How to survive animal attacks

6 min read

How to survive animal attacks
Facing down an angry animal can be a scary experience, so it's important to know what to do. Find out how to survive four potential attacks here
One of the best parts of being outdoors is sharing beautiful, natural spaces with wildlife. However, there are rare occasions where this co-existence is more dangerous than we'd hoped. From treating bee stings to avoiding bears, here are our top tips for surviving four types of insect and animal attack. 

I've been stung by a bee or wasp

You are just minding your own business when a bee or wasp gives you a painful sting. If you act quickly, you can minimise the pain and swelling. Here’s what experts who have studied insect bites suggest:
Use meat tenderiser
Apply meat tenderiser immediately, if available. Protein enzymes in a venomous sting cause much of the inflammation. Meat tenderisers work by breaking down proteins. If you mix tenderiser powder with water to form a paste and then smear the paste on your sting, you will reduce pain and swelling by breaking down the enzymes in the venom. You have to do this within a few seconds after being stung, however, the experts say.
So, if you’re going out where you might be exposed to yellow jackets or other stinging insects, take a little container of meat-tenderiser paste with you. Make sure the label on the meat tenderiser says it contains a protein-busting component, such as papain or bromelain.
Pull out the stinger
Some insects, such as honeybees, will leave behind their stingers when they sting. A widespread belief is that you should scrape away the stinger with a credit card or knife edge to avoid squeezing more venom from the stinger into your skin by pinching.
"Pull the stinger out of your skin and forget about scraping it away"
But experts say most of the venom is injected within 20 seconds of the sting. You can easily take that long looking through your wallet or purse to find something to scrape with. Instead, pull the stinger out of your skin and forget about scraping.
Here are some other tips:
  • Take an antihistamine after getting stung: this will help reduce swelling 
  • Carry an EpiPen if you are allergic: keep in mind that insect stings can trigger a life-threatening condition called anaphylactic shock in highly allergic people, which requires a more sophisticated level of treatment. If you know you have these reactions, consult with your doctor on how to treat insect stings. You may need to carry an EpiPen with you and, if you’re stung, inject yourself with it before seeking emergency medical care
  • The best way to minimise the itching of a sting is to rub ice on it, say medical specialists. Rub an ice cube or hold an ice pack on it for a few minutes and repeat as needed

Problem stopper: Don’t attract stinging insects

An overhead shot of several cans of pop
Avoid leaving an open can of pop or beer unattended outside, experts warn. Bees and other stinging insects are attracted to the liquid and might fly into the can and lurk inside. When you pick up the can and drink from it, you could swallow the insect, which could sting the inside of your throat, causing potentially life-threatening swelling.

A mean dog is growling at me

Don’t intrude or startle
Dogs are very territorial and may act aggressively to defend their turf. And dogs may attack if they’re startled. So, pay attention if you’re walking or jogging and see a dog that hasn’t noticed you; it may be startled when it sees you.
Watch for peaked ears and bared teeth
Dogs often exhibit warning signs that they’re about to attack. They may hold their tails stiffly aloft, their ears may stick up, the hair on their backs may stand up, and—not surprisingly—they may bare their teeth.
Don’t run or scream
If you’re confronted with a threatening dog, resist the impulse to scream or run. The dog’s natural instinct is to chase and catch prey, experts say. And avoid making direct eye contact with the dog, because the animal will see it as a challenge. Instead, try to remain motionless until the dog has lost interest and leaves. Then slowly back away until the dog is out of sight.
Put something in the way
If a dog does attack, try to put something between it and you, such as a bag or a package. If a dog bites you and holds on, avoid pulling away from it, because that can cause you further injury.

I’ve stumbled upon a bear

Black bears and grizzlies that have been fed by humans often make a connection between people and food, and they sometimes become aggressive. A bear may also attack if it is startled or feels that you’re threatening its cubs. If you come across a bear while hiking, it will usually run away. But if it doesn’t flee, follow these steps:
A brown bear stands next to a tree in a forest
Try to calm the animal
If you see a bear, never turn and run. That will arouse its predatory instincts. Instead, stand your ground and make yourself look larger by raising your hands over your head. Say something like, “Whoa, bear, calm down, bear,” in a calm, authoritative voice, experts advise.
Expect a feigned attack
The bear may wander away. But another possibility is that it will try a “bluff charge” at you. If it does, stand still. Keep your eyes on the bear and slowly back up after it stops charging. Don’t turn your back on the animal until it loses interest in you and leaves.

A bear is attacking me

Unfortunately, bears sometimes do attack. If one does, here’s what to do:
Have pepper spray handy and play dead
Keep a canister of bear-repellent spray containing capsaicin (what makes hot sauce hot) easily accessible on your person when you’re out in bear country. Attach it to your belt or the shoulder harness of your backpack so you can get to it immediately. If the bear keeps charging you and gets up close, spray the burning repellent in its face.
Unfortunately, these sprays have a limited range, so you’ll have to have steady nerves to let the bear get close enough, park experts warn. It’s a good idea to test your canister when you purchase it by spraying it downwind in an isolated spot so you can see how far the spray reaches.
If the bear continues to attack, drop and play dead
Roll up in the foetal position or lie on your stomach, lace your hands together over the back of your neck, and stop moving. This will help protect your head, neck, and belly. A daypack will help protect your back, too.

Problem stopper: Don’t attract bears with food

Bears have a keen sense of smell and will quickly home in on your food. If your clothes and your tent smell like food, bears will be more likely to attack. Do your cooking at least 90m away from your tent. Save a change of clothes to do your cooking in and leave them in the cooking area.
"If your clothes and your tent smell like food, bears are more likely to attack"
Store all your food, rubbish, and cooking and eating utensils in a weatherproof bag (available at camping shops or use a rucksack or plastic bag). Tie a rope to the bag. Find a tree with a sturdy branch at least 15ft (2.5m) off the ground. Throw the rope over the branch at a spot 8 to 10ft (2.5 to 3m) out from the trunk. Hoist the bag up until it is at least 10ft (3m) high and a couple of feet below the branch it’s hanging from. Then tie the rope around the trunk of the tree

A venomous snake just bit me

Drive to a hospital or call for help. Don’t panic. People rarely die from snakebites within the first 24 hours, say snake experts—this gives you time to seek help calmly.
A coiled rattlesnake
The best first-aid tool for a snakebite is a set of car keys, the snake researchers advise. Another good tool is a mobile phone. Call for help or drive to a hospital; don’t cut and suck the bite or use a tourniquet.

Problem stopper: Be prepared for snakes

If you’re concerned about encountering venomous snakes when you’re out hiking, here are some hints from snake specialists:
  • Wear tall boots. They’re not guaranteed to protect you from all bites when you’re out hiking in snake country, but wearing calf-high boots can protect you from many strikes
  • Keep your eyes open: if snakes are out and about, you’ll often find them basking in the sun. Scan the ground in and around the trail as you hike. Logs, boulders, and piles of rocks are favourite basking areas for snakes
  • Carry a field guide. Most bookshops carry books with pictures of poisonous snakes found in your area. If you spend time outdoors, familiarise yourself with these snakes

Tricks of the trade: Was there venom in that bite?

Here’s an easy way to tell whether the snake that bit you is cause for concern, according to snake experts. A venomous snake, such as a rattlesnake, copperhead, cottonmouth, or coral snake, will leave only one or two punctures in your skin.
"A venomous snake will leave only one or two punctures in your skin"
A nonvenomous snake will leave multiple puncture wounds on your skin; eight to 12 or more wouldn’t be unusual. That’s because venomous snakes use a fang or two to inject their venom, not their teeth (Yes, snakes have teeth). The nonvenomous snakes bite you with their teeth.
Banner photo: From bees to bears, here's how to survive insect and animal attacks (credit: Toni Pomar (Unsplash))
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter

This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you. Read our disclaimer

Loading up next...