Many mosquito repellents for dogs contain citronella, but unfortunately, that doesn't mean they are safe for dogs. While citronella spray for dogs is effective against mosquitoes, it can cause a rash or worse. The spray permeates the fur and gets to the skin, where it is an irritant. Even lighting a citronella candle can be toxic when dogs breathe in the citronella.
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Beware citronella in all forms
Citronella spray, candles, soaps, and shampoos are effective against mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks, but they are all toxic to dogs. Their sensitive skin can develop a rash wherever citronella lands, and it is impossible to shampoo or spray a dog without it getting to the skin. Inhaling citronella spray or the fumes from a citronella candle might not hurt your dog, but then again, it could. If the dog licks his fur and ingests the citronella, it could cause gastric upset or even central nervous system issues.
The fact that an ingredient is natural does not mean it is safe. Essential oils are so powerful that only a few drops are needed to accomplish their job, so care should always be taken to use them properly, and you should know when not to use them at all. They are rapidly absorbed through the skin and are metabolized in the liver, which could especially be a problem for older dogs, puppies, and those with liver issues. Do not use citronella as a pest killer or repellent on or near dogs.
Never spray a dog as punishment
If you're looking for something to keep dogs from going where you don't want them to go, like on your best sofa or in your delicate garden, it is still unwise to use citronella to repel dogs. That includes not spraying it on the furniture or the plants and definitely not on the dog as a deterrent. Not only is citronella harmful to the dog, but using positive reinforcement, praise, and treats works much better than punitive measures, like irritating the dog's skin or eyes on purpose.
Use dog-friendly mosquito repellent plants
Instead of planting citronella to repel mosquitoes, try dog-friendly mosquito repellent plants that won't harm dogs, like basil, lemon balm, rosemary, and catnip. To keep dogs from digging up or otherwise disturbing certain plants, cover the ground around them with chunks of mulch or pebbles, as dogs don't like walking on rough or uneven surfaces like these. Make a border of prickly plants, like berries, which are not appealing to dogs. Citrus trees and bushes also keep dogs away because they don't like the smell. Even a miniature orange tree packs a powerful scent.
Make your own safe bug repellent
The problem with applying mosquito and other bug repellents on dogs is that if it is strong enough to kill bugs, it may affect your dog adversely too. You can make your own treatments using safe ingredients. Mosquitoes hate citrus, so just rubbing a cut orange or lemon on his fur will help keep mosquitoes away for as long as the scent lasts. Be careful not to put citrus on any open sores, however, as this could be painful.
Try making a citrus spray by combining the juice of six lemons in 1 quart of water. Bring it to a boil and then remove it from the heat and let it steep for one hour. When it's cool enough to touch the water, fill a spray bottle with the mixture, shake it up, and spray your dog's fur thoroughly.
You can also make effective sprays using safe essential oils, like lemon eucalyptus oil, lemon balm, basil, peppermint, lavender, or verbena. Essential oils must be combined with a carrier oil to use them properly. Use just one drop of the essential oil per 1 milliliter of a carrier oil, like grapeseed oil. If you want to use several varieties of essential oils at once, just be sure to add an additional 1 milliliter of the carrier oil for each drop of safe essential oil you add.