Bee & Wasp Stings

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Cats love to chase things — and that definitely includes flying insects! Bees and wasps are particular hazards, since their buzzing noise further attracts a cat's attention.

But an insect sting can pose a real threat to a curious cat or a kitten practicing its hunting skills.

The most likely time for a kitty to fall victim to an insect sting is not in the heat of summer, but during the spring and autumn. At these times, the air is cooler and the insects move a bit slower - and so a bug is more likely to fall prey to the grasp of a playful paw.

Symptoms Your Cat Has Been Stung

It is usually obvious if your cat has been stung, especially if you know it has been exposed to a bee or wasp. Symptoms include:

  • The cat appears distressed or in pain
  • The cat is unusually restlessness
  • The cat will paw or chew at the area stung
  • The cat might scratch or lick the affected area repeatedly
  • The cat may cry and salivate if stung in the mouth

Bee or Wasp?

It is helpful to know whether the sting was from a bee or wasp because the behavior of the insect and the treatment for the sting is different. Honey/bumble-bees are in one category and wasps, yellow-jackets and hornets are in the other.

Honey or Bumble Bee

A bee's stinger has a barb at one end of its stinger and a tiny sac of venom at the other. Once the bee stings, the barb keeps the stinger in the victim as the bee flies away. A few minutes later, the bee dies. You can often find the dead bee near the area where the sting took place.

To treat a bee sting, first remove the stinger.

Bee stings are acid, so to neutralize them, the area stung should be washed with an alkali, such as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) dissolved in cold water.

Wasps, Yellow Jackets and Hornets

Wasps, yellow jackets and hornets behave quite differently from bees.

A wasp does not lose its stinger and does not die after stinging. In fact, when a wasp feels threatened, it stings... and stings... and stings again. Each time it stings, it releases a chemical message to other wasps nearby and essentially requests backup, which means even more wasps may fly in to sting the victim.

Wasp stings are alkaline, so bathe the area with diluted lemon juice or vinegar.

Removing The Stinger

If the cat has been stung by a bee, you may be able to lessen the effects of the sting if you can locate the tiny, dark dart of poison left behind and remove it. Gripping the stinger with tweezers to remove it may inject the poison, so care should be taken that you do not squeeze the sac of venom into the skin.

Instead of using tweezers to remove the stinger, take a very small glass jar, like baby food comes in, heat it under very hot tap water, then place the jar upside down over the stinger. As the glass bottle cools, it will create a suction that draws out the stinger. Once the stinger is removed, apply a cold compress. This will help stop the swelling and relieve the pain. Finally wash the area with baking soda in cool water.

Stung In The Paw

The most common place for a cat to be stung is in its paw — the result of swatting at the insect or knocking it down and pouncing on it.

The paw will often swell, as shown in the photo on the right. The paw that has been stung has swollen to almost twice the size of the other paw.

Stung In The Mouth or Throat

If a cat bites at a bee, the insect may attack the cat's face. If the cat swallows the insect, it may be stung on the tongue, gums or throat. A sting in the mouth, particularly on the tongue, can be very dangerous because the resulting swelling can block the air passage and the cat may suffocate!

If you think your cat may have been stung in the mouth area, check that the airway is clear. Place an ice cube in the cat's mouth to reduce swelling and immediately rush the cat to veterinarian. The veterinarian can administer cat-specific antihistamines and treat the cat for shock.

Symptoms of respiratory distress from a bee sting include:

  • Swelling of the face
  • Welts on the body
  • Very rapid breathing/panting
  • The tongue may turn blue

Allergic Response

Just like people, a cat may be allergic to bee and/or wasp stings. If allergic to the venom from the sting, the cat may collapse (anaphylactic shock).

If this happens, it is vital you take your cat immediately to the nearest vet. It can be a matter of life or death.

In an emergency situation, if the cat is choking from an allergic response to a bee sting and a veterinarian is unavailable, give an antihistamine such as Benedryl in a dropper ASAP.

Prevention

There is very little that you can do to prevent this risk. Even an indoor cat can be stung if a bee or wasp finds its way into the home. Be alert to a cat showing interest in "something", especially on the window. Insects of all sorts present an irresistible temptation.

In Summary

A Comparison Of Characteristics of Bee Stings To Wasp Stings
Characteristic Honey & Bumble Bees Wasps, Yellow-Jackets & Hornets
Sting A single sting Can sting repeatedly
Stinger The stinger is left in the skin There will be no stinger in the skin
After Stinging The bee dies after a stinging, so it may be found in the area. A wasp survives a stinging episode
pH Bee stings are acid Wasp stings are alkali
Treatment Remove the sting and bathe the area in bicarbonate of soda. Bathe the area in vinegar or lemon juice.
  • Apply a cold compress to reduce swelling
  • Apply an antihistamine cream to the area
  • Seek veterinary attention ASAP if the cat shows signs of respiratory difficulties

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