Sammy stopped to sniff every clump of grass along the sidewalk when he suddenly yelped and jumped back. With several bees buzzing around, Mr. Snyder assumed Sammy got stung. At first, he didn’t think Sammy would need medical attention. But when his muzzle began to swell, he brought Sammy right in.
When Sammy arrived at the hospital, the swelling was hard to miss. His muzzle enlarged to almost twice its normal size, and the area around his eyes had swelled as well. Agitated, Sammy drooled and pawed at his face. Looking closely at the swollen area, I found the culprit – the offending stinger within his upper lip – and removed it. Mr. Snyder’s initial assumption had been correct, Sammy got stung and was allergic to bees.
Allergic reactions to bee and wasp venoms are fairly common. These agents can act as antigens. In other words, they can stimulate the body’s immune system. The first exposure to a particular antigen doesn’t typically cause allergic symptoms. But in some dogs this exposure can sensitize the animal to the antigen, so if exposed again, the dog can show a different, more severe reaction. Many inflammatory compounds can be released, which may cause a variety of symptoms. Further sensitization can occur with additional stings, so subsequent reactions can become progressively worse.
Most often the symptoms of a sting are not very serious. They can include local tissue swelling, itchiness and drooling like Sammy experienced, and urticaria (hives). In more severe cases, however, the reaction can be life-threatening. An aggressive anaphylactic response can cause the blood pressure to drop precipitously, causing serious damage by preventing organs from getting enough oxygen. Swelling around the airway can also make breathing difficult or even impossible.
Treatment of less severe reactions often involves an injection of medication to reverse the allergic response, usually an antihistamine, a corticosteroid, or both. In addition, it’s important to monitor the patient to watch for further symptoms, because reactions that seem relatively minor at first can worsen very quickly. For more serious symptoms, the dog may need additional medications, intravenous fluids or even a breathing tube to maintain an open airway.
Fortunately, Sammy’s symptoms didn’t worsen. Within half an hour of being treated with an injectable antihistamine, the swelling reduced dramatically. Because of the possible severity of allergic reactions, we kept Sammy for the day to watch for more serious symptoms, but none developed. By the time he was discharged in the evening, there was only a slight trace of the swelling he came in with.
Sammy’s owner is now aware that Sammy is allergic to bees and that the severity of these reactions may progress with further incidents. Not wanting to test if Sammy is a fast or slow learner, Mr. Snyder avoids bees and other stinging insects.
Dr. Deirdre Brandes is a veterinarian at the Rancho Santa Fe Veterinary Hospital, now open at the Helen Woodward Animal Center, and currently offering at-home care. She can be reached at www.rsfvets.com, or 858-759-8797. The cases described in Veterinary Vitals are true stories, but the author has changed details about the patients to protect their privacy.