Aromatic essential oils and hydrosols are your best ally in the fight against fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. Not only do they actively repel bugs, but unlike chemical treatments they will improve your dog’s overall well-being at the same time.
Bug protection starts inside
Healthy dogs, fed fresh whole food, are more able to resist bugs. By contrast, poor diet, high stress levels, chemical flea treatments and vaccines lower immunity and make infestation and irritation more likely. But even the healthiest dog can succumb to bugs in some climates and some seasons. That’s when you should reach for aromatic extracts such as essential oils and hydrosols to help you protect your pup.
Which essential oil to use?
Many essential oils can repel insects, and some are insecticidal. Here are few of the most commonly available, inexpensive and effective ones. Make sure you use high quality essential oils from a company who is selling to aromatherapists. Essential oils sold by supermarket chains or similar are generally speaking very poor quality and more than likely adulterated. This increases the chances of an allergic reaction.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
This well-known and much beloved essential oil repels fleas and other crawling bugs. It also soothes the irritation of flea bites. It’s suited to dogs who are over-exciteable or nervous because of its sedative properties.
Cedarwood (Cedrus Atlantica)
Cedarwood is a true insecticide, whose use is recorded throughout history. It is one of my mainstays for keeping fleas and mosquitoes at bay. It is calming and grounding, particularly helpful to insecure males.
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
Geranium is one of my favourites in a tick repellent blend, it also repels lice and fleas. It is cooling and relaxing, especially suited to females that overheat.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
One of the best bug repellents we have, just a tiny amount is very effective. It is also good for arthritis and digestive problems.
Eucalyptus lemon or narrow leaf (Eucalyptus citriodora or radiata) Eucalyptus is particularly effective against flying bugs, including mosquitoes. It suits the individual who tends to get frustrated by confinement.
Lavender Tea Tree – (Melaleuca ericifolia), also known as Swamp paperbark or rosalina- this is a gentler version of the well-known tea trea (Melaleuca alternifolia). Regular tea tree can cause temporary paralysis in some dogs some times. So, I prefer the milder version, which repels fleas and ticks, and helps to heal minor skin injuries.
Give your dog a choice
So how do you choose which oil to use? Very simple, let your dog decide. Keeping the lid on the bottle, let your dog smell each one. He will let you know which one(s) he likes by sniffing or licking when presented with the bottle. If he doesn’t like the oil he will walk away or ignore it completely. If he shows interest in the bottle that is the one you should use. Once he has selected his oil(s), you are ready to make them into a repellent.
Make your own natural repellent
Bug repellents made specifically for your dog, with his help, are more effective than anything shop bought. What’s more, they have no unpleasant side effects and boost the immune system instead of lowering it. Plus, they are really fun to make!
The most basic way to make a lotion is to mix essential oils in unscented aloe vera gel. Then thin the aloe vera gel to lotion consistency with filtered water or hydrosol (also known as hydrolat).
To increase the power of the potion I add cold pressed neem seed oil (Azidirachta Indica), one of nature’s strongest insecticides. Essential oils evaporate quickly, so don’t last very long on their own. neem lingers, staying active for a few days.
Many people find the smell of neem unpleasant, or even offensive. But it really works and has been shown to be effective at 1% dilution, so you only need a little.
I use sweet smelling essential oils to help mask the neem smell. Geranium, lemongrass and lavender tea tree are some of my favorites. You could also use patchouli (Pogostomen cablin) or ylang ylang (Cananga odorata). But, again, each dog has his own preference.
Below is a sample recipe for half a cup of lotion, adjust to suit your dog.
Combine in a bowl
- ¼ cup aloe vera gel
- ¼ tsp neem oil
- 3 drops cedarwood essential oil
- 3 drops lavender essential oil
- 3 drops lemongrass essential oil
- Slowly stir in up to,¼ cup geranium hydrosol (or water) until the gel is the consistency of hair conditioner.
Rub a small amount through the coat every few days. Concentrate on the places bugs travel, the ruff, between the legs and around the ears.
Reapply if you know you are going to a bug infested area, or after swimming.
More Aromatic Bug Repellents
Some dogs don’t like essential oils. If you find your dog runs away when you pull out the oil bottles, here are some ways you can protect your pup naturally without rubbing it in his fur
- A few drops of lemongrass hydrosol in a bowl of water for your dog to drink. This inhibits fleas and mosquitoes.
- You can add a few squirts of the above lotion to ¼ bucket of water as a coat conditioning/flea repelling wash. Wet your dog down first then sponge on from the bucket, as much as possible leave to air dry. This is also a good system in summer when it’s hot and you can leave them out in the garden to dry.
- Hydrosol spray, safer for daily applications if you feel it is needed, or around the face to protect from mosquitoes. Dilute hydrosol such as eucalyptus or lavender (or both) with distilled water 50/50.
- If you are going to a bug infested area and you really need to protect him, spray a kerchief with diluted bug repellent gel and tie around his neck. Remove when you return home.
Always be sure to use the minimum amount of essential oil possible. Apply the bug gel only when needed. Essential oils have a great potential to overwhelm a dog’s system and cause him to become allergic if you use them undiluted or too often. On the other hand if you allow your dog to guide you in how, when and which essential oils to use, you will keep your dog’s immune system in tip-top shape, ready to repel bugs and the diseases they often carry.
Essential oils are a safe, natural solution for your dogs, cats, horses and other pets. Learn how to use them safely in one of these great on-line courses. Or learn with Nayana Morag, author of the book “Essential Oils for Animals: Your complete guide to using aromatherapy for animal health and management”, at her lovely home in Portugal.