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Most of us as pet parents have had that moment when your dog gets stung by a bee or bitten by a bug. In a flash, you're rushing to take care of an anxious pup with a bee sting or bug bite and an allergic reaction developing quickly.
Plantain to the rescue!
My go-to remedy is plantain (the oil or the weed right out of your yard) as the best treatment for an insect bite, bee sting, wasp stings or other insect stings (as well as for poison ivy) for your dog - and the allergic reaction that comes with it.
It works for you too, by the way!
What is plantain
Plantain is an herb that has been used medicinally for centuries. It's an edible weed, found in many yards, fields and gardens around the world. In some cases it can be used as an edible green, but most commonly it is used as an herbal remedy or poultice to help soothe and aid healing of wounds, bee stings and bug bites.
You can have plantain oil on hand as I do, or use straight plantain leaf from the ground. The wild plant itself is all over and can be found in almost any climate. You probably have seen it out on a walk with your dog - I see it in my neighborhood all the time!
How plantain works in your dog's body
The reason plantain is such a great natural option is because it’s an astringent which means it draws out venom from the initial sting, to reduce pain immediately and relieve swelling. It draws out any more venom with the excess inflammatory fluid from inflamed tissue, and then brings the tissue together and heals as a result. Plantain also has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties to ward off infection in and around the bite/sting site.
Plantain is an all-natural healer containing tannins that trigger the anti-inflammatory action to reduce swelling and can be used to flush out bug bites, stings, poison ivy, or used on top of the irritation to heal the sting area.
Every dog is different with stings and bites causing anything from a mild irritation to severe reaction but quick action from you in applying the plantain is always a good idea to get a jump on the sudden onset of symptoms.
Two ways to use plantain
The best way to use plantain is to make a poultice. Details on exactly how to do this are below but generally you grind or blend the plantain and add water until the mixture is thick like a paste. Then apply the poultice directly onto the sting or bite site and hold it there for a few minutes.
Alternatively, you can use plantain oil by applying it directly to the affected area with your finger. Plantain oil is available at health stores and has a very mild herbal scent which will dissipate quickly after use.
These remedies are also good for humans with an insect bite or bee sting!
Let's get into more details...
#1: Make a plantain poultice
A poultice is a soft, moist mass of material, typically of plant material or flour or baking soda, applied to the body to relieve soreness and inflammation and kept in place with a cloth. Here's how to make a plantain poultice...
To make your poultice, pick a bunch of plantain plant and chew (yes, safe to chew in your mouth on the spot since time is of the essence), or if you're at home when the sting happens, you can grind up some leaves in a blender and apply them for emergency care right on the affected area.
Place it directly on your dog’s skin whether on your dog's face, your dog's paw, or any other area of your dog's body. For larger dogs, you can use a bandana to apply the plantain, wrapping it around the area firmly, and for smaller dogs, a bandage or tape.
Add cold compress to reduce swelling more
You can also wrap a cold compress around it or hold it there to keep the poultice and the compress in place and get the added benefit of reducing swelling with the cold temp of the compress or an ice pack. (A bag of frozen peas makes a nice flexible ice pack too.)
Leave the poultice on as long as you can, reapplying as needed. If it starts to fall off, that's okay - just put it back on again.
The sooner you can get the poultice on, the better!
#2: Apply plantain oil
If you have the oil, put a few drops on your finger and apply it to the site of the bite or sting.
Use the oil along with some distilled water to flush out any bites or skin irritations, or place 1-2 drops directly on the affected area. Plantain oil also feels cool and soothing when directly applied to most stings. It relieves any itching as a result.
Pro tip: plantain oil on ice for future dog bee sting, paw sting
You can also put plantain oil into an ice cube tray and freeze it for use later on so you'll always have it on ice and at the ready for effective, early treatment when your dog steps on a bee or gets a bug bite.
Important note on your dog's allergic reaction
Some dogs experience severe bee sting reactions, including difficulty breathing or an anaphylactic reaction/anaphylactic shock. If your dog has had severe symptoms in the past or you suspect may have a severe reaction to this bee sting or bug bite, remain calm, apply plantain if handy, and call your vet immediately.
Most dogs stung by a bee tend to have mild reactions that aren't life threatening, but when in doubt or you suspect severe reactions, be safe and call your vet to have your dog examined and get emergency treatment as needed.
What to do if your dog is stung around mouth or throat
When the bee sting happens in or around the mouth or throat or if you notice swelling there, or if your dog is stung multiple times, it's important you speak to your vet urgently. Some dogs can be more sensitive to wasp or bee stings and an allergic reaction can happen quickly (i.e. within 10 minutes) or may be delayed by a few hours. In very rare cases this can be delayed by a day or so.
Signs of an allergic reaction can include: vomiting or having diarrhea, a large amount of swelling around the affected area, swelling around the mouth and neck (even if not stung there).
When you see any of these severe reactions, don't wait to call your vet for a physical exam.
A word about prevention...
To actually prevent dog bee stings or stings/bites from other flying insects, there's really no silver bullet. Just keep a sharp eye all around your dog outdoors (as always) and steer clear of areas that look bee-hospitable like fruit trees, some flowering shrubs, obvious nests, etc. where your dog's paws might inadvertently land on a bee.
If your dog does get stung, get away from the sting site quickly since one bee usually means more bees. And if you happen to run into wasps, unlike others when the bee dies after a single sting, wasps can sting multiple times.
Next up in the Herbs Channel on Dogly
Now that you know what to do if your dog is stung by a bee, learn how to know which herbs your dog needs in everyday life in the step-by-step guide here.
Or hop over to the Herbs Channel if you'd like to ask a question in the Community discussion and start any of the other step-by-step guides in Healing Herbs.
If you ever need more personalized wellness guidance, please reach out!