Introducing a hive when you keep animals
When you consider taking up beekeeping, there are a number of factors to consider. How do you start? Is your garden or property large enough? Do you have the time to maintain a hive? Will your neighbours mind? One question that’s often forgotten relates to other animals living on and around your property. If you have a dog or cat, chickens or horses, rabbits or goats – or all of the above – it’s smart to think about the risks to them before you plunge into beekeeping.
For the most part, bees, pets and other domestic animals can coexist happily, but there’s always the potential for harm. The larger the property, the easier it is to keep your pets away from your hives. Simply choose a spot with low traffic, away from cages, coops and kennels, and you should be fine.
Smaller properties can make things trickier. If you have hives in a small urban garden, you may need to be observant, and keep a close eye on both pets and hives in the early stages.
Here are some of the risk factors – and some ways to mitigate them.
Indoor pets versus outdoor pets
If your dog or cat spends most of the time indoors, there’s little cause for worry. One major risk comes with outdoor dogs and other animals. If your dog spends time tied up outside when you’re not around, it could be in trouble if your beehive is disturbed by something else – knocked over by wind or another animal, for example. In this case, your dog could be stung multiple times by angry bees without being able to escape. The same goes for chickens in a coop or rabbits in a cage. Any animal can be killed if stung enough times.
Although this scenario is very unlikely, it’s worth being aware. Try to keep your hives as far as possible from your dog kennel and any animal cages, to reduce the risk even further.
Learning their lesson
Beginner beekeepers are often concerned about dogs or cats approaching hives, disturbing the bees, and getting stung. And this probably will happen. Cats and dogs are naturally curious, and will usually want to investigate a new structure in their play area.
The good news is: it won’t usually take long for a cat or dog to learn that approaching a hive is not a good idea. You can discourage them by moving them away from the hive and distracting them with toys or treats, or you can let them explore for themselves. It sounds harsh, but one or two painful stings is usually all it takes to keep them away for good. Unless your animal is allergic to bee stings, it won’t do any lasting damage.
If you’re concerned about a larger dog knocking a hive over, you can choose to fence around your hives to protect them.
Hold your horses
Of course, dogs, cats, and other small creatures aren’t the only domestic animals. On rural properties, bees may also need to coexist with horses, sheep, cows, pigs, goats, and even alpacas.
Most of these animals will ignore bees – but horses are an exception. They have been known to be spooked by bees in large numbers, so it’s worth keeping hives away from them if possible. Think about your neighbours’ animals too – if they have horses in a field adjacent to your property, place your hives on the other boundary.
Dogs, cats, and many other mammals can be allergic to bee stings. If you know that your pet is allergic, getting a hive is probably not worth the risk. No matter how well you keep them away from the hive, a single sting could kill them in minutes.
Of course, unless your pet has been stung before, you’re unlikely to know whether it has an allergy. So watch it carefully the first time it gets stung. Look out for rapid breathing or respiratory distress, significant swelling at the sting site, and a protruding blue tongue – these are all signs of a severe, potentially fatal allergy. If this happens, get your pet to a vet as quickly as possible.
Although there are risks, pets and bees can generally live in harmony, as long as you take a few precautions.