Recognizing anaphylactic shock in dogs

Some dogs are hypersensitive to insect stings and bites. Learning to recognize the signs of anaphylactic shock can be a life-saver.

One summer afternoon, I decided to take the dogs to the beach at Humarock, along the shore in Marshfield, Massachusetts. My Uncle Jerry owns a house there and Cal, my puggle buddy, and Sophie, my sweet Labrador, absolutely love it. We enjoyed a perfect day and had a ball running along the water and swimming. We were there for a few hours and eventually the dogs wore themselves out and napped on my uncle’s deck.

As we were getting ready to leave, I noticed a horse fly in the car. I opened the windows, thinking the fly would find its way out. I heard Cal making weird chewing noises, as if he had something in his mouth. When I turned around to see what it was, I saw the horse fly sail out of his mouth and out the window. I thought it rather funny that after all that chewing, the fly got away.

What’s happening?

We’d been driving about ten minutes when Cal started acting strangely. He was leaning against the back seat looking lethargic. I was glancing at him in the rear view mirror when he started acting as if he was about to vomit.

I pulled over and he vomited in the car. I opened the door to let him out and he began stumbling around as if disoriented. Then, to my horror, Cal collapsed on the side of the road.

In a panic, I picked Cal up, ran to a house and asked where the nearest veterinarian was. Fortunately, it was only half a mile up the road. The vet took Cal in right away. He noticed the right gland in Cal’s throat area was swollen, his skin was very pale, and his heart rate was slow. They immediately treated him for anaphylactic shock from being bitten by the horse fly. Within minutes of getting a histamine and steroid shot, Cal was completely fine and back to his old self.

I have been a pet sitter for 16 years and never saw anything like this before. I was completely unaware that something like this could be triggered by a simple bug bite. So I did some research.

Can other bugs cause this reaction?

I was curious to see which bugs can cause this type of reaction. I found that bees, wasps, hornets, horse flies, certain varieties of spider such as the brown recluse or black widow, mosquitoes and scorpions may all cause anaphylaxtic shock. Many dogs don’t have this reaction and can be perfectly fine aside from some pain and swelling in the area of the bite. But other dogs with hypersensitivity, particularly smaller breeds, can experience a more dangerous reaction.

Signs of anaphylactic shock

Problem is, you can’t be watching your dog every moment of the day, nor are many of these potentially dangerous insects and arachnids easily spotted. Chances are, what happened to Cal won’t ever happen to your dog, but it’s still important to be able to recognize the signs of an anaphylactic reaction:

• Fatigue
• Drooling
• Vomiting
• Trembling
• Trouble breathing
• Inability to walk

These are all signs the dog is going into shock and requires immediate emergency care. Anaphylaxis can come on very quickly and may result in death if not treated at once. If the wound is visible, try to remove the stinger (if the dog was stung by a bee, wasp or hornet). This can prevent any more venom from getting into the wound.

Act quickly

The first step is to get your dog to the vet right away. Before you arrive, says veterinarian Dr. Mark Newkirk, homeopathic remedies can be administered to help alleviate the dog’s discomfort.

• Aconite can be given for shock and fear.
• Traumeel and Arnica are good for wounds.
• Apis can be given for bee stings.

Dr. Newkirk warns, however, that homeopathic remedies cannot be solely relied on in a case of anaphylactic shock. In an acute life-threatening situation like this, conventional drugs such as antihistamines, steroids and epinephrine usually have to be used, depending on the state of shock and its cause. These drugs are given by IV in emergency cases.

If the bites aren’t that serious and the dog isn’t in shock, several natural remedies can ease his pain and help with healing.

Aloe vera is great for soothing discomfort.

• Red alder and Echinacea are good for wounds because they have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties and help prevent infection while promoting the healing of damaged tissue. • Cold compresses are good for easing pain.
• Before applying remedies, make sure to clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water.

Being aware of the dangers of anaphylactic shock doesn’t mean being paranoid about every insect or spider you see near your dog. In the majority of cases, there’s nothing to worry about. But it’s always wise to be informed, just in case!


Colleen Sayers is the owner of Paw-sibly The Best pet sitting service in Boston, Massachusetts. She has been in the pet sitting business for over 15 years, caring for all sorts of animals. She has written articles for a local animal publication and is currently working on a book that includes memoirs and stories of her clients and their animals.