A cat staring at wasp on the ground.
A cat staring at wasp on the ground. Photography © SetsukoN | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Was Your Cat Stung by a Wasp, Bee, Snake or Spider? What to Do

Was your cat stung by a wasp or bee? And what if your cat gets stung by a snake or spider? Here's what to know about stings and bites on cats.

Was your cat stung by a wasp? Let’s check out one question from a Catster reader about a cat being stung by a wasp — and look at how to handle a cat who’s been stung by a bee, snake and spider, too, while we’re at it:

Cat dressed as a bee.
A cat dressed as a bee might be cute — but a cat getting stung by a wasp or bee is anything but. Photography © Asurobson | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

I need to know info on cat emergency help, for future reference. Lizzie is a dilute calico cat and she is fine now, but just in case it should happen again, I need to know what I should I do if we have a repeat incident. Yesterday she was sitting on the porch railing watching the three of us chatting. My friend was standing near her when he was suddenly attacked by a wasp. He waved it off and got off the porch. Lizzie was not so lucky. The pissed-off wasp nailed her nearly in the eye. Bless her heart, her eye swelled shut immediately and teared horribly. We kept a very close watch on her the rest of the day ready to drive like the proverbial bat to the vet if necessary. I know with dogs I can give them Benadryl and I know the dosage for dogs. But we have six cats and I vaguely remember you aren’t supposed to give it to cats. Is this true? If you can give it, what dosage? Children’s? If not, what can I do if my cat is stung by a wasp or bee? We also give Benadryl for snake bites. What do you give cats for snake bites?

Was your cat stung by a wasp or bee? Here’s what happens.

Bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets have complex venoms that cause pain and histamine release. In addition, histamine itself is a component of many bee, wasp and yellow jacket venoms.

Histamine, in case you’re wondering, is a molecule that occurs naturally in the body. When it is released by the cells containing it, it causes swelling, itching and redness. Histamine is what makes a mosquito bite itch. Histamine is what causes noses to run and eyes to water in cases of hay fever. Severe release of histamine into the bloodstream can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, intestinal ulceration, low blood pressure, anaphylaxis and death.

How does a cat stung by a wasp or bee react?

A cat stung by a wasp or bee reacts in one of two ways. Most cats suffer from localized pain and swelling at the site of the sting, such as poor Lizzie developed after the wasp stung her. This is normal, and may last for a day or two. Although Lizzie was stung on the face, cats are most frequently stung on the foot when they hunt for or step on stinging insects.

Some cats are especially sensitive to bee stings. These cats develop the generalized histamine release that can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, anaphylactic shock and even death.

Treatment for a cat stung by a wasp or bee.

Since histamine plays such a crucial role in bee, wasp, hornet and yellow jacket stings, it is not surprising that diphenhydramine (also known as Benadryl), which is an antihistamine, is used to treat them. When I treat a cat for such a sting, I administer roughly one milligram of diphenhydramine by intravenous or intramuscular injection. I also sometimes prescribe the same dose orally. (In cases of shock, epinephrine or steroids may also be necessary.) Such treatment usually leads to resolution of symptoms within hours.

Don’t do anything illegal while treating a cat stung by a wasp or bee!

Here’s the rub for our anonymous questioner when it comes to treating a cat stung by a wasp or bee. Unless your vet has specifically prescribed diphenhydramine for you to use in your cat, its use in the cat is illegal. Furthermore, it is illegal for your vet to send you to the pharmacy to pick up Benadryl, or for me to recommend that you administer Benadryl to any of your pets at home (and I therefore admonish you not to do it). Granted, if a person were to administer 1 milligram of diphenhydramine per pound cat weight after a bee sting, it likely would prevent symptoms from developing. And that person probably wouldn’t get caught. But it’s illegal, so it must not be done.

Why is it illegal? There are some valid reasons. For instance, many products that contain diphenhydramine also contain pseudoephedrine or acetaminophen. If a person were to accidentally administer such a product to her cat, then life-threatening toxicity would develop.

But the illegality actually stems primarily from a more basic issue: bureaucracy. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibits the use of any medication in a manner that is not consistent with its labeling. If you read the label on a bottle of Benadryl, you will see that there is no mention of its use in cats. Therefore, for Benadryl (or any medication) to be used legally in cats, a new label, i.e., a prescription label, must be provided. Veterinarians are required by law to issue a prescription for any medication, including human over-the-counter products, that is to be used in cats. Believe it or not, most vets don’t know this, and many of them risk their licenses on a regular basis as a result.

Treatment for a cat stung by a snake

But I have digressed. We have discussed the treatment for bee, wasp, yellow jacket, and hornet stings. What about envenomation from snakes?

I am happy to say that snakebite is relatively rare in cats. In those rare instances, rattlesnakes are most likely to bite cats in the U.S. Although dry bites are possible, cats that suffer envenomation may develop swelling, tissue necrosis, blood clotting abnormalities and neurological irregularities. Antihistamines such as Benadryl do not directly treat snake envenomation, and there is nothing that can be done at home for cats who are bitten by rattlesnakes.

Treatment for rattlesnake bites includes supportive care, intravenous fluids, pain killers, and sometimes antibiotics. These treatments should occur at a veterinary facility. Antivenom use is controversial. One recent paper recommended its use in cats. Another, published at almost exactly the same time, found that antivenom did not significantly affect mortality, but did predispose cats to a condition (called type 1 hypersensitivity) that increased mortality tenfold. Fortunately, both papers found low mortality rates for cats afflicted by snakebite.

Treatment for a cat stung by a black widow spider

Sadly, cats bitten by black widow spiders generally do not fare as well. They are extremely sensitive to the spider’s venom. Black widows are found throughout the U.S. (except for Alaska), and they are prevalent in areas of human habitation. Their bite leaves almost no mark, so it can be difficult to diagnose cats who have been envenomated unless the owner witnesses the incident.

Black widow spider venom is a neurotoxin. Benadryl has no direct impact on cats bitten by black widows, and no home treatments are effective. Symptoms of black widow spider envenomation include severe pain (with marked vocalization), severe GI upset, paralysis, drooling, seizures, and staggering. Death often occurs as a result of respiratory paralysis. Treatment must occur at a veterinary facility and is symptomatic: pain control, antiseizure medications, and intravenous fluids are administered. There is an anti-venom for black widow spiders that is considered safe for use in cats, but it is not commonly available.

How to prevent stings in the first place.

Is all this information on treating a cat stung by a wasp, bee, snake or spider a little frightening? Prevention is better than treatment for all of the bites and stings discussed in this post. Indoor cats are much less likely to encounter bees and wasps, and almost certain not to encounter snakes. Black widows are most common outdoors, but may spin webs inside under furniture or appliances. Such areas should be checked regularly for evidence of the spiders.

This piece was originally published in 2015.

Thumbnail: Photography © SetsukoN | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

About the author

Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)

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7 thoughts on “Was Your Cat Stung by a Wasp, Bee, Snake or Spider? What to Do”

  1. My Moon caught a wasp in his mouth when he was a baby and after a few hours his whole body was swollen, I rushed him to the vet and he had to have a course of injections. Now I freak out if any of my cats go near a wasp.

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  5. Leopoldo Garcia

    Bees and wasps sting, spiders and snakes bite. Both actions are defensive or used to subdue prey.

    One thing that needs to be done is to ID de animal that caused the problem. Its best to capture the attacker or take a picture of it with your smartphone. so you can show it or send it to a medical doctor or a vet. If the insect that stung your pet is a bee, its sting will remain in its victim. As it has a small barb that prevents both the stinger and its poison gland to fall off.

    One must be careful removing a bee stinger and its respective poison gland. Try to remove it with tweezers and holding it as close to the skin as possible. As the poison gland pulsates releasing more poison for a few minutes. It turns out, that the poison is an attacking pheromone that leads other bees to their enemy, thus, locating it, for other bees to continue their attack.

    If one pressures the poison sack, when you are pulling the stinger out, it will function like a hypodermic and inject more poison into your pet. So it is important, that one places the tweezer between the small bag (poison gland) and the skin and then pull it out. It may be difficult to find, because of the hair may hinder your search. So take a first look at the head, as nose, eyes and lips are the places that will be more likely to undergo the attack.

    If a snake bit your pet, the best thing is to take a picture of it. As proper ID is very important to determine the doctor´s actions. Make sure you call animal control or your nearest fish and wildlife office to send you help. If help is hard to find, call the police or the fire department. Please, DO NOT HANDLE POISONOUS SNAKES AT ALL, and if the pet is not your own, be careful before you handle it.

    Best regards

    Leopoldo Garcia
    Nature Writer

  6. I have a beautiful 2yo boy Simba, a small cat (runt of the litter) who is a peanut colour tabby
    about 6 months ago he was stung on his front paw when he tried to belt at a wasp in our front yard
    this was after I’d already twice picked him up and moved him away from the wasp in the garden and told him off for it
    I immediately took him inside and my son rang the vet for advice luckily it was not a major problem for simba and he allowed me to rest his paw on an ice pack wrapped in a tea towel as he got loads of cuddles and a treat for being brave the vet advised over the phone what were danger symptoms to look for
    simba obviously was getting relief from the ice pack so I just sat cuddling him and kept his paw on the ice pack and under supervision for a 24 hour period after half hour
    after half an hour of icepack and cuddles he was jumping around like nothing had happened although there was plenty of extra cuddles for me as if he was thanking me for making him better
    I now supervise him more closely when in the yard as he hasn’t learnt and still tries to catch bees and wasps
    I’m just thankful for the vets advice over the phone and that Simba never suffered any problems or side effects from the experience
    losing him would have broken my heart completely

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