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.