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Scorpion Stings in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms, Treatments

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Although they’re important members of various ecosystems, scorpions have a bad reputation. These scary-looking arthropods give many people the creeps. However, they help control insect populations, and their shy and secretive nature means they would rather avoid potential predators than attack.

If disturbed or provoked, a scorpion can sting using the venom-injecting stinger on the end of its tail. So, how dangerous are scorpion sting to dogs? Is it a life-or-death emergency or more like a bee sting?

Where Are There Scorpions?

Scorpions can be found all over the world, except for Antarctica. Their habitats are varied from desert to rainforest to prairies. There are over 1,500 species, and all of them are venomous. In the United States, there are at least 70 species of scorpions, with most occurring in the deserts of the southwest. These predators are classified as arachnids, which means they are close relatives of ticks, spiders, and mites.

In the southwestern states, where scorpion stings are most frequently reported in humans, the most commonly occurring species include:

  • The Arizona giant hairy scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis), also known as the desert hairy scorpion
  • The stripe-tailed scorpion (Paravaejovis spinigerus), also known as the devil scorpion)
  • The yellow ground scorpion (Vaejovis confuses)

In North America, there is the Arizona bark scorpion (Centruroides exilicauda) is a two-to-three-inch-long species. It’s the only North American scorpion considered a hazard to human health. According to Dr. Dalton Hindmarsh, DVM, DACVECC, and the head of the critical care department at MissionVet Specialty & Emergency, it’s the species of most danger to dogs as well.

California Forest scorpion on the ground outdoors.
©Henk - stock.adobe.com
California Forest Scorpion

Are Scorpions Dangerous to Dogs?

Most adult scorpions hunt at night. They spend much of their time in burrows or similar shelters, such as leaf litter or behind tree bark, to hide from predators. This makes most human encounters accidental. But dogs, with their love of sniffing everywhere and habit of digging in the dirt, are likely to disturb scorpions in their natural habitat.

Scorpions also find their way into homes through gaps around doors, windows, roof eaves, or pipes. They can even be accidentally carried inside in firewood, clothing, or towels left on the ground, or shoes and boots that were left outside. Your dog is sure to investigate these intruders, leading to a potential sting. And it’s a sting you need to worry about. Scorpion bites in dogs aren’t cause for concern because scorpions have very tiny mouths. It’s the stinger at the end of its tail that causes issues, thanks to the venom it injects.

Scorpions are just as likely to sting a dog as a human, but is a scorpion sting more dangerous to our pets than it is to people? You might think so due to the smaller body weight of many dog breeds. However, according to a study by The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, dogs of all sizes do relatively well overall after a scorpion sting. The center followed 65 dogs with suspected scorpion stings whose owners called the center. They found that the average time to full recovery was eight hours. However, larger dogs tolerated the sting better and recovered quicker than smaller dogs. They also noted serious side effects in 39% of the small dogs, versus in only 13% of the large dogs.

ncn18/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

What Does a Scorpion Sting Look Like in Dogs?

You might see your dog encounter a scorpion, but in many cases, you’ll only know something is wrong by your dog’s reaction — a yelp of pain or jumping back. After all, scorpion stings are quite painful, worse than a bee or wasp sting if human reactions are a good benchmark. But what are the other signs your dog has been stung by a scorpion?

Dr. Hindmarsh explains that most dogs are stung on the paw or leg, which causes lameness, so your dog might limp or lift their paw. Based on how humans experience scorpion stings, he says dogs most likely get a similar feeling. “The sting causes a numbness or tingling sensation which resolves on its own with time but can be uncomfortable,” Dr. Hindmarsh says.

Other signs of a scorpion sting can include:


Beagle giving paw to two people together outdoors.
©Nastya - stock.adobe.com

However, in rare cases, Dr. Hindmarsh says dogs can develop an allergic reaction or even anaphylaxis, when an allergic reaction is so severe as to be life-threatening. Signs of an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis can include:

  • Hives
  • Swelling at the sting site
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Pale gums
  • Dilated pupils or abnormal eye movement
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Abnormal blood pressure
  • Collapsing

What Should You Do When Your Dog Is Stung by a Scorpion?

Because of the risk of anaphylaxis, if you suspect your dog has been stung by a scorpion, watch them carefully. Although most cases resolve on their own, you’ll need to act if the situation gets worse. Dr. Hindmarsh advises owners to monitor their dogs at home as long as there are no signs of an allergic reaction and the owners are comfortable doing so. But he warns not to give your dog any over-the-counter human medications to treat the sting. Instead, consult your vet, an emergency clinic, or call a pet poison control hotline hotline for further instructions.

However, if your dog is showing signs of pain, it can be helpful to seek emergency veterinary care. And, of course, at the first sign of anaphylaxis or an allergic reaction, get to the nearest emergency clinic as soon as you can.

How Are Scorpion Stings Diagnosed and Treated in Dogs?

German Shepherd Dog getting its paw checked by the vet.
©V&P Photo Studio - stock.adobe.com

Especially if you didn’t see the scorpion, your vet will usually diagnose a sting based on history and a physical exam. For example, they’ll look for sudden onset of lameness and sometimes a slight cough. “The lameness oftentimes is not painful, meaning you palpate the leg and do not locate a specific source of pain. But the dog holds their leg up. I think it’s from the numbness/tingling sensation,” Dr. Hindmarsh says.

Treatment is based on the dog’s symptoms. The goal is to provide support while they recover. If the dog shows signs of pain, the vet will prescribe pain medication. Antihistamines are a treatment option for mild allergic reactions, but if there are signs of anaphylaxis, the vet will add epinephrine and IV fluids to the antihistamines to get the reaction under control.

Can You Prevent Scorpion Stings in Dogs?

Dr. Hindmarsh says the best way to avoid scorpion stings in dogs is to prevent contact with scorpions in the first place. But that can be hard to do in some locations. He advises keeping the number of scorpions in your dog’s environment as low as you can. “You can limit the number of scorpions by reducing places for them to hide in and around the home, such as clearing brush piles, etc.,” he says. “Regular pest control can also limit their food sources (other bugs) and make them less likely to stay in and around the home.”

The post Scorpion Stings in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms, Treatments appeared first on American Kennel Club.

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