Bee Stings In Boxers: What To Know And Do

Boxers get themselves stung by bees frequently enough that owners have a term of wry endearment for the insects: spicy sky raisins.

Bee stings in Boxer dogs can range in severity from minor swelling at the bite site to more severe reactions including hives and facial swelling and, at worst, collapse due to an acute and potentially fatal allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Reactions can happen within seconds or minutes of being stung.

I am not a vet. This article is intended for general informational and educational purposes. I encourage readers to view my full disclaimer here.

How Serious Is It If Your Boxer Gets Stung By A Bee?

Some Boxers seem to get stung by bees on a regular basis with no more grave consequences than a swollen face and a dose of Benadryl (although this is not a drug you want to use lightly, as explained shortly).

Most of the time bee stings cause mild swelling at the bite site and a little pain that goes away on its own.

Sometimes, a Boxer will develop a swollen face, itchiness and hives all over the body in response to a bee sting.

On the extreme end of the scale, anaphylactic reactions can cause a dog to collapse and die on the spot or go into shock, necessitating urgent treatment.

What kind of reaction your Boxer has to a bee sting depends largely on whether or not he happens to be allergic to the venom, which you won’t know if this is the first time he’s been stung.

Aside from a pre-existing allergy to bee venom, factors that may make a severe reaction more likely include:

  • How many times the Boxer is stung (A single sting from one bee, versus an attack by a whole swarm)
  • Where on the body he’s stung (Inside the mouth/throat might be riskier than paw and if the bee was swallowed alive, it could have continued to sting the dog internally, in which case swelling of the trachea can cut off air supply)
  • Body weight (Boxer puppies may be prone to worse reactions than adults to the same amount of venom)
  • What has happened in the past (Prior stings with increasingly severe reactions may suggest a systemic reaction is more likely if stung again)
  • The dog’s pre-existing toxic load (According to the stacking effect by which toxins accumulate in the body, a system already overburdened by constant chemical exposures from chemical wormers, contaminants in tap water, highly processed dog food like kibble, vaccines and flea and tick treatments may be less able to cope with another assault)

Are Boxer Dogs Allergic To Bees?

Bee allergy in dogs is said to be rare.

Boxer dogs are not, as a breed, allergic to bee venom.

Individual dogs, just like humans, vary in their sensitivity.

A large, localized swelling in response to a bee sting does not, on its own, mean your Boxer is allergic to bees.

Can You Test A Boxer For Allergy To Bees?

Testing for an allergy to bee venom is available but dogs are not routinely screened because:

  • Most dogs are not allergic to bee venom
  • Blood tests to check for specific immunoglobulins may not be reliable
  • Skin testing by a veterinary dermatologist can be costly and there is a risk of the test itself triggering an allergic reaction

Instead, most vets advise going on a dog’s history.

If a Boxer has previously had a severe reaction to a bee sting, you know he’s allergic.

In this case, your vet can prescribe extra measures like an Epipen devices or perhaps a “bee vaccine” (more below).

How To Treat Bee Sting In Boxers

Most bee stings are a minor nuisance that require no treatment.

However, if you know your Boxer gets hives from bee stings, the standard veterinary advice is to:

  • Dose with Benadryl immediately when stung at 1mg/lb of bodyweight, repeating every eight hours until the swelling is gone

If hives have already erupted, the recommendation is to:

  • Go straight to the vet for a shot of injectable Benadryl or possibly a steroid injection

For Boxers known to go into shock due to a bee venom allergy, extra steps are warranted:

  • Carry an Epipen, which is a small syringe containing epinephrine (adrenaline) and use as directed in response to bee sting
  • Get a “bee vaccine”

Should I Take My Boxer To The Vet For A Bee Sting?

You should take your beestung Boxer to the vet immediately if you notice:

  • Symptoms are progressing to become more severe
  • There are signs of not just irritation at the bite site, but a broader, allergic reaction e.g. hives, facial swelling etc
  • Your Boxer becomes lethargic or weak
  • Changes to respiration rate i.e. fast breathing, or trouble swallowing, drooling etc
  • Behavioral changes or confusion

According to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s advice on bee stings in humans, symptoms like hives, swelling of throat, lips, tongue and mouth and difficulty breathing are not due to venom, but signs of a systemic allergic reaction.

In other words, your Boxer doesn’t have to swallow a bee or be bitten on the face for his face and neck to swell and breathing difficulties to develop.

While hives and facial swelling do not necessarily indicate an anaphylactic reaction, they can lead to it.

At the very least, call your vet for advice.

If you’ve administered Benadryl and it hasn’t had any effect, you may need veterinary intervention to stop the inflammatory response escalating.

Can A Boxer Dog Die From A Bee Sting?

If a Boxer is severely allergic to bees, or if he doesn’t receive prompt enough treatment, a bee sting can be fatal.

Boxers’ brachycephalic (short-nosed) head structures can make them more vulnerable to breathing difficulties that can arise as a result of bee sting.

If your Boxer has a history of local reactions to bee stings that have become increasingly severe each time he’s been stung, there is a higher likelihood that subsequent stings will trigger a whole body reaction i.e. a serious allergic reaction.

How Quickly Will A Boxer Dog React To A Bee Sting?

Reactions usually occur immediately, within 20 minutes, but can be delayed by hours.

Close monitoring is essential.

Prevent more stings by removing your Boxer from the area where he encountered the bee.

Further stings close on the heels of an existing beesting are likely to trigger a faster and more serious reaction.

Signs And Symptoms Of Bee Sting In A Boxer Dog

If your Boxer is going to react to a bee sting, it will usually happen either straight away or within a few hours.

The classic sign of bee sting in a Boxer is a swollen muzzle.

Benign reactions include:

  • Redness — You may or may not see a stinger (A fingernail or edge of a credit card can be run across the skin to hopefully remove any lodged stinger)
  • Localized swelling at the bite site

More serious cases involve:

  • Swelling of lip, muzzle
  • Puffy head, neck — sometimes the face is so swollen that the eyes swell shut

Interestingly, in the case of bee stings in children, the medical advice to parents is that the facial swelling can look very bad without being serious.

Severe reactions include:

  • Extreme pain
  • Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Some owners have experienced their Boxer have a seizure after swallowing a bee

These symptoms can quickly progress to anaphylactic shock, culminating in collapse and, without prompt intervention, death.

If your Boxer hasn’t been outside, or near any bees, but has broken out in raised welts all over his body, here are some other possible causes of hives in Boxers.

Do Bee Stings Hurt Boxers?

Boxers are pretty tough and dogs, in general, conceal pain as an evolutionary adaptation against showing weakness.

But bee stings can hurt!

In humans:

  • The feeling is described as a severe pain or burning at the site that can last one or two hours
  • Swelling caused by venom can increase for as long as two days after being stung
  • Redness from venom can last three days (and does not indicate an infection in the majority of cases)
  • Severe reactions to bees occur in four out of 1000 kids stung

How To Tell Your Boxer Has Been Stung By A Bee

Behavioral indications your Boxer may have been stung include:

  • Sudden yelps or whining
  • Running in circles
  • Pawing at face or rubbing face on ground
  • Holding up a paw
  • Biting or scratching at the spot where they’ve been stung

There may well be evidence nearby e.g. bee on ground, wasp nest, insects buzzing.

Why Bee Stings Cause Hives, Swelling And More

When a Boxer has an allergic reaction to bee venom, it causes a release of natural chemicals called histamines in the body.

These histamines bind to receptors called H-1 receptors on certain cells, triggering itchiness and irritation.

Anti-histamines work by blocking the H-1 receptors, interrupting the chain reaction that leads to the symptoms.

Benadryl For Boxer Dogs Stung By A Bee

Benadryl is the brand name for the drug diphenhydramine hydrochloride, an over-the-counter anti-histamine designed for humans.

There is a tendency, amongst both owners and vets, to regard this as a harmless drug.

However, like any drug, Benadryl comes with its own risks.

Many owners have given their Boxers Benadryl in response to a bee sting, without being aware that Benadryl itself can cause an allergic reaction in dogs.

If you must use it on your Boxer, do so cautiously.

Dosage

Check the label, but usually each Benadryl tablet contains 25mg

The maximum Benadryl dose for dogs is 1mg/lb given two to three times a day about eight to 12 hours apart.

For a 68 pound (31kg) Boxer that is about 68mg.

The effect usually wears off in 24 hours, but in dogs with liver or kidney disease, the effects last longer.

Some Boxers are more sensitive to this drug than others, so start small and slowly increase the dosage.

Benadryl is said to have a narrow margin of safety in dogs.

It is possible to overdose a Boxer on Benadryl.

Signs your Boxer may have received too much Benadryl include:

  • Aggression or irritation
  • Lack of coordination or inability to walk
  • Delirium
  • breathing problems
  • Dilated pupils
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Muscle tremors
  • Red eyes
  • Seizures
  • Constipation and difficulty urinating
  • Abnormal heart rate

Contraindications

Consult a vet before giving Benadryl if your Boxer has any other health conditions.

Boxers that should not receive Benadryl include those with:

  • Seizure disorders
  • Heart conditions
  • High blood pressure or hypertension
  • Low blood pressure
  • Pregnant or nursing Boxers
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Prostatic hypertrophy
  • Bladder neck obstruction
  • Allergic lung disease
  • Glaucoma
  • Medicated anxiety (Benadryl doesn’t combine well with anxiety meds)

Side Effects

Common side effects of Benadryl in Boxer dogs include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Urine retention
  • Dry mouth

Benadryl can also cause:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Changes in appetite

Cautions

If using Benadryl, make sure:

  • You use pills, not liquid (The liquid for adults has alcohol in it and is therefore toxic to dogs, the liquid for children is alcohol free but contains other harmful chemicals and dyes)
  • The Benadryl product you have is not combined with any other drugs e.g. Tylenol and does not have extraneous ingredients e.g. Xylitol which can be harmful (or deadly in the case of Xylitol) for dogs
  • Never to use time-release tablets (These are designed for humans, but dogs metabolize the drug differently)

Note: many owners report the swelling from a bee sting goes down on its own, without giving Benadryl.

Homeopathic Alternatives To Benadryl For Bee Sting In Boxers

More natural alternatives to Benadryl in the case of bee stings, or other insect bites, include homeopathic remedies.

The two remedies most often recommended for bee sting are:

  • Ledum palustre (30C or 200C) — For most insect stings or puncture wounds, try first if the bite area is cold and puffy
  • Apis mellifica (30C or 200C) — For allergic reactions, stings, red or swollen bites, try first if the sting is very swollen and red with lots of itching and possibly pain

Homeopathic remedies come in tubes of pellets.

Touching them as little as possible, place two or three pellets inside your Boxer’s lip to dissolve.

Give two or three doses in the first hour.

If there’s no improvement, try the other remedy.

How To Treat A Minor Bee Sting At Home

Safe home remedies to soothe minor, localized itching or irritation include:

  • Ice cube for 15-20 minutes
  • Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) paste — just add a little water, apply directly on top of sting for a slight ant-inflammatory effect, don’t let your dog lick it and rinse off after 15 minutes

Bee Vaccine For Boxers Allergic To Bees

Venom immunotherapy, (VIT), known as a “bee vaccine”, is available for dogs that have previously suffered a life threatening allergic reaction to bee sting.

The treatment is aimed at desensitizing the body to the venom.

It’s said to have a very high success rate, with dogs either having a very localized reaction to subsequent stings, or no reaction at all.

How To Stop Your Boxer Dog Chasing Bees

Boxers’ inquisitive natures mean they are prime targets for bee stings.

It’s no surprise that the nose and mouth are the number one places dogs get stung, followed by the paws.

Do all you can to protect your Boxer from bee stings via good training and management of risk.

You can:

  • Discourage interest in, sniffing and especially stalking or snapping at flying insects
  • Supervise your Boxer when outside in spring or whenever bees are plentiful
  • Keep the relevant emergency treatment on hand in case of emergency
  • Minimize the toxic load your Boxer’s body is carrying by feeding a fresh, raw diet and avoiding unnecessary exposure to chemicals, ingested or environmental e.g. weedkillers on grass, chemicals in the home, especially fragranced products (A clean internal environment is less likely to be tipped over the edge by incidental exposures to toxins like those in bee venom)
  • Have a plan for what to do in case of anaphylactic reaction (e.g. Where’s the closest vet with antivenom?)

Teaching your Boxer to avoid bees can be as simple as:

  • Saying, in a dismissive, relaxed tone, “Just a bug” every time he notices an insect, so that he learns to ignore them
  • Using the “Leave it” command couples with food rewards to train your Boxer to actively leave bees alone

It’s a good idea to teach your Boxer to disregard all insects, as he may not distinguish between bees and flies.

Other Insects That Can Sting Boxers

Bees are not the only insect that can inject venom into your Boxer.

Watch out for:

  • Yellow Jackets
  • Wasps
  • Ants
  • Spiders

Conclusion

Bee stings can be responsible for severe reactions in some Boxer dogs.

In a majority cases, there may be nothing more than some pain and swelling at the bite site, which resolves on its own.

However, if your Boxer develops hives and facial swelling, Benadryl — or less toxic homeopathic remedies like Ledum and Apis — may help.

In the case of an anaphylactic reaction, there is no option but to get to a vet ASAP for life saving intervention.

Prevention is the key.

If your Boxer has experienced extreme reactions in the past, you may want to consider an EpiPen or, if exposure to bees cannot be avoided, a “bee vaccine”.

References

Animal Dermatology Clinic, Bee and Wasp Venom Testing, retrieved from website August 2021

Becker, Karen, DVM, Equally Painful for You and Your Pet, This Seasonal Mishap Can Be Fatal, Mercola Healthy Pets, 2018

Heller, Jacob L (reviewed by), Bee poison, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, retrieved from website August 2021

Henriques, Julia. Benadryl: Not As Safe For Dogs As You Think, Dogs Naturally Magazine, 2021

Jones, Andrew, DVM, Bee Stings in Dogs: 5 Home Remedies, Veterinary Secrets, 2016

Macklin, Nali, Benadryl For Dogs: Dosage, Side Effects, And Alternatives, Relievet, 2020

Rawlinson, Stan, Superb Collection Of Tips For Dogs And Cats, Romeoville Humane Society, Retrieved from website August 2021

Seattle Children’s, Bee or Yellow Jacket Sting, Retrieved from website August 2021

Spencer, Ask The Vet: How Dangerous Are Bee Stings to Dogs? Seattle Veterinary Associates, Inc, 2012