Dogs are arguably the world’s most popular pet. In the USA more than 43 million households, or about 35%, are dog owners (according to the US Veterinary Foundation). We welcome them into our homes and treat them as part of the family.
But dogs can carry ticks, which poses a couple problems for the families who love them. First, they can be afflicted with tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease just like humans can. Second, because of their fur and inability to check themselves, they can easily carry ticks inside the house, where they could become issues for humans. Ticks are easily concealed by a dog’s hair, especially the smaller, dangerous ticks like the Blacklegged tick.
Before you use tick repellents of any kind, don’t overlook the need to keep your yard as free of ticks as possible. This means reducing tall grass, controlling overgrown vegetation, and considering tick tubes as a proactive measure against ticks.
Once you have done what you can to keep ticks out of your yard, it is time to look at the pet. We like to keep ticks off our pets, but some of the most tried-and-true methods of repelling are chemical-based, and potentially toxic in the wrong situations. More and more, we have been getting questions from readers about natural repellents that they can use on their dogs.
There are a few natural ways to repel ticks from your dog. We will take a look at some of the more popular ones here.
Dog Tick Repellents – Overview
First, it is important to note that tick repellents are considered to be pesticides, natural or otherwise. A large number of the tick repellents that are considered to be natural are derived from plants or fungi. “Everything in moderation” is a great mantra — even oils and chemicals found in nature can sometimes be harmful in too high a concentration. Even permethrin, a wonder-chemical in tick terms that is derived from the chrysanthemum flower, can be toxic to cats which are often in the same vicinity as dogs.
Second, it goes without saying that ticks can be a serious problem, and efficacy is very important. It can be tempting to talk to someone at a backyard party who says “I used ABC essential oil on my dog, and now he has no ticks!” That is great, but not proven. Don’t take chances when it comes to the carriers of such diseases as Lyme.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that during the 1990’s many of the natural tick repellents were evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency to see if they were safe to use. The products that were found safe to use were basically derived or extracted from natural plants to get the plant oils. These oils were extracted from plants such as peppermint, garlic, eucalyptus, thyme, and more. The EPA decided that the repellants that used these plant oils were safe for use around residential areas and did not pose any risk to humans, animals or plant life. Therefore, the EPA does not require natural tick repellents made from essential plant oils to be registered.
Just as importantly, the EPA does not determine how effective the products are for their intended use. We have to rely on other studies, and cases where there is enough strong anecdotal evidence to see a trend emerging.
3 Great Natural Tick Repellents for Dogs (Commercially Available)
There are literally hundreds of products available that claim to be effective at repelling ticks, fleas, and other pesky insects, and as a consumer it can be hard to try and choose which products to buy. We can’t promise total effectiveness from any or all of these products, but we found a good selection of all natural products that we thought were worth trying, or investigating further. Each has evidence that, to some degree, suggests it will help your dog steer clear of ticks.
Natural Care Tick Spray
Perhaps our top choice this season is the product made by Natural Care. It contains a specialized blend of botanical extracts designed to repel ticks, and because it relies on plant-based extracts, it is considered natural. The active ingredients appear to be a blend of things like peppermint oil and clove extract.
Per the manufacturer, natural Care is safe inside the home and for human use, but can also be used on dogs — and many people do. Because it is a non-staining product with a pleasant and neutral smell, it also works well on dog beds and in kennels, areas where you might want to treat as a safety precaution for those straggler ticks that your dog brings in.
It comes in a nice, high-quality 14-oz bottle. We just wish there was a smaller size that could tuck easily into a backpack or bag, but this product is great for people who want to rely on natural oils to treat their dog for ticks. Find it here.
Vet’s Best Flea and Tick Yard Spray
If you are looking for a plant-based product made specifically for dogs, EcoBug is a good choice. It is intended to be used for prevention of fleas and ticks in your surroundings, not so much for eradication of existing populations that might be living on your dog. Ingredients essential oils that are them steam-distilled.
The product has been popular with people who keep dogs in kennels or other areas where ticks and fleas might tend to propagate with your dogs. For someone who is looking to treat the perimeter of their yard, this product is effective as well. You can plan on it covering 5,000 square feet, which is roughly 1/10 of an acre. For people whose dog generally is contained to a fenced-in yard or a kennel, this can be a great choice.
The product is deemed safe by the manufacturer and does not kill grass, but you still need to use it according to directions. Even essential oils, in excess, can be irritants — such as Cedar Oil which is an ingredient in this product. Still, if you like knowing that what you are applying to your yard is derived from plants, this is worth checking out. Find it here.
Skedattle All Natural Insect Repellent Spray
This product is manufactured by Skedattle and is all natural and safe to use on children and your pets. It contains essential oils from citronella plants, lemongrass, peppermint, vanillin, and it contains no Deet or harmful chemicals. It also has just a very slight, pleasant fragrance so the odor is not overpowering or offensive.
It is designed to be a repellant for mosquitos, fleas and ticks. Manufacturer’s studies indicate that this may be even more effective than Deet, but we take it with a grain of salt. Still, it seems to work quite well on both humans and pets, much like the Botanical Solutions product that was at the top of our list. Note: frequent re-application is necessary. We would err on the 1-2 hour schedule, which will require going through quite a bit of the spray if you are outside all day. Find it here.
Other Natural Oils and Products, Shown to Repel Ticks
We wanted to provide an overview of other naturally-occurring oils and products that you may consider in your battle against ticks. A huge disclaimer — we have not seen enough science to conclusively say that one or all of these work, but there is mounting evidence that they may have tick-repelling properties. Additionally, not all are naturally intended for use on pets, so you may need to get creative with how you apply them to your canine!
Garlic as a Tick Repellent
The Oxford Academic Journal of Medical Entomology reported that garlic might require several applications in order to control tick activity, but it could be a means of providing an option for controlling ticks that posed a minimal risk to humans and their pets. According to the studies they performed they found garlic to be a short term control solution of the tick nymphs.
Indeed, studies over the years have shown garlic to be a pretty good mosquito repellent. But mosquitoes and ticks are two different things, so we want to be sure that something is proven before we recommend it!
We caution people not to flock to remedies like this that are not as proven or effective as others, but they are worth trying. We hope the science evolves and approaches using things like natural garlic become even more proven and precise in years to come.
For the purpose of tick control garlic oil extracted from the plants was used to treat lawns and gardens. It was used in attempts to repel the blacklegged tick and is exempt from being EPA registered. This product can be purchased commercially.
Mixed Essential Oils (Rosemary, Lemongrass, Cedar, Peppermint, Thyme and Geraniol) as a Tick Repellent
This mixture is EPA exempt because it is not harmful to plants, animals or humans. It is designed to repel the blacklegged ticks, and can be used on the skin, on clothing, on lawns and on gardens. It is commercially available.
A complete study of this essential oil mixture was performed by several researchers and their findings were written up and published on the United States National Library of Medicine; National Institute of Health website.
Neem oil has come on strong lately as a solution for many ills. We often read about Neem oil in relation to skin care, as it tends to do great things for healing wounds and reducing wrinkles on skin.
Neem oil also might be pretty effective against ticks. In a diluted form, it is safe for dogs. What makes neem oil unique is that in addition to very likely repelling ticks, the need oil can help remove an engorged tick. If a tick is attached, many swear by putting a drop or two of neem oil on the tick, and the tick will quickly disengage. Consider the neem oil a dual weapon — it can repel the ticks, but also perhaps allow you to more easily remove them if they pass through the defense.
As for prevention, the best way to apply neem oil would be to dilute it in water and then spray it on your dog with a spray bottle (like this one). You would apply it to fur and skin. It has a bit of a garlicky or sulfuric smell, so it might be a bit offputting at first but remember that it is natural and comes from a tree. Neem oil has been used to repel bugs for centuries. Find Neem Oil here on Amazon.
Nootkatone as a repellent for ticks
Nootkatone is derived from the essential oils gotten from Alaska yellow cedar trees, some herbs, and citrus fruits. It is suggested to be an effective repellent for ticks, the blacklegged tick primarily, and various other arthropods.
The suggested usage for this product would be for applications on the skin, clothing, lawns or gardens. The EPA is currently reviewing nootkatone and the registration has been filed and is still under review, but we are already seeing products featuring nootkatone as a key ingredient. One that catches our eye is this Tick Ban by YaYa, on Amazon.
Geranium Oils as tick repellants
According to a research study that is cited on the NCBI Pub Med.gov geranium oils proved to have repellant activity against tick nymphs of primarily the lone star tick. (8)
Pine Oil as a Tick Repellant
The United States Department of Agriculture reported that a patent was issued in May of 2008 for the compound isolongifolenone as a repellent for ticks, mosquitos and other biting insects.
According to laboratory tests performed by Aijun Zhang, an ARS chemist that works in the Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., pine oil is a naturally occurring compound that is more effective at repelling biting mosquitoes than the synthetically produced Deet. The pine oil compound was also found to repel ticks very effectively, and possibly more effectively than Deet does. It shares many qualities with Camphor Oil.
You can find a pet-friendly cedar-based product here on Amazon.
Oil from Catnip
According to the National Cancer Society catnip just might be more effective at repelling mosquitos than Deet, and it shows great promise as a repellent against ticks. The essential oil in catnip that is responsible for the repellant properties is nepetalactone. This oil is also what gives catnip its distinctive and characteristic odor, and the one that drives some cats absolutely crazy. We should note that this research is quite dated, and we are not aware of newer studies that would validate these findings. Catnip is available as an essential oil, which can be added to water for dilution. Find it here.
When Do I Need to Worry About Fleas and Ticks?
Fleas and ticks are active year-round in many climates, but they are typically going to peak during the warm summer months. In Northern climates, take measures to treat your dogs anytime between April and November (more if it is an abnormally warm spring or abnormally late fall). In Southern US areas like Florida, California, or Texas, you will probably want to treat year-round.
Do Dogs Get Lyme Disease?
So why do we want to keep our dogs tick-free? Perhaps the biggest reason is that they can get Lyme disease just like a human can. After a tick is attached for at least 24 hours (per the American Kennel Club), and infected tick can transmit Lyme to a dog. A period of time later, as much as 5 months after the the bite, the dog may show symptoms such as fever, lethargy, and joint pain. Essentially, the disease manifests in a way somewhat similar to the way humans experience it.
Of course, we have no way of communicating with the dog (although some perhaps people believe they can talk to their dogs…..) so we can’t get a specific description of how the dog feels with Lyme disease. But by testing for the antibodies that we look for in Lyme disease, we know that dogs have gotten it and will probably continue to get it.
Your vet can test for Lyme disease, but the testing methods tend to have a higher-than-ideal probability of false negatives, meaning that even if the test shows no Lyme disease, your dog may have it. Treatment includes a long course of antibiotics. As with humans, though, Lyme disease is an unpredictable disease that can display chronic symptoms for a long period of time.
The AKC provides more information, here.