Is Citronella Safe for Dogs? Expert Vet Insights

6 min read
6 min read

Updated - Jun 23rd, 2023

Mosquitos are a warm-weather menace. You’re relaxing on your patio and enjoying the evening air with your pup, when next thing you know, you’re slapping at those buzzing insects. 

It’s not long before you’re scratching at red welts and searching for insect repellant. But you need protection from mosquitos that won’t harm your pup – so what can you use?

While citronella is a popular option, it is not safe for dogs. From citronella candles to sprays, you want to avoid exposing your pup to these products.

Key Points

  • Citronella products are toxic to dogs.
  • Alternatives to citronella candles and other products include basil, catnip, Advantix, Vectra, and fans to keep air circulating.
  • If you suspect your pup’s been poisoned by citronella, call your veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Hotline at (888) 426-4435.

What is citronella? 

Citronella is a lemon-scented grass originating in Asia. Known as a natural insect repellant, the plants and the oil they produce are popular because they’re considered a natural alternative to pesticides. Some people like incorporating citronella plants into garden plantings and using various citronella products to create a natural pesticide barrier against mosquitos. 

Unfortunately for pet parents, citronella can be a problem for your dog.

While there are lots of pet-related citronella products on the market – including soaps, citronella collars, and sprays – these products can be toxic to your pup. 

Just how toxic is citronella for dogs?

Citronella candles, torches, and even essential oils promise a mosquito-free environment. Yet, despite their popularity, Dr. Linda Simon of Senior Tail Waggers says, “We should not light candles that contain essential oils like citronella around our pets. They are toxic when inhaled and tend to irritate the airways.” 

Dr. Simon adds, “Though ingesting citronella in small amounts (for example, if your dog licks skin you’ve sprayed) won’t likely cause major issues, it can lead to mouth and skin irritation. Some dogs will be more sensitive to citronella than others, so we should not use it around our canine companions.” 

One reason why citronella may be toxic to pups is thanks to their powerful sense of smell. Your pooch has around 300 million scent receptors in their nose. For comparison, humans have approximately six million. This heightened sensitivity is why some dogs accomplish amazing feats like sniffing out bombs or cancer, and it’s also why they may be more susceptible to potential toxins like citronella. 

Symptoms of citronella poisioning

If your dog ingests citronella plants or products, don’t panic. The amount ingested compared to the size of your dog is important to consider. For instance, some dogs will have to eat large amounts of a toxic substance to be affected, while others may just feel mouth and throat irritation near a burning citronella candle. 

Common side effects of citronella poisoning include:

  • Gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting 
  • Panting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Lack of coordination

If you suspect your dog’s been poisoned, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA  Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) hotline at (888) 426-4435. Open 24/7, these animal poison specialists can recommend what to do. 

You may not know your dog’s been poisoned right away as symptoms can sometimes take hours to appear. The severity of the symptoms depends on how much your dog ingested relative to their size. In serious cases of citronella poisoning, your dog can experience organ damage.

What are some pet-safe mosquito repellants? 

Now that you know using citronella isn’t safe for dogs, what are some pup-friendly insect repellants?

Here are some pet-safe remedies to protect your dog from mosquitos:

  • Some pet-safe wipes are available that can help keep mosquitoes at bay. If you live in a particularly mosquito-dense area, you can talk with your veterinarian about these products. 
  • You can also plant catnip, basil, and lemon balm plants because mosquitos don’t like them, and they’re not dangerous for your dog. 
  • Moving air also helps keep mosquitos away, so you could use a box fan or other type of fan to keep the air moving (and the mosquitos drifting.) 
  • Speak with your veterinarian about the medications Advantix and Vectra to determine if they’re best for your dog. 
  • Ensure your pup is up-to-date on flea, tick, and heartworm medications for their safety. 
  • Ensure your outdoor area is free of standing water

Tip: It’s a good idea to keep all insect repellants out of reach of curious dogs. Whether you put them behind a locked door or high on a shelf, ensure they’re out of your pets’ way.

When it comes to mosquitoes, the biggest danger to your dog are heartworms 

Heartworms are nasty parasites that thrive in a dog’s cardiovascular system – and mosquitos are transmitters.

Left untreated, heartworms can multiply inside your dog and make breathing difficult. Worse, heartworms can live five to seven years, and your pup may not even show symptoms at first. 

Long-term heartworm disease can reduce your dog’s blood flow and eventually lead to organ failure. 

Fortunately, you can prevent your dog’s heartworm risk by keeping them on heartworm medication year-round and doing everything you can to reduce mosquitos in your outdoor area.

Other plants and essential oils that can pose a danger for dogs 

Besides citronella, other popular plants and some essential oils are not safe for dogs. These oils include peppermint, tea tree oil, and lemon eucalyptus, just to name a few. You never want to use these in a diffuser near your pet or apply them on your pet.

There are also poisonous plants for dogs to be aware of such as geraniums, sago palms, and azaleas to name a few. Steer clear of these plants in your home or backyard!


What will citronella do to a dog?

Rubbing citronella oil directly on your dog’s skin could cause a burning sensation, and breathing in a citronella candle can irritate your dog’s nasal passages and throat. In some cases, ingesting citronella products can cause citronella poisoning.

Do dogs react to citronella?

Yes. If you burn citronella candles, you might notice your dog stays far away because the smell can irritate their airways. If your dog ingests a piece of a citronella candle or plant, they could show poisoning symptoms such as lethargy, panting, vomiting, or muscle weakness.

The bottom line is citronella products aren’t safe for dogs, and they can irritate your dog’s mouth and throat and lead to gastrointestinal upset if ingested. The good news is you have many insect repellent alternatives from planting basil and catnip to prescription medications. Above all, it’s important to keep your pooch up-to-date on heartworm medication to protect them from heartworm transmitting mosquitoes.

Of course, accidents can happen to even the most prepared pet parent. That’s why Pumpkin Dog Insurance plans help pay 90% of eligible vet bills so you can get your pup the best care possible. Fetch a free quote today! 

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