Pet Talk: Protecting your pets from killer bees

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Many of us remember our first experience with bees, and it’s usually not positive. You may have been the curious kid who got a little too close to the beehive, or you may have been the innocent victim who was stung completely by surprise. No matter the situation, the afternoon was spent running and screaming into the house looking for help. Although we know better, our pets may think the humming and buzzing of a bee nest sounds like a good time. Before Fido sniffs too close to a dangerous hive, here are the facts you need to know about protecting your pet from killer bees.

Africanized honey bees, or so called “killer bees”, arrived in the United States during the 1990s. They appear no different than the common European honey bee and can only be told apart by an expert. Although the nickname suggests a fatal sting, killer bees are no more harmful than the common honey bee. Killer bees gained their nickname from the aggressive way they defend their nests. The more hostile bees readily protecting the nest, the more likely a person or pet is to be stung multiple times.

Even though it is common for people to have an allergic or even deadly reaction to a bee sting, dogs are not as susceptible to these harmful responses. Dr. James Barr, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explains the common reactions dogs experience from a bee sting.

“In most cases of pets being stung by a bee, there are not many side effects other than swelling and pain of the area that was stung.  They can have occasional more significant reactions, but this is far less common than in people,” he said. “Most of the bee stings in dogs are on the face and head as they are investigating the bee when it stings them. Occasionally there are pets that will try to catch and eat them. A mouth sting could result in swelling of the throat, but this is an unlikely occurrence,” Barr adds.

The best way to treat your pet’s bee sting is to prevent it. Owners should regularly check their property for beehives and consult a pest control operator to safely remove it. Hives can be found in obvious places like trees and shrubs, or in more secluded places, such as in the ground, an undisturbed flower pot, or even inside your walls. It is not safe to tease the bees in any way or try to remove the beehive on your own. Pets should be kept away from the area until it is cleared by a professional. “The best prevention is limiting your dog’s exposure to bees. If you see them, then keeping the dog away from the area until the hive can be removed is ideal,” advised Barr.

If your pet happens to be stung by a bee, swelling is the most important reaction an owner should watch for. According to Barr, owners should have their pet seen by a veterinarian if the swelling seems unusually painful or causes trouble breathing. Giving your pet a bath after the incident to remove any remaining stingers may be necessary. It is also important to scrape the remaining stingers from the skin, rather than pulling or tweezing them out. Stingers can be effectively scraped from the skin with a knife or fingernail.

Although it is uncommon for pets to have serious reactions to a bee sting, prevention is still important to protect your pet from an afternoon of regret. Keeping your property clear of beehives will significantly decrease the chance of Fido coming into contact with a bee, but remember to leave bee-keeping to the professionals.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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