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How To Keep Gnats Off Dogs: Do's And Don'ts To Protect Your Dog - PawSafe

How To Keep Gnats Off Dogs: Do’s And Don’ts To Protect Your Dog

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

how to keep gnats off dogs

With warm and humid weather often comes swarms of gnats and midges, but how to keep gnats off dogs? Dogs make controlling a gnat infestation a bit more complicated since many insect repellants from the store or even homemade can be extremely toxic to our canines.

The internet is full of bad suggestions when it comes to natural remedies for gnats on dogs. The issue is that many of these remedies are ineffective, impractical, or even dangerous for dogs. So let’s look at some common suggestions for gnat prevention, what to do, and what not to do.

In the US, when we speak of gnats, we refer to species such as the black fly (buffalo gnats), no-see-ums, biting midge, fungus midge, and sand fly.

You can see this article about protecting your dog from normal flies.

Why are gnats attracted to dogs?

Gnats are attracted to moisture and the smell of organic debris. So they will often swarm moist areas like a dog’s eyes, nose, or open wounds. You may even see gnats flying around a dog’s anus or gnats on a dog’s private parts.

It’s also vital to keep dogs clean with a reliable dog wash. Dogs with greasy or dirty coats can also attract more gnats. The smell from matted hair or problems like oily seborrhea, where a dog can get clogged pores and acne, may attract gnats.

Older dogs with problems like dental disease that cause bad breath may also attract more gnats.

How did I get gnats?

Gnats thrive in wet and humid conditions. So if you live near a big body of water, they may be a constant problem. However, they can also breed in any nearly damp areas, especially those filled with organic bacteria.

This includes:

  • garbage,
  • overripe fruit or vegetables,
  • leaves in drain pipes or gutters,
  • bird baths,
  • your dog’s water bowl,
  • decaying leaf or compost piles (especially in shady areas)
  • well-watered house pot plants.
  • perpetually wet areas of lawn,
  • Thick grassy areas,
  • and soil with plenty of decaying organic material.

Are gnats dangerous to dogs?

Gnats are more of an irritation than dangerous to dogs. They can cause allergies and itching, leading to secondary infections. Fungus gnats can carry a rare disease called pythiosis that affects humans and pets. The eye gnat is attracted to moisture or discharge from a dog’s eyes and can carry conjunctivitis.

The black fly, or buffalo gnat, usually leaves red “bulls-eye” spots on a dog’s belly. Most of the time, this will go away on its own, but remember that these gnats carry various parasites and diseases that can affect humans too.

Perhaps the worst of the gnats is the sand fly, usually found on beaches. These carry many diseases that affect humans, but the biggest threat is leishmaniasis in dogs.

Common advice for how to keep gnats off dogs: Do’s and Don’ts

So how do we safely get gnats off our dogs? Let’s look at what works and what doesn’t and dispel some myths while we’re at it.

Do clean your drains

The best way to handle a gnat infestation is to go after their breeding grounds. Mis 1/2 cup of bleach with a gallon of water and pour it down all your drains. Rinse them out with plenty of hot water.

Do NOT use any apple cider vinegar spray on dogs to repel gnats

Common advice to keep insects like gnats away from dogs is to use diluted homemade apple cider vinegar spray. This may make matters worse, as apple cider vinegar actually attracts fruit flies.

The fact is, there are no studies that show ACV is effective as a repellant spray. But since some gnats, specifically fruit gnats, are attracted to it, there is a way to use it.

Do use apple cider vinegar traps (or other gnat traps)

While spraying apple cider vinegar on your dog is not a good idea, using it as a trap for fruit flies works well. Not all gnats are attracted to the same scents, but fruit flies love the smell of fruit, sweetness, and apple cider vinegar.

Mix apple cider vinegar and dish soap and put it in a cup with plastic wrap over the top. Make small holes for the flies to get through. While the flies can drink the ACV and fly away, they get stuck in the dish soap, so be sure to add it to the mixture.

Other good traps for fruit flies and gnats include:

  • A red wine trap (don’t add any dish soap to this)
  • A banana peel trap
  • Commercial traps for gnats (place out of your dog’s reach)
  • Electronic shock traps lure most insects at night.
  • Flypaper

Don’t use Bounce dryer sheets to protect your dog against gnats

It’s an old gardening trick to keep dryer sheets as gnat and mosquito repellent in your pockets. Interestingly, because Bounce dryer sheets contain the compound linalool, they seem to help against fungus gnats. But, the company warns that the chemicals in these sheets can harm your dog.

This means wiping them over your dog could put them at risk since dogs often lick their coats.

Do check for any areas with standing water in your yard

Gnats love stagnant, rotting water. Clean your drainage and gutters and check for any areas where water could be accumulating in your yard or home. You may need to have fixtures like gutters cleaned by a professional.

Make sure you regularly clean any bird baths or water bowls. Check low-lying areas in your yards for puddles, and try to give your grass time to dry between watering.

Don’t allow decaying matter in your yard to rot

  • Keeping gnats off dogs means controlling what gnats love most: rot. To help your dog, turn your mulch regularly to give it a chance to dry out.
  • Keep compost as far away from your house as possible, and
  • Seal your bins with safe insect repellents, so they don’t draw gnats.
  • Try to keep your soil well-drained and treat any household plants for fungal gnats.
  • Make sure you clean up any dog poop in the yard, as this will attract gnats.
  • Also, remember to keep fruit sealed away, so they don’t draw fruit gnats!

Do read the labels on any insect or gnat yard spray or repellents

Many pesticides are poisonous to dogs, and we should be particularly careful with what we put on grass since dogs will not only lay on it but eat it. Natural gnat repellents such as Nixalite contain garlic oil. Garlic is toxic to dogs.

According to the MMPC, Other toxic ingredients to avoid include:

  • DEET
  • Pyrethrin and Permethrin (especially if you have cats)
  • Citrus oil derivatives (d-Limonene, linalool)
  • Chlorpyrifos
  • Disulfoton
  • Fenoxycarb
  • Malathion
  • Methomyl
  • Methoxychlor
  • Parathion
  • Propoxur
  • Terbufos

Look for safer options such as Eco-guard Spray, Wondercide, and Vet’s best.

Don’t reach for essential oils to keep gnats off dogs

Many advise essential oils like citronella for a gnat or insect repellent without considering if they are safe for dogs. We also don’t always look at how well they work. So we will briefly use research from the malaria journal to cover plant-based repellent sprays.

Possibly works: PMD extracts from lemon Eucalyptus

This is one of the few plant-based repellents that seems reliable and effective. It is used in the UK-repellent, Citrepel, whose website claims it is safe for animals. But this is still a new product on the market, and we don’t know everything about it or how it affects our animals. It is not registered with the EPA yet.

Highly dangerous: Citronellal, citronellol, geraniol, citral, α pinene, and limonene

All the citric oils like citronella, or limonene used to protect ourselves against bug bites, are highly toxic to dogs. In fact, limonene can cause severe liver failure. So it is unsafe to use these on our dogs to ward off mosquitoes, gnats, or other pests.

Oils like these also evaporate quickly and so generally don’t last very long, even for humans. However, a few citronella candles are usually fine to keep gnats away.

Good choice: Neem & Cedarwood oil

Thankfully, neem seems relatively safe for dogs. But studies are mixed about how well neem works to repel insects. It isn’t toxic, but it can irritate the skin. So beware of dermatitis if you try it.

Although studies are limited, cedarwood seems promising as a repellent. As far as we know, it is quite safe for dogs. However, keep in mind that all oils need to be properly formulated and diluted to be safe and effective.

You can find neem and cedarwood in products like Wondercide, which should be properly formulated to be safe for your dog.

Highly dangerous: Tea Tree

Finally, another example of a common home remedy to avoid is tea tree oil. As little as seven drops of pure tea tree oil can severely poison a dog. Do not add this to your arsenal against biting insects.

Do get the community involved in controlling the gnat population

The best way to get rid of gnats is to involve the whole community. Community efforts to deal with stagnant water, long grass, and decaying matter are the best way to reduce the gnats in the area.

Why do gnats love dogs’ eyes?

Eye gnats are particularly attracted to the mucus, discharge, and pus in a dog’s eyes. They are also after lacrimal secretions in tears. According to the MSD veterinary manual, some eye gnat species go after a dog’s private parts and anus. They feed off body secretions.

They don’t bite but have tiny spines that can pass pathogens to the skin and spread diseases.

How do you protect a dog’s eyes from gnats?

The best way to protect a dog’s eyes from gnats is to apply safe mosquito and bug repellents to their face gently. Use a face cloth to gently wipe the spray on your dog’s face and around the eyes. Do not spray it into the eyes.

Make sure the repellent you use is safe for dogs. See our recommendations above for a good idea of what to use and what not to use.

Can you use coconut oil as a natural insect repellent?

Coconut oil is not a clear-cut natural remedy for gnats on dogs. The USDA shows that compounds in coconut oil—lauric acid, caprylic acid & capric acid— are more effective than DEET. But this does not mean you should lather your dog in coconut oil.

New research shows that coconut oil can cause a number of digestive and inflammation problems in dogs. So, you can try it in areas like your dog’s ears where your dog can’t lick since gnats may be attracted to any ear discharge or infection.

Can you use petroleum jelly (Vaseline) to keep gnats off dogs?

More common advice is to apply petroleum jelly to areas vulnerable to bites, like the belly. It is possible that this can create a barrier to protect your dog from some small biting insects, but not all. But remember that petroleum jelly has nothing that repels insects like gnats.

You can read this article for more about the safety of vaseline on dogs.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to keeping our dogs free of gnats, it’s vital to control the environment. Removing breeding grounds like open bins or clogged drains is the first step to gnat control.

Be careful of using homemade gnat remedies. Many bug sprays and essential oils that are fine for humans are dangerous to dogs. So truly protect your dog, and know what’s safe and what isn’t.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.