Taking the sting out of summer


Summer brings good times, good fun, and … not so good bugs. There are many little creatures (or "varmints" as my father-in-law would say) that can cause problems for your dog. These pests can be irritating at best and down right dangerous at worst. Sources of stings and bites that cause reactions can come from insects to toads — let's take a look at a few.

Flying, stinging, pests

Bees, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets are all flying, stinging, pests. Technically, they are "poisonous" since they do inject a venomous fluid during their sting. The stinger of the wasps and hornets is straight, enabling them to sting multiple times, while the bee's stinger has a barb that anchors into the skin of the victim; as a result the bee can sting only once and it then it will die.

The stings of all wasps and bees cause immediate pain and local inflammation resulting in the classic symptoms of itching, and swelling. This swelling can be quite impressive, with results that look noteworthy, but seldom cause significant problems when limited to one or two stings. More serious problems occur from swarm or "gang sting" attacks.

Ant bites

Although very small and generally regarded as a mere nuisance, ant bites can also produce reactions when they sting. The imported red fire ant in the United States (a species which bites and stings) has made this insect an object of concern.

In the Southeast, the fire ant is now the leading cause of insect sting hypersensitivity reported in people, replacing bee stings. The ant stinger is smooth, and therefore, unlike bees, the ant does not die after stinging.


A biting insect your dogs may come in contact with is the spider. Of importance are the Black Widow (Lactrodectes sp.) and Brown Recluse (Loxosceles sp.). The venom of spiders, more similar to snakes than bees, contains neuromuscular chemicals that cause tissue destruction and sometimes system wide damage.

Clinical signs of spider poisoning may include pain with moderate swelling at the local area, muscle cramping, and/or acute abdominal pain. Brown Recluse bites may result in a central reddish blister that becomes necrotic, turning blue or brown, eventually leading to a slough. They also may be slow to heal, especially if they become secondarily infected.

More reactions…

There are a few other bugs and warm weather creatures that can cause problems for you dog that are worth mentioning. Stinkbugs can cause a local reaction when encountered (especially if eaten!), but this is usually self-limiting and resolves shortly.

Frogs and toads come out from hibernation and are abundant in marshy wet areas. Frogs pose no problem, but some toads have toxins. The Bufo sp. of toads can be terrestrial or aquatic, and is found in the Southern and Southwestern United States. The parotid glands of this toad exude a toxin that can damage the cardiovascular system. Other reptiles, such as the Gila monster and Mexican bearded lizard also have toxins. These lizards are terrestrial and primarily found in Southwest United States.

Finally, if you live near the coast or are taking the dogs along to the beach, be on the look out for jellyfish, coral, sea anemone, and/or sea urchins. These all can sting or otherwise cause reactions resulting in pain, swelling, cramps, and sometimes vomiting.


Treatments for most single, uncomplicated insect stings may be administered at home. Antihistamines provide relief of itching, swelling, and mild bronchospasm (small airway constriction) associated with insect sting reactions. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is often recommended and used by veterinarians as the antihistamine of choice. It is generally safe with a wide dose range.

Other measures that may be taken at home include: application of a cold pack immediately and during the first 24 hours to decrease swelling, followed by warm compresses to encourage resolution of swelling.

If possible, the stinger should be removed, although the hair of the animal generally complicates localization.

Also, symptomatic relief with medicated baths, antihistamines, and/or the application of ice, topical steroids or lotions such as aloe may be helpful. If home therapy is attempted, always monitor your dog closely and be prepared to contact your veterinarian if the need arises.

For all other envenomations (spider, snake, etc), if you believe that your dog may be having a true allergic reaction, or if they have been stung multiple times you should immediately transport him/her to your local veterinary hospital.

Once admitted, your veterinarian can assess the level of reaction and can begin appropriate treatment. Symptoms that might indicate a true allergic (or anaphylaxis) reaction include collapse, difficulty or cessation of breathing, or mental derangement.