honey bee behavior miscellaneous musings

Bees and pets: what are the risks?

I’ve been very lucky it the past few weeks to have so many questions. This particular one came from a beekeeper in Yakima with a couple of hives and a few acres who is worried about the neighbor dogs who occasionally wander onto his property “doing what dogs do.” He asked what happens if they become curious about the hives.

Here is my experience with pets: I have two cats, both of which act like dogs in that they follow me around. So over the years they have followed me to the hives. I have watched the cats get stung and it amazes me what the bees will do. They get into the animal’s fur and borrow their way to the flesh where they can implant a good sting. They are relentless and don’t give up until they’ve succeeded. Ouch.

The cats howl, take off into the woods, and lick their wounds—but they get over it.

My older cat, especially, has gotten really nailed a couple of times. Now, when he walks up the hill with me he walks at his usual leisurely pace until he gets the first group of hives. He stops, looks around, and then runs like hell until he gets past the hives. He waits for me to get done working the bees and then we proceed to the second group of hives where the same things happens. And then one more time at the third group. It is actually kind of funny.

I’ve never seen any dogs around my hives here at home, but I used to have three hives in an outyard about five miles from here. The friend who owns the property had been complaining about the neighbor’s dog chasing her cat for years. One day the dog came over and started jumping against a hive as if he was trying to knock it over. My friend went out to shoo it away, but just then the bees attacked. The dog went yelping and howling across the yard and never bothered the bees again. He did, however, continue to harass the cat. Cats, it seems, need stingers.

The worst stories I’ve heard involve horses. Horses apparently can be quite spooked by bees and the fear is that someone riding them may get thrown. Neighbors on both sides of me have horses, but I’ve never seen anything happen. The horse on one side is fairly far from the hives. The other horse is very close to the hives but there is a tall hedge between them which seems to mitigate contact. So far, so good.

In short, I wouldn’t worry about the house pets. They will probably get stung a time or two and then will shy away from the hives. If horses are near—especially horses that are ridden often—you might want to put some distance between the hives and the horse, or at least erect a tall hedge or fence which will force the bees to fly higher and away from the animals.



  • My poor dogs are so nosy, I thought they would be way too interested in the beehives. Somehow they have absolutely no interest in the hives, magically. But the bees tend to take out their anger on them when I’m working the hives. I’ve learned I have to lock them in the house when I’m opening hives. I feel like a jerk when they get stung because of me.

  • I have two cats that get very close to my two hives in a very small urban backyard. Both cats have been stung — in the face. One cat runs as far as he can get the second he sees a bee. The other seems to know how to keep a respectful distance from the hives. He rides the line and gets as close as he can, just out of the range of trouble. Both cats learned fast not to mess with the bees.

  • I am getting my first bees this week and I think I want to keep them at my house in the backyard. Is there a chance my dogs and bees will not mix. I figured they would grow tired after getting stung a couple of times. I also have a place out of town but with little trees, flowers etc. Should I keep them there instead/

    • Stacey,

      After the dogs get stung a few times they will stay clear. It’s nice to have your hives at home if you can. The bees are fun to watch and you will find yourself forever curious about what they are doing. You will be happier with them close by. The dogs will adjust.

    • Stacy,
      I just started, too. I was going to place my hive 25 yards away from the house, at my wife’s request. She fears them, but I convinced her to let me snug the bees right up into an exterior corner by the house. We can watch them from our bedroom window but they are shielded from view from the street. Even my wife is glad we chose to keep them close. In addition to being able to learn about my bees more quickly, keeping them within such close range reduces the risk of encounters with neighbor pets and other wandering strangers.

  • While a little different I have a similar question. I live in a subdivision but I have 3/4 of an acre. My bees are on the highest portion of my property but on one occasion I have caught neighborhood kids going back there and getting within 10 feet of the hives.
    I need to do something to keep the children away. I am concerned about the potential outcome if a child gets stung and they are allergic. I have an electric fence bought but the plan is to install that to keep any potential bears away. (The land backs onto a hill where black bears have been seen and other people in the province have had problems with bears damaging the hives.)

    I have signs made up for an electric fence but I haven’t yet stuck the fence up. I was contemplating putting up a temporary or movable fence.

    I just want to deter the kids from going there picking at the colonies for their own safety.

    Any suggestions.

    • Jeff,

      I think the electric fence and posted warnings will do the job. Kids are notoriously afraid of electric fences and generally stay away. Even big kids–as in fully grown adults like my neighbors–are afraid of them. So I think that is your best deterrent. Check your local ordinances. Some jurisdictions here in the states require warning placards at certain intervals–like every 25 feet or something.

      Any other type of fence, like wood, is just something to climb over.

  • That is my fear with a fence if they get over the fence and bother the bees. If the bees go on the defensive then the kids are stuck behind an obstacle. I’m nervous about that.

  • Jeff,

    You mean a wooden fence or something? I don’t think most kids would cross the electric fence. I have an electric fence along one property line and kids never go near it. I’ve gotten zapped a few times myself and it’s startling, but it won’t injure you–just scares you to death.

  • Good article! My little pup just got nailed by a bee this week, right on her foot pad. While I know most bee stings in dogs aren’t all that serious, there are times when the wee ones end up in the ER after a tangle with a bee. Mine was one of the unlucky ones!

    • I have a similar situation…our neighbor, less than 1/4 acre from us has a bee hive. The bees come into our backyard and sting our dog…what can we do to protect our dog…she cannot get away from them on her own…she just has to come in doors.

  • This week about 10 hives have been placed around 4-6 feet from a favourite path of mine, which I walk daily with my two dogs. Once the bees have settled down, can I continue to walk past these hives, with my dogs on leads? The hives are in a row on an open piece of land, facing two very large fields of sunflowers, one sunflower field is one side of the path and the other field on the opposite side of the path! I am not afraid of bees and have always found them to be very gentle and non aggressive, not like the French wasps which are the complete opposite. Having recently been stung twice on my face, in quick succession, by a wasp, I am keen to avoid any further stings! However this walk is a particular favourite of mine! Your help would be very much appreciated.

    • Kate,

      Honey bees, especially those confronted with all those sunflowers, are not interested in dogs. Unless your dogs choose to chase the bees, or nose into their hives, there is very little cause for concern. The dogs I know that get stung are those that investigate too close to the hives, not those who are minding their own business.

      My dog chases bees all day long, snapping and jumping to catch them. Needless to say, he gets stung now and then (in the mouth, no less). He then rubs his nose in the grass, whimpers for a moment, and then proceeds to chase more bees.

      But if your dogs are on a lead and behaving, I really don’t think the bees will be a problem for them or for you. I imagine the hives will be moved again when the sunflowers are done.

  • The other evening one of my two cats started running around the house like he was being chased by a demon. When he got near to me I could hear a *really loud* buzzing sound. I got him on his side, and there was a honey bee burrowing into his fur and buzzing really loud. I plucked the bee out with my fingers and she buzzed on the floor for a couple of seconds and found the cat’s tail and started to burrow. I plucked her out again and she flew off into a light fixture that still has an incandescent bulb, and I am sorry to say, did not survive the encounter.

    I have two questions. First, would the bee continue to burrow into the cat’s fur if she had already stung him? He never seemed to act like he had a painful spot where the bee had been burrowing. He has really thick fur.

    My second question: is it normal for bees to be flying around at night? It was several hours after nightfall when this happened. My neighbor has a hive, but it is at least 30 yards (meters) away.

    I should add that a couple nights after that first experience another bee came through the window that was only open a couple of inches and landed on the shear curtains covering the window, and my cat took off like a rocket ship when he saw / heard it. That bee took off on it’s own back outside. I am really surprised they are flying around at night. I thought they would hole up over night on a flower and head back home after the sun comes up.

    • Mark,

      I would say yes, a honey bee may continue to try to sting right after it just did, but only until it dies a few minutes later. I have seen honey bees sting and then act like they will sting again and it always surprises me, but they must be wired that way. Honey bees die within a few minutes after they sting, but those minutes can be terrifying for the stingee.

      It is not normal for honey bees to fly at night. But if for some reason a bee didn’t get back to its hive, or got lost, it will go to a light source like most other insects. Also a certain disease caused by a parasitic fly causes honey bees to leave their hive at night. They, too, will seek out a light source and then die. Those that are sick are probably not a threat or will probably not sting because they are already in the process of dying.

      All in all, although honey bees don’t normally fly at night, it is not unusual to see individuals out and about for one reason or another.

      • Hi Rusty,
        Thanks for the response. It was really pretty interesting the way that bee was burrowing into my cats fur. She had the cat in a fit. He was running around like a banshee was after him, which was sort of the case with the loud buzzing attached to his hind quarters. The bee must have come in and the cat went for it like cats do. Now when a bee comes around outside, he recognizes it for what it is and runs the other direction and hides. He won’t be playing with any more bees, that’s for sure.

        Thanks again,

        • Mark,

          That’s the way my cats behave, too. They pretty much stay clear of the bees. What’s the saying? “Once stung, twice shy?”

  • I have had a large swarm of bees just set up home in my garden I’ve been told they are honeybees I have had a bee keeper take a lot she managed to get into hive box but there are still a few left she said they are just a few workers there will go shortly but is my cat safety go into the garden she been in for a week now and not very happy. thank you.

  • HI,
    We are going to get a hive in our backyard. Our neighbors have a nasty pitbull that keeps peeking over our cement wall and barking aggressively at us. Just curious if this might provoke the bees to sting this dog, or the bees would get upset by the dog and sting us….any opinions?

    • Laura,

      It depends on the temperament of your bees and how close they are to the dog. Certainly that kind of noise can upset a colony of bees and put them on the defensive, or they may ignore it. Usually, dogs get stung a time or two and then steer clear of them. But again, not always. My dog has been stung many, many times but continues to snap at them, although he says away from their hives. All things being equal, I would say that yes, it is possible that the barking could irritate the bees into stinging the dog or stinging you, but it is impossible to say for sure.

  • I’m a new beek…lol…and love your site. I can be overwhelmed at all the info on the net, so I have chosen yours for my source of advice, I like your style of writing and outlook on things…have so many questions that I couldn’t even start to ask, so I browse site daily for bits here and there to sink in. Today I just wanted to say my dog, a golden retriever.. is very wise.. when I’m working at/in the hive she keeps her distance and watches me, when I sit in my chair beside the hive she will sit with me… I’m sure she learned the hard way but never seen her get stung.

  • I want to get an urban hive for my backyard. The only place is up against the side fence, which is my cat highway. I’m really concerned the cat will jump down on the hive as a new way to get to the ground. I wonder if I can build kind of a ledge above the hive for the cat to use. I’m also thinking of putting a fence around the hive to make the bees fly higher. I’ve got gardeners back there, too. Thoughts?

    • Evelyn,

      My cats like to lay on top of the hives and sun themselves. They don’t bother the bees. Yes, a fence or hedge built around the hives can make the bees fly higher. You might want to check the legal restrictions for the area where you live. Some communities have setback requirements that require hives to be a certain distance from the property line.

  • To the people that have trouble with neighboring pets, I have found that the right hive in the right place can make life more enjoyable on many levels.

    My next-door neighbor had a very nice German shepherd that they tend to leave outside for hours on end. When the dog gets bored trying to get into his own home, he comes, suns himself on my back deck, and watches my kids playing in the yard or house. This was fine until they got another German shepherd that does not like people or other dogs. This new dog has gone after my dog on many occasions. My kids cannot go in the back yard and play when the neighbors’ dog is outside.

    Recently, my (non-beekeeping) husband surprised me with a Russian queen (which I wanted but couldn’t justify purchasing as I didn’t need to requeen any hives). Wanting to keep an eye on her, I made a nuc out of one of my big hives and brought it home for her. I placed the nuc on my back deck so I could watch and manage it easily. The nuc is now in two deep 10-frame boxes, still on my back deck. They are the nicest bees I have ever had, which is good because they are 3 feet from my back door and the only way to get to the back yard is to go past them and down a flight of stairs.

    Since this hive [colony] moved into its first 10-frame deep box, I noticed the neighbor dogs are no longer sleeping on my deck. I was out working the hive the other day and the “unpleasant” dog came over and started snapping at bees as they came out of the hive. The bees chased him off, but continued to ignore me. My dog has caught on and now, when we let her outside, she stands by the hive and scans the yards to make sure it is safe to go down the stairs. If the neighbor lets the dogs out while my dog is out, my dog will run back up to the deck and stand by the hive. Even though she is black like the other dogs are, the bees never bother her. It’s a win-win-win! I get to watch my bees anytime I want, my dog has a “safe spot” and the “unpleasant” neighbor dog no longer bothers us! *Of course, the first time my bees have had enough and are no longer tolerant of us, they will be moved farther away from the house. I think I will keep them close enough to see from the house though. It is nice to watch a hive without having to drive 45 minutes to my out yard.

  • I’m getting a dash hound puppy soon I have a swarm of bees in my yard kind of enjoy watching the bees myself it interesting they’re not in a professional beehive, The swarm is on an old manikin I have in my backyard I don’t want to get rid of the bees but I don’t want to have a problem for my dog I read some of your articles is putting a fence around The hive recommend or shall I get the beekeeper to come and take them away there’s a guy in my area called the bee man, it seems by your articles once a dog gets stung they stay away from the hiveI’m worried the puppy will B getting Into the bees saying that they’re not very high off the ground. They haven’t bothered me when I watch the bees so far shall I get rid of the bees to be safe or put a fence around the beehive, what do you recommend.
    Thank you !
    Jack Fort Lauderdale Florida !!!

    • Jack,

      That would be a dachshund, I assume? I’m not the overprotective type and I would never consider getting rid of bees for any of my animals. All of my pets have been stung at one time or another, and then they stay clear. They learn in the same way we learn: trial and error. But in the end, you need to do what makes you comfortable. Yes, you could put up a fence or you could call your bee man. Or you could do nothing. Your choice.

  • Hi Rusty

    Can the stench from a pig farm cause hives to abscond. I am abound to set up an apiary a few hundred yards from a pig farm and whenever the wind blows in that area there is this strong smell. I would like to know if that’s bad for the bees.


    • Emon,

      Honey bees are on or near farms of all types, and I’ve never heard about any problem caused by farm smells. However, I would set up a water source for your bees right away. Otherwise, you might get complaints from the pig farmer about bees at the water trough.

  • Hi there. I am about to purchase my first hive. What I need to know is what plants are good for bees but not harmful to the horses on the land where the hives are.

  • My cat survived being swarmed by bees in my backyard but my dog didn’t. It was horrific. Our cat’s ears and nose were covered in stingers but her thick coat saved her. Our sweet dog was swarmed, stung all over, and died. We tried to save him but they swarmed us repeatedly and we were helpless to save him.

    We think they were agitated by the lawn being mowed by a yard crew. The beekeeper that came to vacuum and remove the hive said they were the 2nd most aggressive bees she’d ever seen. Another man who came to bid on their removal said he gets several calls a year after pets are swarmed and killed, especially dogs.

    • Karen,

      Yes, pets can sometimes be killed by aggressive honey bees, especially if they have Africanized genes. I do, however, take issue with the word “swarm.” It gives people the wrong impression. Swarming bees are in the midst of finding a new home due to colony reproduction, and they are usually quite docile. A true swarm is very unlikely to sting. The behavior you describe has nothing to do with colony reproduction, but may be caused, as you say, by disrupting or disturbing noises or odors. It seems that these days, most animal attacks are caused by the especially defensive behavior of Africanized honey bees in southern North America. You don’t say where you are, so I can’t speculate further.

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