(NB I am using the word ‘insects’ to include hairy worms and all of those other life forms which are not insects, but which produce and release discomforting and even lethal toxic chemicals.)

Perhaps I should quickly define ‘allergy.’ It means a specific sensitivity to an animal product (or plant product – as in the case of pollen), which is usually protein in nature. I should mention that although the allergic reaction to the allergen (the chemical substance precipitating the reaction) is usually immediate, it has been documented (and we see it in the clinic as well) that the allergic reaction does not need to be explosive, rather the reaction could be gradual and not with high intensity. Sometimes the allergy producing substance (APS) just creates a bit of an itching and other low grade sensations (slight redness of the skin, increased tear production, sneezing, and so on). Of course, if the APS continues to come in contact with or enter into the animal’s body, the symptoms could become more pronounced and the animal becomes really ill. In the case of the itch-scratch cycle, the animal can mutilate itself to the point where sores and abscesses and bleeding can develop. Secondarily, bacteria can invade these self-inflicted wounds, creating a more immediate and serious problem.

This female dog has a patient and uncomplaining air as she waits at the GSPCA for some kind person to adopt her. (She has been spayed.)

In pets, allergic reactions occur most commonly to agents present in bedding, household cleaners, carpets, rubber products, etc. Actually, many foodstuffs (and the spices associated therewith) have been known to cause allergies. Even milk and meat and eggs have been found to be allergy agents. We have noticed that some animals even react to the commercial dog/cat foods available for purchase in our supermarkets and elsewhere.

In the literature, we have found that vaccines, antibiotics, synthetic hormone preparations and other medications have produced allergic reactions.

Anyway, we were speaking specifically of stings. The culprits are usually insects such as bees, marabuntas (wasps) and ants. Tarantulas, scorpions, centipedes, and hairy worms – although they are not insects – fall into this category. The bites all cause painful swellings at the site of entry. Of course, if the quantity of toxin that enters the animal’s body from one sting is high (or if the animal has been stung repeatedly), it could go into shock as a result of the absorbed toxins – especially if the animal is hypersensitive to the particular poison (toxin).

Other symptoms (in addition to the pain and swelling at the bite/sting site) could be swelling on patches of skin or, later, swelling of the whole body. Sometimes the dog develops chills and a fever and laboured breathing. Some tick (also not insects) bites, which carry lethal organisms can elicit a paralysis.

Treatment of insect bites

The first thing to do (after identifying the insect) is to remove the stinger if one is accessible, as in the case of bees. You can use ordinary tweezers to do this. Secondly, you may make a paste with baking soda and apply it directly to the sting site. Ice packs can relieve swelling and pain. My old favourite is calamine lotion (no household should be without it), which relieves the itching and stinging sensation. One can give anti-histamine tablets, but in this instance, I would prefer if you contact your vet for advice. It is important that I mention that you should not panic when you see the dog’s face swollen to the point where you can’t see the dog’s eyes. If the bee sting was on the tongue and that organ starts to swell, it can restrict breathing – resulting in a reduction in the intake of oxygen and an accumulation of carbon dioxide in the blood. The animal begins to turn blue (cyanosis). Really, it is imperative that you get to the vet immediately, even if it is in the middle of the night. Your dog’s life might depend on instant veterinary intervention.

Similarly, if there are signs of generalized toxicity (shock, coma, the animal is prostrate, etc) then you must reach your vet with the animal immediately. Anti-histamine tablets alone are not going to save the animal. Other supportive therapy would have to be introduced by the vet.

Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals.  Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead. If you do not wish your pet to have puppies or kittens, you may exploit the GSPCA’s free spay and neutering programme. If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237.