The grass is green and inviting and the weather is great – what better time to throw a ball with your dog or go on an hours-long walk? Unfortunately, all this natural beauty and extra time outside comes with some risks to your family dog: Namely, mosquito bites. You may know all the go-to remedies for treating mosquito bites on people, but do you know how to treat mosquito bites on dogs?
How to prevent mosquito bites on dogs
Before we get into how to treat mosquito bites in dogs, it must be said that prevention is the best cure. “Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn, so keeping pets inside at those times is helpful,” Dr. Carol Osborne,, an integrative veterinarian tells Romper. “Use safe and effective repellents available from your veterinarian, and be sure that screen doors are intact and don’t have holes in them.” Another option is to eliminate standing water from your yard, because standing water is where mosquitoes breed.
If you’re used to burning sweet-scented candles, get used to the scent of citronella. “Burn candles made from citronella, beeswax, and soy to prevent mosquito bites,” says Osborne. The combination of citronella and vanillin (the main chemical compound found in the extract from a vanilla bean) can keep those mosquitos away from you and your dog, according to a PubMed study.
Hoping to use bug spray on your dog to prevent bites? Be choosy about which spray you use. “Topical sprays for human adults often contain DEET, which can cause neurological problems, such as tremors, seizures, or even death in dogs,” says McCarthy. “Human sprays for children typically do not contain DEET but are often based around essential oils, of which quite a few are skin irritants to dogs and have a potential for toxicity if consumed (remember dogs like to lick themselves).” You can also buy non-toxic remedies to stop mosquito bites, too. “To prevent mosquito bites, you can use a natural formula like Wondercide,” suggests Dr. Gary Richter, owner and medical director of Holistic Veterinary Care.
Lastly, consider adding plants to your yard that naturally help repel mosquitoes. Easy-to-grow herbs like catnip, lemon balm, basil, and rosemary, Osborne advises are all natural mosquito repellents. Just keep an eye on your pooch to ensure that they don’t make a meal out of the plantings. “Keep an eye on your doggie to make sure that they are not chowing down on them, as they can cause quite wicked gastrointestinal upset,” advises Dr. Matthew McCarthy, founder and medical director at Juniper Valley Animal Hospital.
How to treat mosquito bites on dogs
If your dog gets a mosquito bite here and there, it might not be a big deal. But you should always do a skin check after spending prolonged time outdoors to ensure that any mosquito bites your dog has aren’t a cause for concern. “Carefully examine your dog’s skin, especially the belly and areas with less fur. Use your eyes and hands to locate the bites,” advises Osborne. “Mosquito bites cause red, raised itchy bumps that are annoying, so dogs lick and scratch the bumps which can then become secondarily infected.” Treating your dog’s mosquito bites with antibacterial cream applied to the bite site can prevent a potential infection from occurring if your dog decides to scratch the spot.
Natural remedies for insect and mosquito bites on dogs
If your dog has a mosquito bite that might be annoying them (but is not dangerous or life-threatening), there are many ways to help ease the itching. In fact, there are plenty of natural remedies that you can whip up at home to soothe your pet. “Make a paste out of baking soda and water and apply it to the bites to soothe them and help relieve the itching,” says Osborne. Bathing your dog in cold water can also help them feel better.
When to see a vet
Unfortunately, some dogs can be allergic to mosquito bites and can have more severe reactions. Allergic reactions can include facial swelling, (particularly by the base of the muzzle and around the eyes), difficulty breathing, hives, appetite loss and lethargy, researchers found. “Antihistamines like Benadryl given by mouth are helpful to relieve the swelling and itching,” says Osborne. “1-2 mg/pound is the rule of thumb, but it’s always best to check with your vet before giving OTC meds to your dog, because allergic reactions may require a trip to your vet.”
Arguably the most dangerous result of a mosquito bite on a dog is the risk of heartworm. While the risk shouldn’t prevent you from spending time outside with your dog, it’s important to know about the possibility. “Heartworm disease is often asymptomatic, meaning there are no early signs,” says Richter. “However, when signs are seen once the disease has advanced, they include weight loss, difficulty breathing, lethargy, distended abdomen from fluid accumulation, fainting due to lack of circulating oxygenated blood, and coughing.”
It’s much easier to prevent heartworm — by preventing mosquito bites, for one — than to treat it. “While heartworm is treatable, the treatment warrants hospitalization of your pet with blood work, X-rays, and injections,” continues Richter. “The treatment itself is dangerous and it is possible for a dog to die from complications associated with killing adult heartworms. The only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of this disease is Melarsomine which is administered by injection at a veterinary hospital. Antibiotics will also be given to help kill a bacteria that likes to hitch a ride with this parasite.” Be sure to get your dog tested for heartworm each spring and talk to your vet about various options to keep them safe all year long.
The fear of your dog getting bitten by a mosquito shouldn’t prevent you from playing and having fun outdoors. By taking the necessary precautions, you’ll keep not only your pooch safe, but your family as well.
Kongkaew, C. Sakunrag, I., Chaiyakunapruk, N., Tawatsin, A. (2011) Effectiveness of citronella preparations in preventing mosquito bites: systematic review of controlled laboratory experimental studies, PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21481108/
Tahir, D., Meyer, L., Lekouch, N., Varloud, M. (2020) Aedes (Stegomyia) aegypti mosquito bite hypersensitivity in a dog: a case report. PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33097059/
Dr. Carol Osborne, Integrative Functional Veterinarian
Dr. Carol Osborne is an author and world-renowned integrative veterinarian of twenty-plus years. After graduating from the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Carol completed a prestigious internship at the Columbus Zoo. Shortly afterward, she launched a very successful private practice and became the founder and director of the non-profit organization, the American Pet Institute. Dr. Carol offers traditional veterinary care for dogs and cats with a softer, natural touch. Her approach highlights the importance of nutrition and utilizing holistic avenues in combination with traditional treatments. Currently, she offers holistic therapies and traditional veterinary medical care for dogs and cats at the Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.