A recent KRQE 13 news item caught my attention due to the horrible nature of the article’s title: Africanized Bees Kill Pet Dog
Treating dogs and cats that have been stung by bees and other insects isn’t anything new to my practice. Yet, I’ve never had a patient die from a sting nor see one that was assaulted by a swarm of what are commonly known as killer bees, as happened recently to a dog in New Mexico.
What are Africanized Bees?
For those of you who aren’t aware of the issues with these potentially lethal arthropods, an informative video can be found via National Geographic’s Africanized Bees.
Killer bees are actually African honeybees that escaped from a laboratory in Brazil in the 1950s. After reproducing extensively in the Amazon rain forest in South America, they moved into Texas through Mexico in 1990. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) features a chart detailing the Spread of Africanized honey bees by year, by county through 2011. I have to speculate that more areas in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas have been affected since then.
Africanized bees are known for being readily agitated and quick to attack both animals and people. They even “form voracious swarms” and “chase victims for one quarter of a mile.”
Populations of Africanized bees are damaging the habitats of other bees, animals, and people. Entomologist David Roubik states that “these bees have done something no other bee ever did. They have sucked up most of the resources that are out there for bees and other animals too.”
What Happened to the Dog that Was Attacked?
Sam McCallum of Bruce’s Pest Control has specialized in bee control for over ten years. McCallum was called to a ranch in New Mexico after the rancher reported a “massive swarm of bees was attacking his dogs.” The “bees were so aggressive, they stung one of the dogs over 40 times,” added the rancher, which ultimately led to the dog’s death.
Bee venom causes a hypersensitivity reaction which may be mild or severe. There are four classes of hypersensitivity reactions and bee stings are considered to be Type I (Immediate) Hypersensitivity. It’s a process where previous exposure to an antigen (bee sting venom) causes an interaction between IgE antibodies (immune system protein) and Mast cells (white blood cells), which leads to the sudden release of chemicals that cause tissue swelling, leakage of fluid from blood vessels, and even delayed blood clotting.
It’s unclear as to why the dogs were attacked by the bees, but McCallum says that the “swarm was the worst he’s seen” and speculates that “all of the rain may be the reason the bees are so active right now and there’s a good chance it will happen again.”
The on-site beekeeper evidently also incurred the wrath of the killer bees, as he was stung nine times despite wearing a protective suit meant to keep bees out. McCallum and his team killed the bees that attacked the dogs (by what means the bees were killed hasn’t been disclosed).
What are the Clinical Signs of Bee Sting-Related Hypersensitivity Reaction?
In susceptible animals, the clinical signs are usually sudden onset and include (but are not exclusive to):
Hives (medical term = urticaria)
Pain to the touch
Licking at or pawing the affected site
Pale pink or white gums
Low body temperature (hypothermia)
Low blood pressure (hypotension)
Bee Sting Treatment for Pets
It's often not known if a bee sting is going to cause a severe reaction, or any reaction at all. Therefore, it’s important that owners take their canine or feline companions to a veterinarian for evaluation when facing a suspected or confirmed insect sting or bite.
Treatment may be simple, such as removing the stinger, observing for reaction, and managing associated discomfort with pain medications. Alternatively, a severe hypersensitivity reaction may require injectable fluids and medications (steroids, antihistamines, etc.), hospitalization, and other treatments.
Untreated hypersensitivity reactions could result in more significant illnesses and even death.
How Can I Protect My Pet from Being Stung by Bees?
When it comes to bee stings, prevention is always the best medicine.
My top tips include:
Always walk your dog on a short, non-extendable lead to prevent access to areas where bees could be plentiful, such as lawns coated with fallen flowers and blossoming bushes.
Never let your pet outside while unobserved by a responsible adult.
Avoid areas known to harbor above ground and underground bee hives. Even if beehives aren’t visible, a swarm could readily appear and rapidly overtake you and your pet.
Contact an experienced professional to rid your yard, trees, and other other surrounding environments of nests harboring stinging insects.
When faced with the threat of a swarm, I’d heed the perspective of an expert like McCallum, who suggests taking immediate cover, as “unless you can get into a vehicle or a house, you’re vulnerable. They’re going to get you.”
Dr. Patrick Mahaney