp stings commonly occur when curious cats get too close. They’re often on the nose or paw and can cause swelling and pain. Whilst anaphylaxis is rare, you should be aware of the signs so that you can respond if necessary.
Featured Image Credit: tereza_vasnovska, Pixabay