Acute allergic reactions are a common emergency during these warmer summer months and our Berkeley gardens are a haven for the bees, wasps and spiders that can sting and bite our pets.
A bite or sting can cause clinical signs that range anywhere from mild skin changes to serious life-threatening reactions. Mild reactions are generally limited to a swollen or puffy face, swelling and redness around the eyes, lumps and bumps over the body, redness of the skin, head shaking, and itchiness. The picture of the beagle shows the development of hives, which is a “typical” skin reaction following a bee sting.
A severe reaction is also known as an anaphylactic reaction, and can lead to life-threatening symptoms that can include vomiting, diarrhea, staggering, pale gums, sudden collapse, swelling of the airways and difficulty breathing. This is a true medical emergency and rapid intervention is needed.
Veterinary attention is required if your pet is showing any signs of an allergic reaction, as mild signs can progress to severe signs rapidly.
What to do:
• If the stinger can be found, scrape it out with a credit card or other stiff material. Alternatively, use tweezers by grasping the stinger, which is located below the venom sac. If the sting just happened, be careful not to put pressure on the venom sac, as that would inject more of the venom into the pet.
• Apply a cool (not ice!) compress to the area.
• To help neutralize some of the acidic venom, apply a paste mixture of baking soda and water to the sting area.
• To reiterate: mild clinical signs can progress to severe clinical signs in a short period of time and early treatment will generally prevent continued progression of the reaction. If there are any signs of facial swelling, vomiting, breathing difficulty or collapse you should seek veterinary care immediately.
What NOT to do:
• Do not administer any medications without first contacting your veterinarian or a veterinary emergency hospital. The veterinarian will need to examine your pet before recommending medications.
Can reactions be prevented?
In general, there is no way to predict which animals will have an allergic reaction, whether it will be mild, or whether it will progress to life-threatening anaphylaxis. Some pets can get stung and have no reaction one time, and then have a severe reaction the next. The "Bee Gods" do not favor my own baby girl and she gets stung at least once a month (oddly, always in her butt!) and has never once developed a reaction.
For animals that do have an established history of being allergic to insect bites, I often get asked about giving Benadryl, which is part of the treatment protocol in allergic reactions. In the hospital setting, Benadryl is given by an injection into the muscle, which works much faster than giving the medication orally. However, concern is raised by owners who are out on hikes and away from immediate veterinary care. In these cases, you can carry with you (and give if needed) 1 mg of Benadryl for every 10 pounds of body weight. For example, a 50 pound dog will get a 50 mg capsule of benadryl (or two 25 mg capsules). This is not a substitute for veterinary care, but it can be helpful at "buying time" as you make your way to your pets doctor for evaluation.
For a history of severe reactions — meaning pets that have been treated for true anaphylaxis in the past — you can ask your veterinarian about getting a prescription for an "epi-pen" to carry with you on any trips or hikes. An "epi-pen" is a special syringe and needle filled with a single dose of epinephrine. If your pet has an anaphylactic reaction, inject the epinephrine using the "epi-pen" and seek emergency veterinary assistance immediately.
I hope this will help you navigate your way through the experience of bites and stings. As always, feel free to ask questions or leave comments, and I'll see you next Wednesday at the pets corner of Patch!