Mosquito Repellent: Safely Keep Insects Off Dogs & Cats

Author: Dr. Beth Turner

Published: January 3, 2023

Updated: May 21, 2024

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mosquito repellant for pets

Nothing seems to ruin one’s time outdoors, including your pets, more than those blood-sucking mosquitoes buzzing around and biting.

Am I right? Or am I right?

Besides the annoyance, mosquitoes cause us to worry about the diseases they spread to dogs and cats.

While plenty of products help keep insects off people, only a handful are safe and effective for dogs — and even fewer for cats!

Many of the mosquito and bug repellent products for people are just downright unsafe for pets!

Some Diseases Mosquitoes Can Spread to Pets

Per the CDC, there have not been any reports of pets becoming infected with Zika.

Mosquitoes spread the following diseases to people:

  • Zika
  • West Nile virus
  • malaria
  • yellow fever
  • dengue
  • chikungunya
  • elephantiasis

Most of us would do anything to rid our environment of these pesky pests. While we may wish they were extinct, their presence on the planet is essential. It must be since they have been here for millions of years! The comfort I gain from this is that they are food for other living things I like, such as birds, dragonflies, etc.

We can’t obliterate them from the planet, but we can attempt to repel them, as well as some other types of flies and insects, from our pets and ourselves.


Dog beside pup-sized camping tent

Keeping Mosquitoes Away From Your Dog & Cat

Veterinary-Formulated Bug Repellent Products For Dogs

Two products that have a proven track record of being both effective at keeping insects away and being safe on dogs* are listed below. Talk with your veterinarian to ensure that the product is safe for your dog, given age, size, and other factors, and be sure to use all products strictly according to the label.

*Note that bug-repellent products for dogs are NOT safe for use on cats! In fact, they’re not even necessarily safe to use around cats, as cats are great groomers, and many will even groom or rub up against your family dog.

When purchasing these veterinary-recommended products (and with any product), be sure that you only buy and apply those that are appropriate for your dog’s weight.

NOTE: The minimum weight for safe application on these products is 4 to 5 lbs.

DO NOT apply it to dogs weighing less than the designated weight. See below for more instructions, but before applying these products, be sure to read all package instructions carefully.

Be sure to apply it along the entire back near the midline directly on the skin. If it is applied mostly to the fur, it will not work as well. If you apply it all in one spot, it can cause skin irritation and potential fur loss. Prevent your dog from licking or rubbing it off.

Do NOT bathe your dog, within 72 hours, before or after application.

These products are insect repellents – they are NOT "heartworm preventatives" in the true sense of killing and preventing heartworms.

They do help by keeping mosquitoes away, but since no repellent is 100% effective and it takes just one bite from one infected mosquito to cause a heartworm infection, you should still use a heartworm preventative in addition to one of these repellents.

Important Safety Note: If your dog is already on a parasiticide, like Simparica TrioTM or NexGard®, using these additional bug-repellent products can increase the likelihood of negative effects. Please consult with your veterinarian prior to combining medications.

Vectra 3D
Do NOT apply to puppies younger than 8 weeks of age
5 to 10 lbs: Amazon | Chewy
11 to 20 lbs: Amazon | Chewy
21 to 55 lbs: Amazon | Chewy
56 to 95 lbs: Amazon | Chewy

K9 Advantix II
Do NOT apply to puppies younger than 7 weeks of age

4 to 10 lbs: Amazon | Chewy
11 to 20 lbs: Amazon | Chewy
21 to 55 lbs: Amazon | Chewy
Over 55 lbs: Amazon | Chewy

Be sure to wash your hands after applying the product to your dog and before handling your cat. Better yet, wear gloves to apply them.

Veterinary-Formulated Bug Repellent Products For Cats

Unfortunately, there are no veterinary-recommended products labeled as mosquito repellants that are safe for cats. The best way to protect cats is to establish environmental controls for mosquitoes and to keep them on monthly heartworm prevention.

Heartworm prevention is extremely important as there is NO treatment for heartworms for cats.

Do NOT Use Dog Products on Cats

The most common class of active ingredients in dog insect repellent products is the pyrethroid (pyrethrin/permethrin) class of compounds. While concentrations of pyrethroids below about 1% are typically safe for topical application on cats, it’s not always the case.

Many of these products have pyrethroid concentrations well above the 1% level.

Because of this, you should never use a “dog-only” pyrethrin/permethrin-containing product on your cats — pyrethroid toxicity in cats is distressing to see and can be fatal.

cat outside on leash wearing a harness

Plant-Based Veterinary Bug Repellent For Dogs & Cats

If you prefer a topical flea repellent that features natural ingredients (peppermint oil, clove plants (eugenol), and sodium lauryl sulfate that is plant derived), you may like Vet’s Best Flea and Tick Spray for dogs.

This product is deemed safe for puppies over 12 weeks of age. It can also be used on furniture and outdoor spaces. For it to have long-lasting effects, it must be reapplied frequently.

Important Safety Note: You should NEVER apply products intended for dogs on cats and vice versus. There is a cat version of this product.

Off-Label Bug Repellant For Use on Dogs Only

This last product I am going to mention was brought to our attention by a wonderful Paws & Play newsletter subscriber as a ‘natural repellent.’ The product is by EQyss, and it is called Premier Marigold Spray.

When the product was researched, we discovered it was not labeled as a repellant, even though many users mentioned how well it worked as a repellant. So we decided to contact the company, and this was their response:

“Premier Marigold Spray is not labeled or approved for use as a pesticide by the EPA. It does not qualify as a 25(b) exempt product because it is not 100% comprised of materials on the outdated 25(b) list. We do not and cannot make pesticidal claims about this product.

However, we have received numerous accounts of user feedback that it is very effective against flies and mosquitoes. It has not been evaluated as such by EQyss. It is a safe, externally used topical product suitable for animal and even human use. There are no hazards or warnings associated with the product.”

Safety Note: This product is used on horses and dogs but is not intended for use on cats.

For reference, this is the EPA 25(b):
The EPA has a program that does not subject pesticides to federal registration if the active and inert ingredients are “minimum risk” and is included on both the acceptable list of active ingredients and inert ingredients, respectively.

These products are allowed to make claims that they kill and repel their pests without registration, but they are not allowed to make public health claims or that they protect human health. For example, they can claim they kill mosquitoes, but the label cannot say that it prevents malaria by killing mosquitoes.

The Association of American Pesticide Control Officials (AAPCO) 25(b) Workgroup created a label guidance list to help companies comply with state regulations. This list is for guidance purposes and does not guarantee that your product will be accepted in all states.

It is important to remember that nothing is 100% foolproof, whether it is ‘chemical’ or ‘natural.’

Let Nature Fight Nature!

If you want to enjoy the outdoors at home but desire to avoid applying repellants to yourself and your pets, gardening may be the answer!

Personally, I can kill artificial plants, but I know you can make a mosquito-repelling garden thrive and work to your advantage.

Placing mosquito-repelling plants around your patio, deck, or porch will help fend off those pests while enjoying the outdoors. And as an added bonus for the chefs out there, these plants can also be used for cooking (as long as no chemical pesticides are applied to them).

Some Plants Known for Their Natural Mosquito-Repelling Abilities

Basil plant: This popular mosquito-repelling plant can be grown in the ground or in pots. This plant contains four mosquito-repelling chemical compounds. It works by interfering with the mosquito’s heat and carbon dioxide sensors, making it difficult for them to recognize their next meal!

Lemon balm plant: Not only does this plant repel mosquitoes, but it also helps repel gnats. It is the lemony scent of the plant that the bugs find repulsive.

Catnip: Cats and even some dogs love it, but mosquitoes hate it. It contains nepetalactone. Research has revealed that the essential oil in the plant is 10x MORE effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes. It can be grown in a garden or in pots. We have some tips on growing catnip at home.

While using catnip oil on your dog (like this one you can spray on their collar, or you can make your own infused catnip oil) may keep the mosquitoes and other insects at bay, I'd imagine your dog would prefer to take their chances with those pests rather than the attack your cat is likely to mount on them!

And using dilute catnip oil on your cat to repel insects – while it might make for a funny YouTube video – it'd be plain cruel to tease them that way!

Lavender: While people find the aroma of lavender relaxing, mosquitoes don’t.

Warning: It is important to note that lavender contains linalool, which can be toxic to dogs if ingested in large quantities.

Rosemary plant: Based on my findings, the jury is still unsure whether this plant repels mosquitoes. But I say give it a try. At the very least, it's easy to grow, it smells great, is a wonderful addition when added to meals, and isn’t toxic to dogs (unless they consume large quantities).

Peppermint plant: This plant has been found to be effective at repelling mosquitoes, ants, and cockroaches. One study revealed that it repelled 84% to 100% of mosquitoes.

Warning: It is best to keep this plant out of your dog and cat's reach since consumption of large amounts can lead to vomiting and diarrhea.

cone flower attracts dragonflies that eat mosquitoes

Now that you have attempted to create a perimeter repelling the mosquitoes, you can add additional nature control measures in other aspects of your yard.

You have likely heard the phrase, “the enemy of your enemy is your friend.” In the case of mosquitoes, one of your new best friends is the dragonfly.

Did you know that a dragonfly can consume 100 or more mosquitoes in a day? If that’s the case, you will want to create an environment to attract them to your yard.

Some Plants That Attract Dragonflies

  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Meadow Sage
  • Joe-Pye weed
  • Coneflowers

Note: There are a couple of other plants, such as Yarrow and Borage, that are known to attract dragonflies, but they are toxic to dogs if consumed.

Dragonflies love water, but so do mosquitoes. But those flying acrobats can eat enough mosquitoes to make a water feature worthwhile.

If you have a distant area in your yard, you can attempt to make an aquatic area, such as a small pond (about 20 feet in diameter and a depth of no more than 2 ft). To increase the attractiveness of the pond, there are aquatic plants that draw dragonflies in. Such plants include Vallisneria Americana (aka wild celery) or water horsetail.

Note: There are many other aquatic plants that attract dragonflies, but they can be toxic to dogs. Only use plants that are known to be non-toxic to dogs unless you can 100% guarantee they would have no access to the pond.

northern cardinal bird that eats mosquitoes

Birds That Eat Mosquitoes

In addition to dragonflies being your friend in the war against mosquitoes, so are certain birds. Seventeen different birds love to dine on mosquitoes. And depending on where you live, you may be able to attract them to your home for a visit.

  • Barn Swallow
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Black-capped Chickadee – mosquitoes are this bird's favorite food
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • Bluebird
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Great Tit
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Nuthatches
  • Purple Martin
  • Robin
  • Tree Swallow
  • Woodpecker
  • Wren

If you aren’t a gardener, an insect, or a bird person, you can always try getting a Thermacell. Depending on the type (they have tabletop and handheld devices), these handy little repellers can protect up to 20 feet of outdoor space. I know from personal experience that they work wonders.

young woman camping with her golden retriever along a lake

Is It Safe to Use Human Insect Repellents On Dogs & Cats?

Essential Oils

Some people swear by the ability of essential oils to repel mosquitoes — like tea tree, neem, lemon eucalyptus, peppermint, cinnamon, and citronella. These can be useful in keeping mosquitoes and other insects away from your dogs or cats, but it’s crucial ONLY to USE 100% PURE ESSENTIAL OILS THAT ARE PROPERLY DILUTED, AND they MUST be used appropriately.

Concentrated oils can cause very serious problems for dogs and even more so for cats if applied to their skin or if they ingest them (including licking them off their fur). And even diluted oils can cause problems for cats.

When using essential oils around pets, be sure that the oil and application are suitable for both dogs and cats. Never use essentials on your pet without first consulting with a veterinarian trained in using them on pets.

Stay Away from DEET!

Most of the common bug sprays and mosquito repellents for people contain DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) in varying concentrations.

According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, DEET can be very toxic for dogs and cats, leading to vomiting, staggering, seizures, and other concerning problems.

Do not use DEET-containing insect repellents on your pets, and make sure they don't lick you when you have them on and avoid petting them after you apply them to yourself!

cat sleeping with a mosquito on his nose

Picaridin

Picaridin is another common active ingredient in insect repellents made for people. Though it appears to have a wide margin of safety when used on dogs, there are no products specifically licensed for use on dogs that I am currently aware of.

It’s difficult to say for certain whether Picardin is safe for use on or around cats. Although it has been demonstrated to be safe in other species, including dogs, there’s no published evidence about toxicity in cats.

Long story short, we don’t know for sure whether picaridin is safe for cats. What I can say is I’m not aware of any picaridin-containing products that are specifically licensed for use on cats.

Garlic

Garlic is a common ingredient in many DIY bug-repellant recipes. While it may ward off pests and Dracula, garlic is toxic to dogs and cats. When consumed by dogs and cats, it can cause damage to their red blood cells (RBCs). Once the RBCs are damaged, they are removed from circulation resulting in anemia.

Citronella

One of the most common and popular natural insect repellants is citronella. Citronella is considered toxic to dogs and cats in almost all forms, including candles, oils, plants, etc. It can irritate the skin if applied topically, and ingestion can result in gastrointestinal upset.

Geraniums

Geraniums have long been used as a chemical alternative to repel pests. While the plant itself is not extremely toxic to pets, its essential oil (geranium and linalool) is, based on ASPCA’s reports.

If applied topically, it can cause contact dermatitis (red, swollen, and possibly blistered skin). If eaten, it can cause irritation to the mouth as well as gastrointestinal upset. Other symptoms that could be present with more extensive exposure include loss of coordination, depression, and muscle weakness.

little girl outside with young black lab and kitten-canva

As you can see, you need to be thoughtful and careful when choosing mosquito and insect repellents to use on your pets. And, unfortunately, there really just aren’t any great options for topical application directly to cats. All of this makes environmental mosquito control (removing standing water, cutting tall grass, etc.) that much more important for your cats, your dogs, and the rest of your family too.

Stay safe and enjoy the outdoors!

About the author

Profile picture for Dr. Beth Turner

Dr. Beth Turner

Beth Turner is a veterinarian with over 20 years of experience. She graduated from North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine and following graduation, she began her career as an associate veterinarian and worked closely with the local shelter.

In 2007 she accomplished her dream of practice ownership, designing and building her own clinic. Another meaningful role, while running her clinic, was serving as her county's shelter veterinarian. This gave her the opportunity to help improve the lives of many animals in her community as well as work with the rescue she loved. She sold her practice in 2019 to move across the country.