What is Bee Sting?
The venom of bees is made up of proteins, peptides, amines and other molecules and elements. When this substance is introduced into the body, the immune system attacks it by binding to it and releasing certain chemicals that cause the symptoms you see in your horse. While bees do not normally attack unless provoked, there has been an increase in recent years of unmitigated attacks by Africanized honey bees. These Africanized bees are more aggressive than the European honey bee, and have been known to attack animals that are over 50 feet away from their nest. They are also more likely to swarm when they attack, causing hundreds of stings instead of one or two. These bees should be handled cautiously.
When a horse gets stung by a bee, a mild local reaction in the skin at the site of the sting can cause pain and discomfort. The site usually swells and forms a circular mass, with the sting in the center. Though your horse may not like this irritation, it is temporary and will not cause any permanent damage. However, there are cases when a horse can have a more severe allergic reaction which could become life threatening, and should be treated with proper veterinary care as soon as possible.
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Symptoms of Bee Sting in Horses
Bees can sting a horse anywhere on the body, but the head, eyelids, muzzle, and neck are the most common areas. Symptoms of a bee sting can be seen as a mild local irritation. There are cases when a horse can have an allergic reaction to the bee venom, which can become a life threatening situation. The severity of your horse’s reaction to a bee sting can depend on the dose of venom. Signs include:
- Red, swollen circular mark, with the stinger of the bee intact in the center
- Fast heart rate
- Irritated behavior
- Difficulty breathing
- Darkened urine
- Renal failure
- Overactive blood clotting
There are two types of reactions a horse can have from a bee sting.
This is a typical reaction on the skin at the site of the bee sting, and includes the swelling, redness, and pain surrounding the sting. This type of reaction does not typically cause more than a temporary discomfort, and can usually be treated with general first aid.
This type of reaction is less common, but can occur when an individual horse has an allergic reaction to the bee venom, which can lead to serious systemic conditions. Effects of this reaction can include the premature destruction of red blood cells, the death of skeletal muscle fibers, liver and kidney damage, overactive coagulation, heart damage, and severe breathing distress. This can be a life threatening condition that needs immediate veterinary care.
Causes of Bee Sting in Horses
A bee can sting a horse for many reasons, mostly attributable to a defending action from the bee, as it may see your horse as a threat. Symptoms are caused by the body’s reaction to the bee venom. A local reaction is generally mild. An allergic reaction can be caused when the immune system is stimulated by the presence of the bee venom, and activates appropriate IgE molecules to bind to it. This causes the release of various chemicals that affect the body in more serious ways. A horse that is allergic to bee stings will have a more severe reaction. An estimated lethal dose of venom from a honeybee is around 20 stings per kilogram of the horse’s body weight.
Diagnosis of Bee Sting in Horses
Diagnosis of a bee sting is based on the history of a bee sting, symptoms present, and a physical exam. This often reveals a red, swollen, circular mass with the sting visibly intact in the center. The presence of the stinger confirms the diagnosis. Other tests to diagnose or determine the severity of the reaction include blood testing, liver function tests, and urine tests.
Treatment of Bee Sting in Horses
The first part of treatment for a bee sting is to pull the stinger out. Antihistamines are generally prescribed, as well as corticosteroids and anti-inflammatories. Cold therapy is applied to the skin to reduce swelling. Other topical applications include aloe vera gel, topical malt vinegar, and sodium bicarbonate. Fluid and other supportive therapies are given as needed, which can include antioxidants and liver extracts.
Recovery of Bee Sting in Horses
In a local reaction to a bee sting, recovery is good. Once the stinger is removed, the sting can be treated with simple therapies and usually recedes quickly. In cases of a severe allergic reaction, the prompt seeking of medical care will dictate a positive or negative recovery.
Prevent your horse from getting stung by a bee by reducing the nests of bees in your area. Keep your horse away from nests and areas of high bee traffic. Common nesting sites include eaves, cans and buckets, old tires, underground burrows, under decks or sheds, tree trunks, and low shrubs. Inspect your property weekly during the peak bee seasons in the spring through the fall for nests.
Bee Sting Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My horse got stung over 100 times. He went into toxic shock and almost died. Vet came gave him Dex and Eppipen. His breathing almost stopped but his heart rate was good. When the vet left she said I don't think he's gonna make it and there's nothing more I can do for him.
Almost 3 weeks later he is almost fully recovered. His fur started falling out and had lots of skin peeling. Gave him Benadryl daily to help. Bathed him with medicated shampoo which really helped. In over 30 years of owning horses I've never experienced anything like this.
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