Furry haircoats help somewhat, but dogs and cats get bitten by mosquitoes, flies and other insects just like we do. Biting insects are not only bothersome; they may transmit deadly diseases such as heartworm and West Nile Virus.
The First Step: Knowing What NOT To Apply
DEET and other human insect repellents should not be applied to dogs or cats. This chemical is toxic when ingested at high doses, and dogs and cats may lick it off and ingest it, potentially resulting in a toxicity.
With DEET ingestion, clinical signs may include:
- wobbly gait
- loss of appetite
If your pet has ingested DEET, please contact your veterinarian or emergency veterinary clinic for advice.
Related: Case Report - DEET Toxicity in a Cat
Safe Insect Repellents for Dogs
1) One spot-on topical product, K9 advantix® by Bayer Animal Health, repels mosquitoes in addition to fleas, ticks, and flies for up to 30 days.
From the Bayer AH web site:
"advantix® demonstrated repellent activity against Culex pipiens mosquitoes, as determined by the ability to prevent feeding, ranging from 96.5% to 100% at all the points in time assessed during this [30 day] study."
Read full report.
That is great news for dogs in need of an effective parasite and insect repellent. It is important to note that this product contains permethrin, which is very toxic to cats.
The advantix® Spot-on is only for dogs, and for households containing both dogs and cats, pets must be kept separated until the product application areas on the dog is completely dry. Cats must be prevented from grooming those areas on their canine friends. If your cat ingests this product, please seek veterinary attention immediately.
This product is also toxic to aquatic life. Dogs should not be allowed to swim for 48 hours post application of advantix®.
2) There are many "natural" and insecticide-based sprays available on the market for dogs, available online (compare prices) or at pet supply retailers. It is best to a) identify what insect(s) you are wanting to repel, and b) check with your veterinarian if the product is appropriate and safe for your pet. Extra caution for the very young, very old and pets in poor health or on other medications.
Safe Insect Repellents for Cats
Cats are another story. They metabolize drugs and chemicals very differently from humans and dogs, and "safe" compounds for us may be quite toxic for cats. Plus, they are good groomers, which leads to possible ingestion as well as absorption through skin.
While there are some "natural" products available for cats (compare prices), it is always best to check with your veterinarian first. Many natural preparations contain essential oils, and some of these oils are toxic to cats.
What about Avon Skin-So-Soft?
This product is often brought up as a safe non-DEET alternative for people and pets. Research on various mosquito repellents by the University of Florida showed that Skin-So-Soft bath oil repelled mosquitoes for 10 minutes. See product table of full report from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) extension.
The duration and effectiveness of this product are often debated. I have not found any instances of toxicity for humans or pets, but would urge caution for cats, who will often groom and ingest topical products.
What About Essential Oils, Garlic, and Other Natural Ingredients?
Caution is advised, for both dogs and cats. Many of these ingredients are ineffective insect repellents and some are toxic. For example, garlic is toxic to pets.
As noted above, essential oils are common ingredients for 'non-chemical' applications, and many of them are toxic to cats. While not 100% effective, keeping cats indoors will greatly reduce the numbers of insect bites and stings.
Screen Away Insects
Since ears and faces are the most accessible area of dogs and cats for insects, a face bonnet screen may help. At least for dogs.
Stay Out of the Way
Avoiding outdoor activities during times of day when insects are most active helps lower exposure. Mosquitoes are most active early in the morning and evening. Flies are active throughout the day, but face screens or keeping your pet indoors will help.