1. If possible, remove the sting. It can be helpful to place an ice pack on the site to reduce swelling.
  2. Most life-threatening anaphylactic reactions occur within 30 minutes of the sting so it is recommended to take any animal that has been stung by these insects to the vet as soon as possible for assessment, treatment and monitoring.
  3. Your veterinarian may be able to advise, by telephone, whether antihistamines or steroids can be used and if so which product and dose should be used. Do not give antihistamines or steroids without veterinary advice as this can be harmful.


Insects like bees, wasps, yellow jackets and ants are potentially venomous and can deliver venom by stinging their victims.


Most of these signs will occur within a few minutes, with the exception of delayed type allergic responses which occurs within 3 days to 2 weeks after the sting.

Local reactions:

  • Swelling
  • Redness and inflammation
  • Pain
  • Itchiness at the site

Regional reactions:

  • Allergic response involving larger parts of the body arising from the sting site
  • Cellulitis (inflammation and swelling under the skin)
  • Generalised itchiness
  • Hives (urticaria)

Anaphylactic responses:

  • Hives (urticaria)
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnoea)
  • Coughing
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Lethargic/ muscle weakness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Seizures
  • Salivation
  • Incoordination
  • Collapse
  • Death

Delayed allergic reactions:

  • Depression
  • Bruising due to inflammation of blood vessels (vasculitis)
  • Arthritis (stiff joints)
  • Discoloured urine (from destruction of red blood cells/muscle)


  • Insects like bees, wasps, yellow jackets and fire ants are potentially venomous and can deliver venom by stinging their victims.
  • Bees will lose their stinger after one sting and die.
  • Wasps and yellow jackets can sting multiple times.
  • The most common sting reactions seen in animals are local reactions, regional reactions, anaphylactic reactions and a delayed type allergic response.
  • Massive envenomation can be fatal even in non-allergic animals, with an estimated lethal dose of 20 stings/kg.


Treatment of uncomplicated stings mainly consists of supportive care and symptomatic treatment. This may involve antihistamines, topical local anaesthesia or corticosteroids. Intravenous fluid therapy may be required to maintain normal blood pressure and supplemental oxygen can be administered as required.


The majority of these insect stings, especially those that cause only a local reaction, are self limiting and should resolve within 24 hours even without treatment. However, anaphylactic reactions can progress rapidly and hence all stung animals should be monitored closely.


Fitzgerald KT & Vera R (2006) Insects – Hymenoptera, In: Small Animal Toxicology. 2nd Edn. Peterson ME & Talcott PA. USA: Elsevier Saunders. pp. 744-767