What You Should Know – Dogster


Anyone who has ever seen a dog suffering from anaphylaxis, or even just watched a social media video or looked at a photo, won’t soon forget it. Dogs experiencing an anaphylactic reaction to something like an insect bite or bee sting can have dramatic facial swelling in addition to other symptoms like difficulty breathing, itchy skin and hives.

A dog with his face or lips blown up to extreme proportions might look funny, but anaphylaxis in dogs is very serious, requiring emergency treatment from your veterinarian. Read on to find out everything you need to know about anaphylaxis in dogs.


What is anaphylaxis in dogs?

Anaphylaxis is a rapid onset, abnormally severe allergic reaction to an allergen or foreign protein. Almost anything can cause anaphylaxis, but it’s commonly caused by bee stings and insect bites. “Any substance the body recognizes as foreign could incite a reaction, and often the offending agent is never found,” says Dr. Lisa Osier, of VCA Animal Hospital in Virginia. “Dogs that have a severe food allergy may react to a protein in the food. Other causes could include medications and vaccinations.”

What are the signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis in dogs?

Dr. Osier says signs of anaphylaxis in dogs may include:

  • swelling of the face
  • hives
  • red or itchy skin
  • drooling
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • trouble breathing
  • tongue might look blue

Once a reaction is fully underway, the signs can be obvious and dramatic, with lots of swelling and hives, and potentially vomiting and diarrhea. However, early signs of anaphylaxis can be subtle.

“You might see a dog yawning a lot or pawing at its face, a sign that it’s itchy,” says Dr. Keith Harper, of Hayward Veterinary Hospital in California. You might also see red skin or hives — raised bumps on the body. It’s easier to see hives or red skin on dogs with short, light-colored hair. These signs can be harder to notice on dark-colored dogs or those with thick, fluffy coats.

How fast will you see anaphylaxis in dogs?

Often, owners don’t know what caused the reaction; they just notice the symptoms after the fact. However, if you think your dog was stung by a bee or bitten by an insect, watch closely for any early signs of a reaction. Dr. Harper says people usually see signs that their dogs isn’t quite right within 30 to 45 minutes, possibly even faster.

How is anaphylaxis more serious than an allergic reaction?

A dog experiencing a basic allergic reaction might show similar signs, such as hives, redness and itchiness, but the symptoms are usually much less severe and localized to one area of skin, according to Dr. Osier. An anaphylactic reaction affects the entire body, and is life-threatening if the dog’s breathing is restricted. 

Anaphylaxis can be even more dangerous for dogs with compromised airways, such as brachycephalic breeds like Boxers, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs, Shar-Pei and Shih Tzu. “All of those breeds already have very short noses, very thin noses and long pieces of tissue that go into the back of their throats, so if they experience any problems being able to breathe it’s serious,” Dr. Harper says.

What is anaphylactic shock in dogs?

Anaphylactic shock is a very serious complication of anaphylaxis. The blood vessels dilate (get bigger), making it harder for blood to get to vital organs, Dr. Osier explains. The blood is then unable to supply nutrients and oxygen to the cells in the body, causing them to die and resulting in organ failure.

Is anaphylaxis in dogs common?

Dr. Osier says that anaphylaxis is not uncommon to see in the veterinary emergency setting. Because almost anything can cause it in dogs, its incidence is unpredictable.

“Susceptibility to having an anaphylactic reaction is thought to be hereditary,” she says. “If a pet’s parents or littermates have had a reaction, they are more likely to have a reaction.”

That said, any dog can have a reaction to any substance, including insect bites and stings, vaccines, medication, food or almost anything.

How is anaphylaxis in dogs treated?

If you think your dog is experiencing anaphylaxis, remove the offending substance if you know what it is (if you see a bee stinger, take it out), then seek immediate veterinary emergency medical attention.

Once your dog arrives to the animal hospital, the veterinary team does a thorough assessment, takes your dog’s temperature, and checks the heart rate and respiratory rate. If a stinger or other offending object is still present, the veterinarian removes it.

Treatment usually consists of placing an IV catheter and administering fluids, as well as giving corticosteroids and antihistamines. In severe cases where a large amount of swelling is compromising the dog’s airway, the veterinarian might insert a breathing tube to help the dog breathe until the swelling goes down.

Your vet will keep your dog in the hospital for monitoring until the symptoms of anaphylaxis go away and your dog is stable and comfortable. This could be a few hours or longer, depending on the severity of the reaction.

What is the prognosis of anaphylaxis in dogs?

Though most cases of anaphylaxis respond well and quickly to treatment, Dr. Osier says that the prognosis is guarded, because an anaphylactic reaction can be fatal. The faster you can get your dog to the veterinarian, the better his chances of surviving and recovering quickly.

Are there EpiPens for dogs?

EpiPen is the brand-name for a device that auto-injects epinephrine, a medication that treats the symptoms of an allergic reaction. In human medicine, a doctor may prescribe an EpiPen for someone who has a severe allergy.

Veterinarians can prescribe EpiPens for dogs, too. Although anaphylaxis is less common in pets than in humans, some dogs that have serious anaphylactic reactions might benefit from having an EpiPen at home. If your vet thinks it’s a good idea to keep an EpiPen on hand for use for your dog, she can write a prescription for you and teach you when to use it and how to use the device properly.

Never use a human-prescribed EpiPen on your dog without speaking to your veterinarian. The dosage might not be correct for your dog, and you might not know how and when to use it properly.

What if my dog is having a mild allergic reaction?

If your dog seems to be having a minor allergic reaction to something — itchy or red skin, bumps or hives on the skin — but isn’t experiencing swelling or difficulty breathing, remove the offending substance (if you know what it is). If your dog got something on his skin that seems to be making him itchy, you can give him a bath to remove it.

Give your veterinarian a call to see if she thinks you should come in or stay home, and monitor your dog. If the reaction progresses, bring your dog into the vet right away, especially if you notice any swelling, difficulty breathing, vomiting or diarrhea.

Anaphylaxis is less common in dogs than it is in humans, but it can happen to any dog at any time. Often, the pet owner might not know what brought on the anaphylaxis, but notices the dog is having a reaction all of a sudden. No matter what caused it, get urgent veterinary care for your dog if you suspect an anaphylactic reaction. Anaphylaxis in dogs can progress rapidly and, if left untreated, it can be fatal.


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