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Signs of allergic anaphylaxis in dogs

By Emily Scott, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant  |  February 1, 2020

This article may save your dog’s life!

I saved a dog’s life yesterday.  A 6 month old Golden Retriever puppy was bit by a bee while playing in a grassy yard.  She didn’t over-react and scream.  Nor did she swell up and have difficulty breathing.  The little pup calmly went over to the shady area and just lay down.  She ‘seemed’ fine.   I knew better…

We took her inside and I examined her body and noted the color of her gums.  They were not the usual healthy pink color.  They were an ugly pale gray—almost blue in color.  I knew this meant she was slipping into anaphylaxis----a very life threatening allergic reaction to a foreign agent---in this case, a bee sting.  We rushed her to the emergency vet hospital where the staff administered life-saving medication and treatment that saved her life.   It took her 2 days to recover.  The owner was very grateful that I had recognized her dog’s subtle signs of crisis.  She admitted she would have just thought the pup was tired and perhaps given her a Benadryl…


Here are some important points about anaphylaxis:

  • Anaphylaxis usually occurs within 30 minutes to an hour after the dog is exposed.
  • Unlike people and cats, dogs do usually show respiratory distress (closing of the windpipe, difficulty breathing etc.) if they are having a severe allergic reaction. Dogs’ internal organs are affected—particularly their liver and GI system.
  • Dogs may have some swelling and redness in the area where they were bit, but the real concern is how the body reacts to a foreign agent such as insect venom, vaccines, drugs etc.
  • Dogs suffering from systemic anaphylaxis may be restless and excitable, or they may be lethargic and self-isolating. They may vomiting and have bloody diarrhea, followed by collapse, convulsions, coma and eventually death indicate a state of anaphylactic shock secondary to systemic anaphylaxis.
  • Check the color of the gums! This is probably the most obvious sign of anaphylaxis.  The gums will be very pale, almost blue in color.  Not the usual healthy pink
  • Anaphylaxis is a MEDICAL EMERGENCY! Benadryl will not work in this case!
  • Unfortunately, anaphylaxis usually occurs rapidly and unexpectedly. Prevention of anaphylaxis is very difficult because you may not be aware your dog has such a severe allergy to an agent until the dog is exposed. Prevention includes avoiding the agent which produces the reaction—(Example:  Avoid grassy areas with blooming clover where bees are present.  Or staying at the vet for 20-30 minutes after vaccinations are administered to ensure your dog is not going to have a severe reaction).
  • Unfortunately if a dog has a severe allergy to a foreign agent, any future exposure may escalate the severity of the anaphylaxis symptoms.


This year’s cool spring and wet weather has created one of the worse seasons ever for bee stings here in the CA central valley.  Please be careful and vigilant---you may save your own dog’s life!

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