Bites and stings in pets

Advice from our Vets on common bites and stings
Written by Mayhew team
Updated 1 year ago

As the weather warms up, our pets begin to spend more time playing outdoors and enjoying the sunshine. Unfortunately, this is the same for insects and animals such as bees, wasps, snakes, spiders and ticks. But what do we do if our pet gets bitten or stung? Our veterinary team shares some advice for the Spring and beyond.  

Bee and wasp stings: 

A sting from a bee or wasp usually happens when your pet has tried to play with and catch the insects as they fly. Therefore, most common sites of entry for a sting are around paws and the mouth.  

Common signs of a sting include: 

  • Pain or irritation 
  • Drooling  
  • Nibbling the paw area 
  • Limping  
  • Swelling around the entry location.  
  • Stings in the mouth can be more serious as they can cause swelling in the throat or around the airways.  

What to do if your pet is stung 

If possible and visible then the stinger end should be removed. A hard, firm object such as a credit card can be used to ‘scrape’ out the stinger. If attempting this yourself, then it is important not to squeeze the end as this can release further toxin release. Minor reactions are often treated with antihistamines under veterinary direction. Applying a covered ice pack to the area may help reduce the pain and swelling.  

More serious allergic reactions (anaphylactic shock) are very rare. Reactions like this are more likely if the animal is stung in multiple places. If a reaction hasn’t occurred within 30 minutes of the sting it is unlikely to happen.  

Common signs of an allergic reaction include: 

  • Vomiting  
  • Collapse 
  • Pale or blue-tinged gums.  

An allergic reaction is a genuine EMERGENCY and the pet must be taken to an emergency vet immediately.  

Snake bites: 

There are three types of snakes found in the UK: 

  • Smooth snakes 
  • Grass snakes  
  • Adders 

Smooth and grass snakes are non-venomous and very rarely bite. Adders are the only venomous snakes in the UK, and are found most commonly in sandy areas such as sand dunes or in long grass on the edges of woodlands. They hibernate in the winter, so snake bites are generally only seen between February and October when the weather is warmer. Adders are easy to distinguish from other types of snakes as they have a zig-zag pattern along their backs and a V-shaped marking on their heads.  

Adders generally only bite in self-defence, as dogs either mistakenly step on or sniff the area where the snake is hiding. Cats will sometimes stalk and pounce on snakes they find in long grass. Bites are therefore more common for dogs and cats on the limbs or face and initial signs include swelling of the area, bleeding/bite marks and pain. It is important to seek veterinary attention immediately as these snakes are venomous. 

Some pets will require only minor symptomatic treatment, however a bite has the potential to be very serious.  The snake’s venom can travel from the local entry site to the rest of the body through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system and this can cause much more serious and systemic side effects such as: 

  • Unsteadiness 
  • Collapse,  
  • Seizures 
  • Organ failure 

If your pet is bitten by an adder, it is best not to attempt any first aid yourself., Simply keep your pet  as calm and still as possible (as movement can encourage the spread of venom through the body) and take them straight to your emergency vets. Treatment for a more serious systemic adder bite includes supportive care such as intravenous fluids and steroids. There is an anti-venom available for adder bites, but it is rarely used in the UK.   

Spider and tick bites: 

Spider bites in the UK are uncommon, and only cause minor reactions such as an irritated or raised lump on the skin. Ticks, which are also members of the arachnid family, occur much more frequently and can be more problematic. Tick bites are common in certain areas of the UK, particularly if you walk your dog or your cat hangs around in areas of woodland or long grass, or around wildlife or farm animals. Ticks can carry and infect animals with some serious diseases such as Lyme disease (which causes a variety of symptoms such as lethargy and swollen joints). Animals who have travelled from abroad may also carry different types of tick-borne diseases that were not previously found in the UK.  

What to do if you find a tick 

Ticks can often be mistaken for skin tags, as they have rounded-bodies and attach to the pet’s skin by their mouths, with their bodies ‘hanging off’. Ticks are easy to remove using a tick removing device in a twisting motion (care must be taken to ensure the entire tick is taken off), although the easiest way to treat ticks is by using a preventative tick treatment which can be prescribed by your veterinarian as part of your flea and worming routine.  

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