One of the services my beekeeping business offers is a Host-a-Hive program. One of the top questions I am asked by people who are interested in hosting a beehive in their backyard is, “Is it safe for my dog”? In this article, I hope to dispel any dog owner fears while still exploring the risks involved.
It’s perfectly safe to have dogs and beehives in the same yard with just two exceptions.
The first is if your dog is allergic. If your dog is allergic to bees, you should not keep a backyard hive. Period. The risk is not worth it.
The second exception is if you keep your dogs in an outdoor kennel while you are not home. This situation is not a deal breaker, but would include some risk to the safety of your pets that you should be aware of. Here’s the scenario that could risk your dog’s life: Your hive is disturbed in a drastic way (maybe knocked over by wind or vandalized by a trespasser) the bees become angry and attack a nearby bystander. If that bystander is trapped in a cage, with no means of escape, that is when we see deaths by bee stings. Any creature can die from too many stings. Ordinarily, said creature would run from stinging bees, but without that option they are extremely vulnerable. This risk is usually remote if you have a well secured hive, but should be seriously considered. I recommend that you put as much distance between your kennel and your bees as possible for good measure and you may even consider not keeping your dogs in an enclosed area when you are not home.
If you are in an Africanized bee area the hazardous scenario above is more likely. Africanized bees tend to respond to threats against their hive with angry vigor. They send many more bees, are quicker to sting and will travel farther to attack their victim. These defense responses are genetic. If you are keeping docile bees that you purchased from a breeder you may feel you are exempt from this additional risk factor. In reality, you are still taking a big gamble because it is possible for your colony to requeen themselves without your knowing and in doing so, they may acquire some Africanized genes and therefore traits. That said, just because your colony may have some Africanized traits, doesn’t mean they are going to try to kill your dogs, but if they are disturbed in a dramatic way and your dogs are nearby and confined the potential for disaster is there. Careful management of your hive and putting distance between your bees and dog kennel will help reduce this threat, however, I usually encourage people not to kennel their dogs in the same yard that they keep bees. Although the risk is remote, it doesn’t seem worth the life of a loving pet.
For those of you with dogs who are neither allergic nor confined to an outdoor kennel your dogs and bees should have little trouble coexisting. If your dog is particularly meddlesome, it only takes a couple of stings for them to figure out that they are better off leaving the bees alone. Many dogs who are prone to snapping at flying bees and eating them learn quickly that they shouldn’t do so near the beehive. You should supervise the introduction period closely, since every dog is different, but give it a few days for the dogs and the bees to work it out. If you still feel nervous about it, you can always build a fence around your hive(s) to keep the dogs at a safe distance. After about 10 ft, most of the bee activity has dispersed and the bees usually don’t defend the area around their hive past that point.
What about other pets?
Cats are much the same as dogs and they tend to figure things out themselves. Chickens and bees go together nicely, but remember my warning about caged animals near hives. Try to put some distance between the coop and the beehives if your chickens are not free range. It should be noted that chickens can only be stung around the eyes and on their wattles so in general they seem to be well tolerated by bees even when they are scratching and eating dead bees right in front of the hives. With horses, goats and other penned livestock the best practice is to put distance between your bees and your animals.