Scorpions are a rather creepy, unpleasant but relatively inevitable part of desert dwelling. Most of us have been stung by a scorpion or know someone who has, and for the most part these little critters just cause us a lot of pain.
In human medicine, they report a number of deaths associated with scorpion stings, and in the US this is primarily from the Bark Scorpion (Centruroides). Unfortunately for us, this is the predominant scorpion in Southern Arizona. Less than 1% of stings from Centruroides are lethal to adults; however, children younger than 5 years who are stung have a 25 % mortality rate without treatment. In animals we see a far less significant response, and until recently, I’ve assured clients that the worst we see is pain. We rarely recognize significant symptoms in cats, despite their willingness to hunt and even eat scorpions when they find them. Dogs can present with acute pain or lameness, generally on a foot but occasionally elsewhere on their body. The scorpion doesn’t leave any visible signs on the skin so this is a diagnosis made by ruling everything else out. We treat for pain and within 24 hours they are typically back to normal.
Recently we did have a severe response to a scorpion sting in an older dog that started with the typical severe pain and non-weight bearing lameness but quickly deteriorated into panting, restlessness, dilated pupils, racing heart rate, severe high blood pressure, salivation, and vomiting. If untreated, these signs could potentially progress to heart or respiratory failure and death. There is an antivenin available here in Arizona but as far as I know this is only available for human use and is still quite controversial. This type of reaction to a scorpion sting is so infrequent that there are no published studies available regarding frequency or outcome. This only confirms to me that this is a very rare occurrence.
I will continue to assure clients that these creepy little critters are more benign than our other desert pests such as snakes but prompt medical intervention to control pain and monitor for more serious systemic signs is always in your pets best interest.