What are the Possible Adverse Effects of Bee Stings in Cats and Dogs?


On vacation our little Min Pin(7 lbs) was bitten by a bee/wasp/yellow jacket on the hind leg. Of course she cried and limped and refused to let us put ice on it. I was able to dab a bit of witch hazel on the bite. About 2 hours later her muzzle began to swell. We watched for signs of breathing problems and she seemed Okay. I am unsure if the sting caused the swelling or the witch hazel that she promptly licked off. The site of the bite did not swell. It just looked red.

Since we were camping and it was a weekend with no vet care close by we watched her closely all nite. By morning the swelling had gone down considerbly. After reading many blogs about how serious this could have been I am now frightened to take her anywhere outside. What should we do to be prepared if another incident occurs?


Arthropod (that is to say, bug) bites and stings are very common in pets. In warm climates they can occur at any time of the year.

Dogs most frequently are stung on the mouth or muzzle as they try to catch an insect in flight. Cats most often are stung on the front feet when they pounce on or bat at a bee, wasp, spider, or other arthropod (bug).

Most stinging arthropods (such as bees, wasps, yellow jackets, and fire ants) inject a toxin that is painful and locally irritating. Some animals will develop a body-wide, or systemic reaction to the toxin. This is the equivalent to a human suffering from an allergic reaction to a bee sting.

Animals that suffer systemic reaction to arthropod stings or bites may develop hives, itching, red skin, vomiting, diarrhea, or swelling of the face. These symptoms can progress to shock, which can be fatal. Also, animals that develop facial swelling also may develop swelling in the throat, which can compromise breathing.

Witch Hazel can cause allergic reactions as well. However, based upon your story I suspect that your dog’s facial swelling was caused by the bee sting.

If your pet is stung by a bee or other arthropod, stay calm. If a stinger is in place and your pet will tolerate you handling the area, use a fingernail to scrape out the stinger gently. Do not squeeze the stinger or use tweezers, since this may cause additional poison to be injected through the stinger.

Diphenhydramine, also known as Benadryl, is readily available over the counter at drug stores. I pack this medicine any time my pal Buster and I go to the wilderness. Diphenhydramine is available in a children’s suspension that allows accurate dosing in small dogs. A dose of 0.5 to 1.0 mg per pound of body weight will prevent shock and reduce the likelihood of facial swelling, hives, and other systemic reactions in many cats and dogs after an arthropod bite or sting. Never use a combination product that contains pain killers, anti-inflammatory drugs, or decongestants in a pet.

Remember that this sort of home remedy is no substitute for veterinary care. Some animals will suffer side effects from diphenhydramine. For many animals, diphenhydramine alone will not be enough to halt a systemic reaction to an arthropod bite or sting. But if you are in the middle of the wilderness and getting to a vet isn’t an option, diphenhydramine can make a big difference.

Finally, remember that some types of bites and stings are more serious than others. If your pet is bitten by a black widow spider or brown recluse spider, for instance, simple remedies such as diphenhydramine will not suffice to address the situation.

Photo: Mlouis.

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