Neem oil has been prized throughout human history for its many benefits. The natural cure-all can be used for everything from insect repellent to skin repair, medicinal aids to beauty aids, and beyond. In recent years, neem oil has been growing more popular among pet parents, too, as many seek to share some of those benefits with their four-legged family members.
So what’s behind this ancient and oh-so-versatile oil? Let’s take a look at where neem oil originated and its rich history to understand how it can best benefit our dogs.
What is Neem Oil?
Neem oil, also called margosa oil, is an oil that is pressed from the seeds and fruit of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica). This tree is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent but is now grown in many tropical areas.
Many people assume neem oil is an essential oil, due to its potent scent. However, it’s actually a vegetable oil. The strong aroma comes from the numerous triterpenes in the seeds, which also give neem oil its bitter taste and prized medicinal properties.
For centuries, the neem tree has been highly revered in Indian culture, due to the many benefits attributed to the tree’s oil and leaves. In fact, the name of the oil comes from the Sanskrit word nimba which means “bestower of good health.” The medicinal properties of neem oil are well documented in ancient Sanskrit texts; it’s estimated that the oil was used in over 75 percent of traditional Ayurvedic medicines (1).
Benefits of Neem Oil
Historically, neem oil has been used for everything from organic farming to wart removal (2, 3). One of the most common uses of neem oil was as an insect repellent to keep pests from ruining crops in the field and infesting dried grain in storage (2).
Other traditional uses for neem oil included skincare. In India, neem oil was used for its anti-aging properties, to help heal skin infections, and as a general antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal treatment (3). This application reduced dependence on conventional antibiotics and other traditional medications.
Is Neem Oil Safe for Dogs?
History has shown us how beneficial this healing oil has been to humans. But many pet parents still wonder: Is neem oil safe for dogs?
Unlike many other pesticides and chemical treatments, the answer is yes, neem oil is generally considered non-toxic and safe for dogs. However, there are two important factors to consider when using neem oil on your pet:
As with any product, the safety of neem oil depends on how it is made. And not all neem oil products are created equally. How the oil is extracted plays a critical role.
The two most common ways of extracting neem oil from the seeds of the neem tree are:
- Pressing (or expelling, which is the way olive oil is made)
- Solvent extraction, using chemicals like hexane
A majority of the industry uses solvent extraction because it is less expensive. Unfortunately, this creates a lower quality product, and the final product may still contain some of the chemicals used to extract the neem oil, which can be harmful to your dog over time. This extraction process is commonly used to make soaps containing neem oil.
When using neem oil for your dog, it’s important to know the source of the oil and how it was extracted (whether it was cold-pressed or solvents were used). Some manufacturers go to great lengths to test their products that include neem oil, to ensure there are no chemicals remaining that could cause harm to your dog. These tests are called a certificate of analysis (or CoA), which reputable companies will be happy to provide.
Even neem oil that is certified to be free of chemicals could potentially harm your pet if used improperly. In its purest form, neem oil is highly concentrated. If applied topically, the oil could potentially damage or irritate your pet’s skin.
To protect your dog, it’s important to dilute pure neem oil before applying it to your pet. Most veterinarians recommend starting with a 10 percent dilution (e.g., 1 mL neem oil combined with 10mL of a neutral carrier oil like jojoba or olive oil).
When using a product that contains neem oil along with other ingredients, the risks are typically lower since the neem oil is already less concentrated. Just be sure to use such products according to the manufacturer’s safety recommendations.
It’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian about whether neem oil is safe for your dog before using it. And be sure to test a small spot first to make sure your dog doesn’t have any adverse reaction to the oil. While rare, symptoms such as red and/or itchy skin, coughing, or hives tend to develop within two hours of use if your dog is allergic or sensitive to neem oil. So keep a close watch on your dog the first time they are exposed to neem oil, and seek veterinary care if you notice any of these signs.
Neem Oil Benefits for Dogs
Over time, the benefits of neem oil have been adapted to a broad variety of uses. And that’s great news for pet parents, as more and more people are seeking natural products to benefit their dogs.
For centuries, neem oil has been used as a natural, non-toxic pesticide to protect crops from insects. Now, pet parents are using neem oil to combat a variety of biting pests that plague our pups, such as fleas and mosquitoes (4).
Neem oil can also be used to soothe your dog’s itchy skin, thanks to the anti-inflammatory sterols and other triglycerides (fats) it contains, as well as the beneficial plant triterpenes (found in many essential oils and even CBD).
And because neem oil has natural antiseptic and antibacterial properties, it can be used to help heal skin infections in dogs (5). That’s even more important, now that antibiotic resistance is becoming so common.
Neem oil for dogs can help reduce itchiness with allergies, treat skin infections, fight fungal infections, and has even been shown to treat mange and ringworm (3, 5). When used properly, there are many beneficial properties of neem oil with dogs to help them feel their best.
Pet Products that Contain Neem Oil
There are numerous pet products on the market that contain neem oil—everything from dog toothpaste, shampoos, and skin wipes to flea and tick repellants and soaps that clean, heal skin infections and repel insects.
The amount of neem oil in these pet products is not usually high enough to cause an adverse reaction with your dog. However, the smell can sometimes bother both dogs and people.
When shopping for safe products containing neem oil, make sure to check reviews, look for other ingredients (like essential oils that could be synthetic and cause harm), and ask the company questions on how the neem was extracted and if tests were done to ensure no chemicals are leftover in the final product that may be harmful to your dog (asking for a CoA).
Neem Oil for Fleas and Ticks for Dogs: Does it work?
One of the biggest concerns pet parents have about conventional flea and tick products are the potential side effects. Some dogs have experienced tremors and seizures after using newer flea and tick treatments, so many pet parents are seeking safer alternatives.
Neem oil for dogs can be used as an effective insect repellent. However, it’s important to note the differences and limitations when you compare natural flea and tick preventatives to conventional medications.
Neem oil is a repellant. It is not an insecticide like conventional medications. That means it helps repel insects, but it does not kill them. So it typically must be applied more frequently and used alongside other remedies to effectively protect your pet. But this is also why it tends to be safer than conventional medications and causes fewer adverse side effects. Neem has been shown to be effective against insects at a 1 percent concentration (6).
If you’re looking for a natural alternative to conventional flea and tick treatments, neem oil can be very helpful. But it is best used along with other environmental controls for fleas and ticks, such as products like beneficial nematodes or natural yard sprays that help interrupt the flea and tick lifecycle.
Using neem oil in your dog’s shampoo can leave a lingering smell that helps repel fleas and ticks from your dog. You can also apply a small amount of diluted neem oil to your dog’s ears and underside before going out for a hike or walk will help reduce the number of fleas and ticks on your dog.
Neem Oil for Dogs: Precautions to Take
As mentioned previously, neem oil for dogs tends to be very safe. But here are a few steps to take as a pet parent to ensure your dog stays healthy while using neem oil for your dog.
- When using pet products, look for companies that have numerous good reviews and are open and transparent about the quality of their products.
- If using neem oil by itself, make sure to dilute the neem oil 1 part to 10 parts carrier oil for topical use. Neem oil can also be added to shampoos at this dilution, but make sure to test a small area of skin on your dog and monitor for 2 hours after application for increased redness or irritation, which would indicate a possible sensitivity.
- And if your dog is on any medications (topical ointments or oral meds), make sure to ask your veterinarian if neem oil is safe to use alongside those meds.
Neem oil in dogs can be a very powerful natural remedy when used appropriately to reduce the need for conventional medications. If ever in doubt about using it or if your dog is sensitive, don’t use neem oil. There are many other natural remedies that can be used with the guidance of an integrative veterinarian to help your dog achieve optimal health.