Bugging out: How to Keep Flying Insects Off Your Pets
It’s summertime, and that means flying bugs. Unless you live in the most arid climate imaginable, you’ve got ‘em too.
The bites and their bumps are disturbing enough, but we all know that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The real predators to fear are usually not the insects themselves, but the even smaller bugs they carry with them. The West Niles and the heartworms of this world are far more fearsome, I think you’ll agree.
Sure, our pets have heartworm meds on board to kill any potential invaders (cats, too), but that doesn’t make any of us feel comfortable with the other possibilities (known or unknown). After all, whether you’re slathered in DEET or not, you know you’re going to face the swarm as you head out of doors. Which means your pets will, too.
Flying insects get in their eyes, their noses, their mouths, and under their skin. They cause sneezing, tearing, painful stings, and insta-itching. A thick coat helps, but no canine or feline coat is thick enough to keep them completely at bay. (Ever felt a horse fly bite? Even my sister’s heavy-coated husky mix is not immune.)
Which is why I have a few choice tips to help keep flying insects from doing their thing — all with a minimum of toxic chemicals and other heavy-handed repellants. Some are obvious... others not so much. Regardless, it’s always worth repeating the simple things. Here goes:
1. Avoid dusk and dawn like the plague. Doing so might just protect you from one. These are the times when many biting insects (mosquitoes in particular) are in fullest force.
2. Keep moving. Sitting still is a recipe for stings. “Speed is armor,” as they say in the military handbooks. Why make yourself and your pets a perfect target? Walk or, better yet, run!
3. Move the air. If they can’t (or won’t) move, bring the movement to them. Train a strong fan on your pets when they’re out of doors. It’s not just keeping them cool, it’s blowing those insects away.
4. Use made-for-pets insect repellants. Some work really well:
- Permethrin-containing products like the once-a-month topical Advantix can work, but they can be deadly toxic to cats.
- The Ex-Officio Insect Shield is a bandana that also contains permethrin.
- PetGuard insect repellant comes as a gel. My sister uses it on her dog’s ears and says it works great. Though the product claims to be good for dogs, cats, and horses, it’s got pyrethrins in it. That means it’s a no-no for cats.
5. Avon's “Skin-So-Soft” works. You can spray this bath-oily stuff liberally on your pets (and yourself) and actually get some relief. But its greasiness can be a problem. I recommend a three to one water to SSS dilution in a spray bottle.
Note: Some veterinarians think the essential oils in this products can cause toxicity to sensitive cats, though I’ve not seen any reports of this. Beware mild GI symptoms and never use it full strength on them.
6. Consider stronger repellants for dogs only. There are plenty of DEET-containing repellants I’ve sometimes been willing to use on myself if I’m hiking through the Everglades. Yet, I’m not so willing to use them on my dogs. One solution is to spray a tiny amount of these stronger agents on a bandana that your dog will wear for short walks and hikes. The waft is often enough to keep bugs at bay.
But never use these on cats, and never on dogs in combination with permethrin-containing products. And know that they’re not approved for use on pets so be very careful to spray minimally on the bandana, rolling it up tightly so the stuff doesn’t contact the skin. NEVER spray directly on your dog!
Full disclosure: Here are the dangers of using DEET on pets. In short: It works, which is why plenty of dog people I know use it, but I probably wouldn’t do so myself. Kinda gets me to wondering why I mentioned it in the first place. Maybe so you just. won’t. try.
7. Clothing repels. And it’s not just the bandanas. A loose cotton vest can be a godsend during horse fly season. And it’s great for blocking the sun’s rays, too.
8. Lemon-Eucalyptus oil sprays and creams. Lemon-eucalyptus oil has just been approved by the FDA as safe and effective for mosquito control — for humans. I've been using it for the first time ever this summer (on myself, not my dogs) and I think it's much more effective than DEET. It also smells better, though the fumes can be a bit powerful if you overdo it.
Though some have used it effectively for pets for years, know that cats are especially sensitive to essential oils like these. I would never use it directly on their skin. Sprayed on a bandana it sounds like a good one for dogs, though.
Same goes for products like Herbal Armor. Directly on the skin? Not so much. Cats? Never.
Image: S Curtis / Shutterstock