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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Spring in West Hollywood: It's the Most Hypersensitive Time of the Year

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
  • Vocalizing
  • Lameness/limping
  • Licking at or pawing the affected site
  • Disorientation
  • Stumbling (ataxia)
  • Vomiting (emesis)
  • Diarrhea
  • 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

Image: Jacaranda by Jared Greeno / via Flickr

Comments  6

Leave Comment
  • Allergic to Bee Stings
    05/22/2012 11:18am

    If a critter has shown hypersensitivity to bee stings in the past, would it ever be appropriate for the human to have an epi pen in their pocket during walks?

  • 05/25/2012 06:41pm

    Interesting idea regard the EpiPen.
    The EpiPen provides a dose of 0.3mg which is appropriate for an adult weighing 66 lbs or more. The EpiPen Jr provides a dose of 0.15mg which is appropriate for a child weighing 33-66 lbs.
    I'm not sure what one would do if you had a pet weighing less than 33 lbs, as the dose cannot be regulated for smaller body. I guess in the face of a life threatening reaction 'in the field', I'd use the EpiPen Jr for a pet regardless of body size (If I was unable to immediately get the pet to a veterinarian).

    When I treat hypersensitivity reactions in a hospital facility, I commonly use injectable Diphenhydramine HCl (Benadryl, an antihistamine) and Dexamethosone Sodium Phosphate (a steroidal anti-inflammatory). If a pet is having a more serious reaction, pale gums, low blood pressure/heart rate, ataxia (falling over), then I'll use injectable Epinephrine.

    Thank you for your excellent and though provoking question!
    Dr PM

  • 05/25/2012 10:05pm

    If one's critter has severe reactions like some people do, what would you think of getting specific medication from the vet and popping it into a pocket when Fido goes for a walk?

    Or does the medication need to be refrigerated?

    Or - even better - do critters not have the immediate life-threatening reaction like some humans?

  • 05/27/2012 11:32pm

    If your pet is prone to a hypersensitivity reaction and you STILL choose to go in areas where exposure to a hypersensitivity inducing source could occur, then working with your veterinarian to be best equipped to handle the reaction is a good idea.

    Having the doses already drawn up in syringes or knowing the dose to draw up from the bottle would be my suggested route.

    Injectable Diphenhydramine HCl, Dexamethosone Sodium Phosphate, and Epinephrine do not have to be refrigerated, but should be kept away from light.

    Yes, both dogs and cats can have potentially life threatening reactions from a bee sting, insect bite, or other allergen inducer.
    Dr PM

  • Unknown Allergic Reaction
    05/22/2012 05:28pm

    I took my 2 year old Aussie for a walk around our neighborhood a couple weeks ago afterwhich her face swelled tremendously. I don't believe she was stung or bit by anything because she never yelped or jumped or made any indication that she was hurt or startled (and trust me, she is very jumpy about the silliest of things). It was a day where the pollen count was very high and little, fuzzy, white "things" were floating all around. Juno just thought these fuzzy things were just hilarious and would bark at the big ones, and even try to chomp at any that flew by her face. This is the only thing I can think of that happened that was out of the ordinary that day. About two hours after our walk, her whole face was suddenly swollen so bad that we could barely see her eyes. She didn't even look like she had a snout because her cheeks were so fat. I immediately gave her some Benedryl and kept up the dosages every six hours. Within a day and a half, she was back to normal. I have no idea what or where those fuzzy "things" come from, but they are very common here in Tennessee. Since then, I'm nervous about even taking her out anymore.

  • 05/25/2012 06:44pm

    Thank you for sharing the story of what sounds like a hypersensitivity reaction affecting your pet. I'm glad to hear that the swelling went back to normal.
    In the future, make sure to have your pet checked by your veterinarian, as one cannot tell which direction the swelling/inflammation will go. So, your pet may need medication (steroid, epinephrine, other) in addition to Diphenhyramine HCl (Benadryl).
    I look forward to hearing from you again on my The Daily Vet petMD page.
    Dr PM
    Twitter @PatrickMahaney.com

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