As much as everybody loves summer, there are some downsides to the sunny season. Nobody enjoys humidity, for a start. Then there’s that neighbor – the one that wanders around with no shirt on, even though you wish he wouldn’t. Plus it’s always sad to be sitting in an office looking at glorious sunshine, knowing full well that you won’t be able to get out and relax in the rays.
Perhaps worst of all, however, is the fact that the summer is filled with things that seem determined to cause us harm – or, at the very least, leave us feeling wholly uncomfortable. Dressing in clothing that leaves our skin exposed keeps our body temperatures down, but there will be countless plants and insects that will make your skin crawl.
Stinging nettles (Urtica Dioica) typically springing into life between June and September. Reaching heights of up to ten feet, we’ve all experienced the burning irritation that these wild plants can cause. How about dogs, though – does Fido also need to keep a safe distance from them? And in the event of being stung by a nettle on the paw, what can do done to soothe your pet’s discomfort? Read on for the answers to these questions, and many more besides.
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Do Stinging Nettles Hurt a Dog’s Paws?
Thankfully for Fido, they don’t suffer quite as much from brushing past a stinging nettle. Whereas a human doing so while dressed in shorts will have us rubbing our legs in discomfort for hours afterward and desperately seeking a dock leaf, a dog’s fur coat offers a measure of protection.
How about paw pads? The base of your dog’s feet may be hardier than bare human skin, but they’re still susceptible to being stung by a nettle – and your dog will experience all the same irritation that you would in such a scenario.
In many respects, it’s probably even worse for your canine companion. They have no idea why they are in such discomfort, and don’t know what to do about it – and it’s hardly as though they can stop putting weight on the paw in question if they’re going to continue their walk. If your dog is limping after interacting with some wild plant life, a stingy nettle may well be to blame.
Naturally, this also means that it’s not just paw pads that could be impacted by interaction with a stinging nettle. Noses, tummies and even the inner ear could all be at risk of pain and discomfort if they are rubbed against these antagonistic plants.
Is the Stinging Nettle Poisonous?
Yes, in the sense that when a stinging nettle brushes against human or canine skin, it releases many toxins that cause pain and discomfort – more on that in a moment.
However, a stinging nettle is not, in and of itself, considered a toxic plant. Contact with these weeds should not place your dog at any significant risk beyond discomfort, provided they are not allergic to the many and varied components found within. If this is the case, you’ll need to get Fido to the vet – just as you would for any major allergic reaction.
Why Do Stinging Nettles Hurt?
If you’re wondering why sting nettles cause such discomfort for humans, dogs and anything else they come into contact with them, the answer comes down to evolution.
Like every living thing on the planet, plants have adapted over time to give themselves the best possible fighting chance of survival. This means that nettles have developed a defense mechanism to avoid being eaten. Namely, lots of tiny hairs filled with silica, which makes them a series of sharp and microscopic needles.
When something comes into contact with the nettle, the plant releases these needles into the skin of the human, dog or another animal – and that, in turn, unleashes many chemicals into the body.
- Histamines. Dock leaves are natural antihistamines, which is why they are considered natural ways to treat stinging nettles.Stinging nettles have antihistamine properties themselves, though.
- Formic acid. This is also found in ant stings, hence the painful reaction.
- Acetylcholine. This chemical sends messages of panic and pain to the human brain and can result in seizures or even paralysis.
- 5–hydroxytryptamine(5–HT) aka Serotonin. Ironically, this neurotransmitter also acts as a hormone that floods the brain with good feelings, hence why it’s often used as an anti-depressant. Sadly, not many people or dogs will feel on top of the world after being stung by a nettle.
All of these factors add up to make stinging nettles deeply unpleasant to interact with, whatever our species. Of course, this means that it’s best to avoid them altogether!
Do Stinging Nettles Have Any Benefits?
Right now, you may be thinking that stinging nettles are the wasps of the plant world. They offer nothing, and instead make nuisances of themselves and cause nothing but pain and discomfort through a sting! The fact is that stinging nettles can be used for humans and dogs. So much so that they are used as a medication in some parts of the world.
We’ve already covered the anti-depressant qualities of the plant, but it’s also believed that these plants can:
- Stem excessive bleeding of the skin or gums.
- Calm angry skin conditions (eczema, etc.), as well as ulcers or hemorrhoids.
- Soothe seasonal allergies to make life easier for people with hayfever (whether human or canine).
- Prevent bloating and water retention.
- Cure urinary infections.
- Reduce inflammation within the body.
- Keep blood sugar under control.
- Keep the joints supple, staving off the risk of rheumatoid arthritis later in life.
- Prevent and treat diarrhea.
However, be aware these benefits don’t come from raw nettles – the plants need to be heated up and cooked before they are anything other than painful. Plucking a fistful of nettles with your bare hands and sprinkling them all over your dog’s dinner will not end well for anybody!
Do Stinging Nettles Smell Tempting to Dogs?
As well all know, dogs explore the world through their noses more than their eyes. This means that a pooch may not necessarily look at a nettle and instantly understand that plant will do them harm, but is there a particular smell that deters dogs – or worse, attracts them and convinces a dog to shove their nose into a thriving nettle arrangement?
Stinging nettles don’t have a particularly strong odor as far as we are aware – there’s certainly nothing about the smell that strikes a human nose as being recognizable. On the one hand, this means that your dog won’t necessarily be in a hurry to shove their face into a bushel of nettles. On the other, though, it means that they don’t have an early warning to hit their nostrils and warn them to move far away and avoid being stung.
On top of this, a stinging nettle may taste somewhat akin to spinach – which is a superfood for our canine companions and is found in many treats. This means that, if your dog manages to lick a nettle and avoid being stung through blind luck, they may be tempted to continue feasting on the plant. This will not end well.
How Do I Know if My Dog Has Been Stung by a Nettle?
Do you find yourself wondering why your dog is licking and chewing on their feet? The answer may lie within being stung by a nettle. Licking is a soothing behavior for dogs, and it’s quite possible that your pet is in some discomfort after stepping in stinging nettles. If you’ve just taken a stroll in an area packed with wild plants and weeds in the height of summer, this is even more likely.
Other signs that a nettle may have stung your dog include:
- Constant pawing at the mouth (this is especially likely if your dog chewed on or swallowed a nettle).
- Red or swollen patches on the skin.
- Constant drooling.
- Constant itching.
- Dilated pupils.
- Struggling to breathe.
- Mild seizures and other involuntary twitches of the muscles.
- Lack of coordination in the movements.
If you spot any of these symptoms in your dog, skip ahead to our next section on the first aid that can be administered and keep an eye on your pet. If the problems seem to persist, make an appointment with a vet. It may be that your dog is allergic to stinging nettles, and they have a disproportionate reaction that could soon become very dangerous and hazardous to their health.
Should I Call the Vet After My Dog is Stung by a Nettle?
Not necessarily. In many cases, this will be a hugely unpleasant experience for Fido but one that they will learn from. However, some circumstances will necessitate urgent medical attention from your vet.
- Any contact between the sting nettle and your dog’s eyes.
- Any sign that your dog is struggling for breath after coming into contact with a stinging nettle, suggesting that their throat is closing up due to an allergic reaction.
- Any significant diarrhea leaves your dog at risk of dehydration.
- Consistent adverse reactions to the contact with a stinging nettle beyond 24 hours.
As always, use your judgment and discretion when it comes to seeking the help of a vet for your dog. Stinging nettles are nasty and painful little blighters, but they’re rarely dangerous – unless your dog has a major allergy. In the meantime, be sure to check out our guide on how to recognize and treat allergic reactions in your dog.
Allergic Reaction to Stinging Nettles in Dogs
An allergic reaction to a stinging nettle will come with all the same warning signs of any other sensitivity. Another common side effect, however, is nettle rash. This is a particularly unpleasant sink condition that appears in dogs who are allergic to these weeds. If your dog is showing any sign of nettle rash – which typically manifests as thick, plaque-like scales on a canine’s skin – book an appointment with the vet. It should be possible to treat the skin complaint with a topical cream or ointment, but your poor pooch will be in a lot of discomfort in the meantime.
Can I Give My Dog an Antihistamine?
You can if you must. Benadryl (diphenhydramine), for example, is safe for dogs as well as humans – but obviously, our canine companions will need a very different dosage to us. The golden rule is around 1mg of the drug per lb. of your dog’s weight, but don’t take any chances – speak to an animal healthcare professional before administering human medication to a dog.
Other OTC histamines are also theoretically safe for dogs too, though. Some of the brands that you will be able to pick up include:
- Atarax (Hydroxyzine)
- Piriton (Chlorpheniramine)
- Zyrtec (Cetirizine)
Please allow us to stress one last time, however; we are not vets and do not claim to be. Just because these drugs are safe for dogs in the generic sense, it does not necessarily mean they are safe or suitable for your dog. Speak to a professional before administering these treatments, as your pet may suffer from an adverse reaction.
What Should I Do After My Dog Has Been Stung by a Nettle?
If you have reason to suspect that your dog is suffering at the hands (paws?) of a sting nettle, there are many steps that you can take to try to ease their discomfort and pain.
- Wash the affected area thoroughly. The first thing that you should do is run a bowl of cool (never hot, or even warm!), soapy water and thoroughly clean your dog’s paws (or nose, if they stuck their face into a pile of nettles). There is every chance that there are still traces of the nettle in your dog’s body, so getting rid of those will help prevent the problem from magnifying. If your dog chewed on the nettle, you should give their mouths a rinse with cool water. They may not want to swallow this water if they have a sore throat thanks to the stinging, so be prepared to get it back.
- Pluck a dock leaf. As we have previously mentioned, dock leaves are natural antihistamines that can ease the pain of a stinging nettle. This means that they will have the same effect on your dog; if you can pick dock leaves from the same area as the stinging nettles, you have a ready-made solution at the tips of your fingers.
- Discourage your dog from scratching. The first thing Fido will want to do is scratch up a storm to try – unsuccessfully – to ease the itching that the stinging nettle has caused. Try to discourage this by giving your dog a groom, and distracting them using play or treats. Apply a sock to your dog’s paws if necessary, to prevent them from aggravating any discomfort by breaking the skin by scratching with their claws.
- Apply a soothing ointment. Whether this is something that you have made by yourself for a medication prescribed by a vet, you will find a great many different ointments and creams that can help a dog recover from their encounter with a stinging nettle.
How to Treat Nettle Stings on Dogs
So we have already mentioned dock leaves, but what other remedies can help soothe the discomfort that only a stinging nettle can cause?
Some of the possible solutions include:
- Bicarbonate of Soda. For nettle stings, no homemade remedy is more impactful than bicarbonate of soda. Mix some of the powder with water to create a paste and rub it on your dog’s skin, or better yet (especially if the problem is with their paws), convince them to stand in bathwater that has plenty of bicarb poured within.
- Calamine Lotion. This medication will be available from just about any pharmacy, and it should ease the symptoms of itchiness that your dog is struggling with. Make sure that your dog doesn’t lick it off themselves though, as this could lead to an upset stomach.
- Aloe Vera. Applying an Aloe Vera gel or the juices of the plant itself will calm down any burning sensations on your dog’s body, and reduce the likelihood that they’ll itch and scratch.
- Create a Cold Compress. Keep your dog cool by wrapping some ice cubes in a towel or plastic bag and pressing them against their skin. This will make your pet a little more comfortable in the face of the intense burning sensation that they’ll be living with.
Of course, there is always the apocalypse option of an antihistamine too – but as we have already discussed, this is not a road to go down unless you have discussed the option with your vet.
How Long Does it Take for a Stinging Nettle to Go Away?
Any symptoms that spring up after exposure to a stinging nettle should pass by themselves within 24 hours, though in most cases your dog should not be in any pain for longer than 12 hours. This time period will be even shorter if you take the appropriate steps to treat the incident and make your dog more comfortable using medication or natural treatments.
If Fido still appears to be uncomfortable after a day, especially if his symptoms seem to be getting worse, be sure to consult a vet. This suggests that something more severe than just trampling through some stinging nettles and feeling sorry for themselves in the aftermath is afoot.
My Dog Ate a Stinging Nettle – Should I Be Worried?
You should always be worried if your dog eats something they shouldn’t, especially if they have an allergy to contend with. A stinging nettle is no exception, and there are a handful of other things that you’ll need to keep an eye on.
The most important thing is to ensure that your dog can breathe properly. Labored breathing is a general sign that your dog has been stung, but eating a nettle may lead to swelling around the throat (which could also be a warning sign of an allergic reaction in your pet). This may mean that your dog is struggling to catch their breath, and they need help with this before it becomes problematic and dangerous.
Other ways that eating a stinging nettle could cause problems for your dog is leaving them in a great deal of pain around the mouth. This may leave your dog reluctant to swallow (which will make them drool and slobber more than they usually would), as well as put them off eating and drinking. This can have very serious long-term repercussions, so seek help ASAP – and follow our advice on things that you must do if your dog is dehydrated in the meantime.
Are There Any Other Wild Plants That are Dangerous to Dogs?
Yes, there are a huge amount of plants that could harm our precious pets, in a variety of different ways. The ASPCA has a full list for your perusal.
Stinging nettles attacking a dog’s paws are rarely life-threatening, but they’re no picnic either – just like with humans, it can be a painful time for your pet. After all, we’re pretty sure that you’re wincing at the thought of walking barefoot through a field of these plants!
Dogs will be dogs, which means that they’re likely to encounter these harmful weeds are various points of their lives. All we can do is steer them away wherever possible – and take action to keep them as comfortable as possible if they do end up encountering a nettle.