When warmer weather approaches, it’s time for most dog owners to start worrying about heartworm.
We want you to relax and enjoy this summer … so we’ve done all the research for you and summarized the top natural mosquito repellents for dogs. But before we roll them out, let’s talk about why you should think about using topical mosquito sprays on your dog.
3 Reasons To Use Topical Mosquito Sprays
#1 Heartworm Preventives Aren’t Healthy For Your Dog
Heartworm meds are pesticides. They kill mosquito larvae by paralyzing or killing them – so they are neurotoxic. If they’re toxic to bugs, they’re toxic to your dog and they can affect his brain and nervous system (and this is a special consideration in young animals – and children who pet them – who have developing nervous systems). Those pills turn your dog’s blood into a neurotoxic soup and it’s crazy to think this won’t hurt him.
#2 Preventives Work Less And Less Every Year
Mosquitos are becoming resistant to those meds and a lot of dogs on preventives will still get heartworm. There are natural sprays and solutions that will help protect against mosquitos and bites that are much healthier for your dog.
#3 Bug Bites Can Cause Irritation Or Pain In Your Dog
He wants to be outside but he needs to be protected so he can enjoy his summer too.
Whether you use heartworm preventives or not … some extra topical protection is a good idea. So let’s review what products are available, how well they work and, most importantly, whether they can harm your dog or not.
Synthetic Mosquito Repellents
Let’s start with the synthetic mosquito repellents and we’ll start with the most common one … DEET.
DEET, also called N,N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide, is absorbed through the skin and passes into the blood and this makes it not just hazardous to mosquitos, but to your dog as well. French scientists found that DEET can inhibit the activity of a key central nervous system enzyme, acetylcholinesterase, in both insects and mammals. The toxicity of DEET is increased if it’s combined with other insecticides.
The upside of DEET is that products containing 30% DEET can protect for up to 5 to 6 hours, or if they contain 10% DEET, up to 90 minutes. In Canada, products with a DEET concentration over 30% have been banned.
Picaridin is another synthetic insecticide that carries fewer hazards than DEET. And a report by Consumer Reports showed that products with 20% picaridin were more effective than DEET products.
Picaridin doesn’t carry the same neurotoxicity concerns as DEET but hasn’t been tested as much either so the jury is still out on its long-term effects on health. Like DEET, picaridin is a synthetic compound, but it’s extracted from a plant that’s related to black pepper. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that both DEET and picaridin shouldn’t be used on children under three.
Consumer Reports rated a Picaridin formula at the top of their rankings – much higher than Deep Woods OFF! which was in 5th place.
Lemon Eucalyptus Oil
Natural lemon eucalyptus oil comes from the gum eucalyptus tree … but most insect repellents use its synthetic cousin, p-menthane-3,8-diol or PMD.
Consumer Reports found that products containing 30% lemon eucalyptus oil were more effective than those containing DEET … but the protection time isn’t quite as long. But lemon eucalyptus oil is the only natural oil recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent mosquito bites.
A study by the US Department of Agriculture compared four synthetic mosquito repellents and eight natural mosquito repellents and found that Repel Lemon Eucalyptus was the most effective repellent – more so than a 7% DEET repellent. Repel also placed second (after Picaridin) in the Consumer Reports ranking. Repel’s available at a number of different stores. It smells very strong so try just a little dab on your dog to see how he reacts before you decide to use it.
Homemade Bug Spray
If you like making your own products, here’s a homemade natural bug spray recipe you can try:
- 1 glass spray bottle
- 25 drops lemon eucalyptus essential oil (this one’s a good choice)
- 4 oz witch hazel or 2 oz coconut oil or another carrier oil like almond oil (use oil if your dog will be going in the water)
You can just use the above ingredients, or you can experiment with 1 or more of these additional ingredients:
- 1 tsp real vanilla extract
- OR 6 drops peppermint essential oil
- OR 3 drops lavender essential oil or atlas cedarwood essential oil
- Mix the ingredients together in your glass spray bottle.
- Shake well before applying.
- Spray your dog all over, taking care not to spray his eyes.
Natural Mosquito Repellents
Some sources don’t recommend natural insect repellents because they don’t last as long as the toxic preventatives. But they’re easy to use and much safer for your dog. So if your dog’s exposed to mosquitos for long periods of time, you’ll want to reapply the spray every two hours or so.
Try some of these natural options and see what works best for your dog.
There are several plants whose essential oils have insect repellent properties. Some of these include:
- Thyme – a study showed that carvacrol and alpha-terpinene, two compounds derived from the essential oil of thyme, had significantly greater repellency than a commercial DEET repellent.
- Lemon eucalyptus (as noted above)
- Lemon balm
- Fennel oil – A small study by researchers at Seoul National University in Korea found that a spray mosquito repellent containing 5% fennel oil was 84% effective after 90 minutes and a repellent cream with 8% fennel oil was 70% effective after 90 minutes.
Essential oils are very powerful for dogs, so be sure to always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil (like grapeseed or fractionated coconut oil) before using them on your dog (read what canine herbalist Rita Hogan has to say about the risks of undiluted essential oils). Mix one drop of essential oil with 1 ml carrier oil and spray your dog with the mixture. You can use more than one type of oil, but just remember to increase the carrier oil for each drop of essential oil you use.
Some people like to use bandanas infused with essential oils to protect their dogs. If you do this, be sure to use diluted oils and remove the bandana when your dog comes indoors.
Caution: do not use essential oils of wintergreen, pennyroyal or clove (or any products that contain these oils) on your dog. These oils are dangerous for your dog and should not be used for any reason.
Neem oil is another effective dog-safe repellent. An extract from the tropical neem tree, neem oil has insecticidal compounds called azadirachtins. Neem can also be used on open sores and wounds so it’s a useful oil to have in your first aid kit too. Neem repels mosquitoes and other insects, heals wounds, cuts, sores, poison oak or ivy, and has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. The National Research Council of Canada has found that neem affects more than 200 species of insects, including mosquitoes, biting flies, sand fleas and ticks.
You can put a drop of neem oil on various places on your dog – on top of his head, behind his ears, on his shoulder blades, along his back and flanks and at the base of his tail. You can apply neem as often as every day in mosquito season.
A 2004 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that cinnamon oil can kill mosquito larvae. The researchers also believed that cinnamon oil could be a good mosquito repellent, though they hadn’t tested it against adult mosquitoes. Historically, however, cinnamon oil has been used by natural health practitioners and traditional healers to repel mosquitoes and prevent their bites. You can use it diluted in a carrier oil as described under Essential Oils above.
Cedar oil is a great non toxic option to keep pests off your dog. It’ll repel not just mosquitoes, but fleas and ticks as well. In fact, it’s said that the ancient Egyptians used cedar oil in embalming to keep the bugs away. Most people like the smell of cedar oil (and dogs don’t seem to mind it either) but mosquitoes and other insects don’t like it. And if mosquitoes come into contact with cedar oil, it can kill them, their eggs, and their larvae. It pulls the water out of them, neutralizes body fluids, interferes with their respiratory system and their pheromone receptors.
There are various commercially available products that are safe and effective. Look for a formulation that’s 10% to 20% cedar oil and spray your dog before he goes outside.
Feeding your dog garlic can also help make him less appealing to insects. Garlic is safe for dogs in moderation.
Always use US grown organic fresh whole clove garlic.
You can safely give ¼ clove of garlic per ten pounds (use regular sized garlic, not jumbo). If your dog weighs less than ten pounds, cut a ¼ clove of garlic in half and give ⅛ clove. If you have a giant breed, don’t give more than two cloves of garlic per day. So if you have a hundred pound dog, still give her only two cloves of garlic.
Peel and chop the garlic about 15 minutes before feeding, then add it to your dog’s food. Start feeding garlic one month before the start of mosquito season.
Celery Seed Extract
A Thai study compared 15 mosquito repellents with a topical extract from celery, Apium graveolens. The researchers found that the extract didn’t irritate the skin or cause a burning sensation. It was found to be active against a wide range of mosquito species, comparable to a 25% DEET formula. You can buy celery seed extract at health stores and apply it topically to your dog.
While the preventive effect of some natural remedies listed above doesn’t last very long, homeopathic remedies, taken orally, can provide protection from insect bites for several hours.
Specific homeopathic remedies can reduce swelling, redness and itching and speed healing from insect bites. These same remedies can also be used to prevent insect bites. And if your dog does get bitten, the effect of the bite will be much reduced. Remedies can be effective not just against mosquitoes, but mites, fleas, lice, mange, midges, black flies, horse flies, deer flies, chigger mites, bees, wasps, hornets, ants, dust mites, spiders, worms, ticks – just about any insect you can think of!
Homeopathic remedies are highly diluted and extremely safe, with no harmful side effects.
The list below shows some remedies that are effective in both preventing and healing insect bites.
Inflammation that is the result of an insect bite. It can range from redness and swelling to ulcers with green or yellow pus, hives, or scabby sores with water oozing from underneath. The skin is very difficult to heal.
A homeopath named HR Trexler studied Staphysagria for its effectiveness at preventing mosquito bites. In a study of 421 subjects over a 4 year period, he found this remedy to be 90% effective.
Puncture wounds from any insect or object, often causing marked discoloration lasting long afterwards. Swelling, itching, inflammation, red spots and rash; poison ivy. Anti-tetanus properties.
For bites of insects, particularly fleas causing itching and burning. Eruptions may be vesicular and/or papular. Can also be effective for poison oak or herpetic eruptions. Also useful for ulcers with swollen, purplish skin.
Affectations of the nerves occurring at exact periods is the most marked feature of this remedy. It antidotes the effect of snake bites as well as the stings of insects. There can be trembling and numbness of the whole body. Useful in malarial affections of damp, warm, marshy areas.
Itching, raised, red blotches. Nettle rash; worse every year, the same season. Prickly heat. Elevated hives with rheumatism; after shellfish; with pinworms. Vesicles. Intense burning and itching.
You can use these remedies to treat your dog if he’s been bitten by mosquitoes – just pick the one that best fits his symptoms. But you can also use a combination of all the remedies to both prevent and treat mosquito bites. Just place a couple of pellets or a few granules of each remedy into a clean amber glass dropper bottle. Add spring or filtered water (never use tap water), shake the bottle well and place a few drops into your dog’s mouth about half an hour before he goes outside. The effect should last about 3 to 5 hours.
If you want your homeopathic solution to last more than 2 or 3 days, add about 20% brandy or vodka to the mixture to preserve the remedy and it will keep for years.
Or, instead of making your own solution, buy a ready-made combination remedy like this.
Keep your dog safe this summer – not just from heartworm disease but also from toxic pesticides – by trying some of these natural solutions!