Every spring, the purple flowers blooming on West Hollywood’s plethora of Jacaranda trees make for an astounding sight. Their intense hue brightens the "May gray" and "June gloom" overcast weather that often plagues our otherwise sunny skies. Unfortunately, the Jacaranda blooming season correlates with a notable increase in the number of bee stings in pets, and a coincidental increase in hypersensitivity reactions.
Fallen Jacaranda flowers cover the grass, sidewalks, and streets, thereby attracting bees and other insects. So while inspecting their preferred substrate for a place to urinate or defecate, curious canines and felines may unknowingly encounter a venomous insect buzzing around a fallen blossom.
In my clinical practice, I see pets (mostly dogs) with bee stingers imbedded in various body parts, including their paws, legs, face, and tongue. The bee’s venom causes a hypersensitivity reaction, which can be from mild to severe; severe reactions can be life threatening. As an owner cannot determine the degree to which their pet will react, urgent veterinary care is highly merited. Suspected or confirmed insect envenomations must be evaluated by a veterinarian to determine the most appropriate treatment.
Clinical signs of hypersensitivity reactions are usually sudden onset and include (but are not exclusive to):
- Hives (medical term = urticaria)
- Swelling (angioedema)
- Redness (erythema)
- Pain to the touch
- Licking at or pawing the affected site
- Stumbling (ataxia)
- Vomiting (emesis)
- Pale pink or white gums
- Low body temperature (hypothermia)
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
One notable case of bee sting hypersensitivity I treated involved a puppy presenting with mild signs of sniffling and increased frequency of swallowing. The puppy’s physical exam was within normal limits except for a visibly swollen tongue that was painful to the touch. He was sedated for a more thorough oral examination, which revealed a bee’s stinger imbedded in the poor pooch’s tongue. Removal of the stinger and injections of steroid and antihistamine medications allowed him to readily return to his energetic and playful self.
If you suspect that your pet has been stung by a bee, administering an antihistamine can help combat the histamine releasing effects of the insect envenomation. Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride (Benadryl Allergy) can be given by mouth at a dose of 1-2 mg per pound of body weight.
Do not give your pet other forms of Benadryl (like Benadryl-D Allergy Plus Sinus or Benadryl Severe Allergy Plus Sinus Headache), as they contain additional ingredients like Penylephrine HCl and Acetaminophen, either of which could create a toxic effect. As there still exists the potential that your pet could have life threatening complications from the hypersensitivity reaction, immediately pursue examination and treatment by a veterinarian.
No owner wants to see their canine or feline companion with swollen lips reminiscent of one of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, so be extra vigilant about keeping your pet out of environments where bees and other insects congregate. And always stay in control of your pet’s movements by walking your dog on a leash and keeping your cat indoors.
If your pet has been stung by a bee, I’d love to hear your perspective on the clinical signs, treatment, and recovery in the comment section below.
Jacaranda tree with the (famed) Chateu Marmont in the background from today. (by Dr. Mahaney)
A scattering of Jacaranda blooms on the ground. (by Dr. Mahaney)
Dr. Patrick Mahaney