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Is Citronella Safe for Dogs?

Dogs laying on porch
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Natural products that contain essential oils are becoming more popular for both animals and people for a variety of reasons. And a summer staple that is used during many warm-weather gatherings is citronella. 

This popular mosquito repellant is burned in candles or used in bug sprays as a way to keep these biting pests at bay. But is citronella safe for dogs? We’ll explain how citronella may affect dogs and how to keep canine companions safe around citronella-based products.

What is Citronella?

Citronella candle on the deck outside

Citronella is a natural oil made from distilling two types of grasses known as Cymbopogon nardus and Cymbopogon winterianus [1]. It is most commonly used as an insect and animal repellant and is classified as a “minimum risk pesticide” by the EPA. 

Some products containing citronella include candles, sprays, and lotions. These products typically work by covering up certain scents that insects, such as mosquitoes, are attracted to. This helps keep bugs away from people, places, and animals where citronella products are being used or sprayed.

Although generally recognized as safe, citronella may cause skin irritation or the development of skin allergies with prolonged contact in some people. If accidentally ingested, it may cause throat irritation or coughing episodes. Likewise, accidental contact with eyes may cause irritation [1]. 

Is Citronella Safe for Dogs?

Dog on the deck with owner

Citronella is considered toxic to dogs if ingested and has the potential to cause adverse skin reactions with contact. 

That being said, there are many products on the market that do contain citronella, such as flea collars, topical and environmental sprays, wipes, and shampoos. These pet-specific products are specially formulated and should only be used according to their labels or as recommended by a veterinary professional to ensure safety. 

Citronella Dangers for Dogs

Dog laying on the deck outside

It is very common for people to use citronella products, such as torches or candles in their backyards to repel insects during the summer months. While this is helpful in keeping unwanted pests away, these products do pose some risks for our dogs. 

If a dog ingests citronella, stomach irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, and neurological abnormalities may occur. Sprays and oils can cause skin irritation if they touch your pet’s skin or paws for an extended period of time, and they may cause eye irritation if contact occurs. In addition, if the oil is inhaled, it may cause a condition known as chemical pneumonitis, which is lung inflammation caused by inhaling irritants or toxins.

This is why it’s important to prevent citronella oil from spilling on the ground where your dog may walk, sniff, lick, or eat grass. 

Likewise, insect repellant bottles containing citronella should not be easily accessible by dogs, especially aggressive chewers. 

Dogs and Citronella: Safety Tips

Dog outside smiling outdoors

Because citronella is found in many common household items, it’s important to use these products safely if you have a dog. Here is some advice to keep your dog out of harm’s way. 

Keep citronella items secured. Any candles, sprays, oils, or bug repellents containing citronella should be kept out of reach of your pup’s paws. When not in use, keep them in a high or locked cupboard. While in use, make sure your dog can’t come into contact with the products or chew the products. 

Be careful with citronella products made for people. If you apply insect repellant to your skin, it’s best to be sure it has completely dried before contacting your dog. Never use any citronella products made for people on animals, and never use environmental sprays directly on a dog. 

Follow label instructions. Use citronella-containing products made for dogs according to the label only. If you choose to use a citronella-coated flea collar, be careful that four-legged housemates are not licking the collar and that it does not come off and get accidentally chewed on. 

Be ready to call the vet. In the event your dog is accidentally exposed to citronella, you should call your veterinarian or the poison control center promptly for guidance.