We’ve all seen the pictures: dogs and cats with noses that look like a cartoon clown, jowls so swollen they look like tennis balls, pets that look like caricatures of themselves. But in truth, those swollen faces are no joke. Insect bites and stings can be dangerous if not fatal to pets, just like some people. But when do you worry?
First let’s talk about the most common insect bites, wasps, and bees. Most dogs stumble onto a bee at least once in their life. It would be hard not to! A dog that has his nose to the ground will quite easily disturb an unsuspecting bee in clover or a plant that may decide to retaliate with a sting. The same thing can happen with wasps, especially ground-dwelling wasps. While bees and wasp’s stings are not necessarily dangerous, some dogs and cats may be allergic to them, just like some people. These pets will most likely go into immediate distress, or anaphylactic shock, and have trouble breathing, swelling, and weakness or collapse. These symptoms can also occur when a pet has received multiple stings, or stings in and around the mouth, nose, and eyes.
Once you realize your pet has been stung by insect bites, you should examine the area. A bee will leave a stinger. Do NOT pull it out like you would a splinter! Squeezing the stinger can release more venom into your dog or cat. Instead, try scraping it out with your fingernail or a credit card. Applying a paste of baking soda and water will usually help alleviate the pain and inflammation. You can also give over the counter diphenhydramine (Benadryl) at a dose of 1 milligram per pound. It can take 30 minutes for the medication to start reducing the swelling, so watch your pet closely. If at any time it appears that your pet is having trouble breathing or becomes lethargic you should immediately seek veterinary attention. If your pet has received multiple insect stings, been stung in the mouth, or appears to have swallowed the insect, you should immediately seek out your vet, as these insect stings can quickly cause enough swelling to block the pet’s airway.
Scorpion stings are one of the exotic insects encounters your dog or cat may have and are also one of the most painful. Scorpions are not deadly, but they can make your pet miserable for several days. If you realize your pet has been stung by a scorpion cold compresses are your first and most effective method for controlling the pain. Wash the area, pull out the stinger if you see it, and hold a cold compress for 10 minutes, off for 10 minutes, then back on for another 10 minutes. Scorpion stings generally subside after 4 to 8 hours. If by then the sting is still swollen or your pet seems to be in some distress contact your veterinarian for guidance.
Spider bites result in many of the same symptoms as bee and scorpion stings, such as redness, swelling, and lethargy, but also can include drooling, muscle spasms, partial paralysis, and seizures. It is often difficult to determine if a pet has suffered a spider bite other than by symptoms. However, if you do find the telltale puncture wound sites, you should clean the area with a cold, wet compress and monitor your pet closely for increased severity of symptoms. Spider bites, especially black widow bites, can be particularly dangerous to cats. If your cat begins to show signs of paralysis, drooling, being unsteady on its feet you should contact your vet immediately.
Having a well-stocked first aid kit for your pet is a must for people living in areas prone to biting and stinging insects. Being able to properly remove stingers and ticks, having the appropriate dose of Benadryl available, being able to take your pet’s temperature, these are all ways you can reduce the pain and swelling if your dog or cat receives a bite or sting. But when is it serious enough to call your vet?
There are several signs that insect bites should be handled by a professional:
- Bites or stings in the mouth or swallowing of insect. This situation can quickly lead to swelling of the throat and a blocked airway. Do not waste time-get to the vet!
- Multiple stings. Getting stung or bitten by several insects at once puts a lot of toxins into the bloodstream. Getting to your vet quickly gives them more time to counter those toxins before they can cause serious damage.
- Difficulty breathing. Swelling from bites in or around the mouth and nose can cause airways to swell and become blocked.
- Extreme swelling, lethargy.
- Drooling, paralysis, stumbling.
Even though the swelling and redness may look daunting most insect bites and stings are not dangerous to your pets and symptoms will subside within a few hours. However, if your pet is stung or bitten by one of the venomous variety or they are extremely reactive to the bites or stings you should be prepared. Put a pet first aid kit together and have your veterinarian’s number easily accessible. You might also consider treating the area in and around your home with a pet-safe insecticide. Monitor your pet for unexplained bites and unusual behavior. Keep areas around the house cleared of places that attract spiders and scorpions, such as wood piles, bricks, and mulch.
And finally, always remember that your veterinarian would much rather you err on the side of safety. It’s a lot easier to take a quick look at a bite and tell you it will be fine that it is to look at several-day-old wounds that have become infected. Or worse, having to meet you for an emergency call because you waited too long for the severity of the symptoms.