10 Dos & Don’ts for Preventing Mosquito Bites on Dogs & Cats

Dr. Patty Khuly

Labrador laying in the grass on a sunny day

Mosquitoes have a natural affinity for skin oils, as well as carbon dioxide and lactic acid, all of which both pets and people accumulate and expel in abundance. That means they’re attracted to all of us, furry pets included.

While the dense undercoat most of our pets carry around with them would seem to prevent mosquito bites, these insects are wily. They find the least-exposed areas readily and manage to bite them there more effectively than you might imagine. (The skin over the bridge of the nose, ears, and paws are most affected.)

Heartworm infection is just one consequence of mosquito bites (a problem for both dogs and cats). While you should never go without these products during mosquito season (year-round in many locales), there are other reasons to be wary of mosquito bites.

Mosquito bite sensitivity can lead to allergic reactions to mosquito saliva, which can range from mild to severe. This is most commonly seen in cats. Dogs can also catch a stunning array of diseases from mosquitoes.

In addition to being especially susceptible to heartworm infection, they can catch the West Nile virus (way more common in horses), the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus (also more common in horses), the Venezuelan Equine Encephalomyelitis virus (horses as well), Tularemia (more common in rabbits and rodents), and Dengue Fever, among others.

Since transmission of infectious disease and hypersensitivity are considered common, it’s important to protect our pets, particularly during certain times of the year.

Unfortunately, protection from mosquito bites is often worse than the risks they pose. The use of the wrong product on pets is rampant among pet owners who believe they’re doing the right thing by applying products directly to pets (and sometimes to themselves). That’s why it’s important to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations. Here are some of mine:

1. Don’t use products that contain DEET or picaridin on either dogs or cats. (Be careful using these in abundance on yourself too!) This means …

2. Don’t use OFF on pets (it contains DEET). If you’re in close proximity to your pets and they tend to lick you, it’s a big no-no as well. That’s one reason why any DEET products are always best used on your clothing and/or gear, rather than on your skin!

3. Don’t use any products on cats that are labeled “for dogs only.” Check the label carefully!

4. Don’t use any pyrethrin- or permethrin- containing products on cats or, if your household includes cats, on your dogs (or yourself).

5. Don’t use any non-name brand, questionably-labeled products you can buy on the internet, feed store, or pet store, regardless of their claims, reviews, or other testimonials (lots of these don’t list all of their ingredients).

6. Don’t use undiluted essential oils directly on your pets as they are way more sensitive to their liver-toxic effects than we are. This is especially true for cats since their livers are particularly incapable of handling most of these products.

7. Do dilute your essential oils for use on dogs. Here’s a great recipe you can mix up in a spray bottle:

  • 10 ounces witch hazel
  • 3 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 5 ounces distilled water
  • 5-10 drops essential oils (Lemon eucalyptus oil, rosemary oil, basil oil, etc.)

8. Do use geranium or citronella candles when hanging out in buggy areas.

9. Do consider the following products (with some reservations, included below):

  • Bug Soother®: This topical spray insect repellant is essentially a diluted essential oil spray. It works somewhat effectively on dogs and cats. Internet reports say it’s especially effective against gnats.
  • Avon’s Skin So Soft®: This product is made for hydrating human skin but some of us have learned that mosquitoes despise the smell. It serves reasonably well as a repellant on both dogs and cats.
  • K-9 Advantix®: This killer- and repellant-in-one works well against mosquitos, biting flies, chewing lice, mosquitos, and ticks! Its active ingredients are imidacloprid, pyriproxyfen, and permethrin. This product is not for cats!
  • BioSpot®: This old-school insecticide product says it kills and repels mosquitos, fleas, ticks, biting lice and flies, mites, and lice. Cats can use the cat-labeled Biospot, but not if they’re under twelve weeks of age. The product should be thoroughly dry before allowing any inter-cat interactions just in case they groom each other (this is true for all topical products).
  • Vectra 3D®: is a fast acting and long-lasting mosquito repellent. Vectra3D can kill and repel mosquitos, fleas, ticks, biting lice and flies, mites, and lice. Not for use on cats!

10. Do note that no product is 100% effective which is why it’s crucial for pet people to understand that limited exposure to the out-of-doors, especially during dawn and dusk, is strongly recommended. Disposing of standing water where mosquitoes may breed is also critical.

Ask your veterinarian for additional information on mosquito prevention and to learn which products he or she recommends.

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