When it comes to how to keep flies off dogs, there is plenty of bad advice on the internet. Common homemade remedies like apple cider vinegar (ACV) solutions attract fruit flies rather than deter them. Other natural repellents like citronella are toxic to our dogs. So be careful when googling “how to keep flies off dogs ears home remedies.”
Still, many of us find ourselves thinking, “flies are eating my dog alive.” Whether or not they are biting our dogs, seeing them crawling everywhere is distressing. It can be easier to keep flies off if our dogs are inside, but what about outside?
We want to limit our dog’s exposure to harmful pesticides while protecting them from annoying flies that carry disease or even bite. So let’s look at the best, most effective, and safe ways to keep flies off your dog.
What attracts flies to dogs?
What attracts a fly to a dog depends mainly on the type of fly you ar dealing with. Let’s look at common house flies.
House flies are attracted mainly to dogs through their bodily secretions and pungent smells. Feces in the fur lure flies to dogs who don’t have their private areas properly trimmed or who have diarrhea. Dogs with greasy skin (oily seborrhea) or skin infections will also draw flies.
For this reason, it’s essential to keep our dogs clean with quality canine shampoo and well-groomed. Pay special attention to trimming the hair around the genitals, eye ducts, ears, and paw pads, where secretions can get stuck and cause a smell.
Mucus and discharge from the ears and the eyes will draw flies too. Eye gnats love any eye discharge, and the lacrimal secretions in tears and will swarm dog eyes. They are also attracted to the secretions around the genitals.
But if you need advice on eye and other gnats, see this article on keeping gnats or midges off your dog.
Horseflies and dogs
While most flies are attracted by anything that smells like rot to feed and lay their eggs (open wounds, bodily secretions, decaying matter), horse flies bite dogs for their blood. Females use the protein in a dog’s blood to produce eggs.
These bites can spread blood-borne diseases or lead to infection.
Bot flies and dogs
Another type to watch out for is the bot fly, also called the warble or wolf worms, when they are larvae. They usually settle on rodents, but dogs can pick them up in long grass.
Small dogs like Chihuahuas or Yorkshire Terriers are most at risk, so stay away from grassy areas with nearby rabbit warrens or other small wildlife.
While they are larvae, botflies embed themselves in the skin, upper respiratory tract, brain, spinal cord, or eyes of a dog. In short, they can make a dog extremely sick and even be lethal, depending on which body part they infest.
So now that we’ve covered the main types of flies to be wary of, how to keep them off our dogs?
How to keep flies off my dog naturally
1. Use safe bug sprays on your dog to repel flies
Good natural fly repellents for dogs usually contain neem, peppermint, lemon grass oil, and cedarwood oil, which are both effective and safe for pets. Products like Wondercide, Vets Best, and Cedarcide are well-balanced and safe.
The key word here is “safe.” Not every spray we use for ourselves as fly repellents is safe for dogs. In fact, most are not. Chemical sprays like DEET are toxic, but so are many essential oils.
The Animal Humane Society warns against tea tree oil or citric oils like citronella, geranium oil, or limonene, as they are all extremely poisonous to dogs, so don’t put these anywhere your pet. Another common mistake is anything with garlic oil, which is also toxic.
Another common insecticide, eugenol, is often presented as safe for animals, but it can also irritate the skin, causes allergies, and is toxic if swallowed. So the lesson is to be cautious before using any recommended natural remedy.
Don’t use apple cider vinegar mixtures on your dog. ACV is not stable enough to be effective against flies, especially after diluted. However, studies show that it does draw fruit flies. So it may cause a fly problem for your dog rather than fix it.
Keep in mind that not all species of flies and mosquitoes are repelled by the same scents. So finding what is safe and works for your specific pests can be a bit of trial and error.
Make sure to read the label of anything you put on your dog and anything they may eat, like grass.
2. Keep on top of the trash
Most common flies are drawn by decaying or rotting matter to feed and lay their eggs. This means the number one way to keep flies off your dogs is to limit the bad smells that attract them. To do this, bins should never become full or overflow.
Empty the trash out regularly and apply safe fly control insecticides to keep them away from the garbage. Make sure any recycling bins are moved often, and keep all garbage from your house.
3. Clean up your yard
Dog poop in the yard is a major draw for flies, so keep the pooper scooper handy. Keep livestock, like chickens, as far from the house as possible to limit manure.
Compost should stay as far from the house as possible, and don’t add anything rancid like leftover meat or dog poop. Be on the lookout for dead birds, rodents, or other small animals that will attract flies.
4. Keep a tidy house
The fewer smells there are to draw flies, the less of a fly problem your dogs will have. Keep dishes washed, and leftover food sealed and packed away, preferably in the fridge.
Make sure you carefully seal your dog food in air-tight containers and never leave any dog or cat food (especially canned or raw food) out to stand. Take the bowl away after your dog has eaten, and keep all bowls clean. Don’t forget the water bowls.
5. Plant fly-repelling plants
Although they won’t keep flies away on their own, a number of plants produce scents that many pests hats. Plant marigolds, tansies, woodruff, basil, lavender, mint, and rosemary. You can also try;
- Lemon balm
- Lemon thyme
- & Pennyroyal
The great thing about many of these plants is that flies may despise them, but they smell great to us and also make great cooking essentials.
6. Make bait traps
Flypaper is a great way to trap flies, but if you want a natural, non-toxic way to kill flies, you can make your DIY flytraps. Here is a video that shows two easy DIY traps with vinegar and yeast you can make yourself to get rid of flies.
Bait traps placed in the yard are a great way to lure flies away from dogs outside.
7. Don’t forget to keep the dogs washed and clean
Remember, bad odors attract flies, so keeping your dog squeaky clean and free of smelly infections like hot spots or ear infections will go a long way to making them less attractive to flies.
Beware of dogs that drool too. Try to keep their mouths dry as drool and doggy bad breath can draw plenty of flies.
You can read this article if you struggle with a dog that still stinks after a bath.
How to keep flies off dog wounds
If your dog has an open wound, you can speak to your vet about the best way to bandage it and keep it free of flies, as in this article on bleeding dog ears. Your vet can also provide a safe wound spray to keep flies and insects away from cuts or wounds.
Will coconut oil keep flies off dogs?
Coconut oil does not a recognized fly repellant. And research is emerging that suggests coconut oil is bad for dogs as it is quite pro-inflammatory and can lead to leaky gut syndrome. Still, the USDA has found that compounds in coconut oil are more effective than DEET at repelling flies.
The key here is that compounds extracted from coconut oil are effective at keeping flies and bugs away, not necessarily raw coconut oil. We also don’t want to lather our dogs in coconut oil, as it’s extremely messy, and we don’t want them licking it off.
It’s best to wait until products using coconut oil extracts make it to the market and have been tested on dogs.
Does Vaseline keep flies off dogs?
There is no reason to reach for petroleum jelly to keep away flies. There is nothing in it that repels or kills fly bites. It may make a protective layer against smaller biting gnats, but it’s unlikely to stop horseflies or bots.
You can read more in this article about Vaseline on dogs.
How to keep flies off a dog’s ears
If flies swarm the ears, it’s usually because of secretions, discharge, or odors that attract them, so be sure to clean your dog’s ears with ear wipes and treat any infection. Applying a spray based on neem oil and cedarwood to the outside of the ear can help repel the biting flies.
How to keep flies off dogs outside
The best way to keep flies off dogs outside is to make sure they are clean. Sick dogs with skin or dental problems, ear infections, or greasy coats will lure flies. You can also use safe neem and cedarwood insect repellents to ward off insects.
Keeping their yard clean of poop or garbage is equally essential, and you can set bait traps to lure flies away from your dog.
Keeping flies off dogs can be tricky in summer, especially when we seem to be battling more insects and parasites each year. Keeping your dog clean and healthy is the first step to keeping them free from flies since bad breath, feces in fur, bodily secretions, or other bad smells all attract flies to your dog.
Secondly, keeping the environment free of odors from organic matter like garbage or dog poop will encourage dogs to skip your home. Certain garden plants can also help repel them. But it’s vital to research the ingredients in any homemade or store-bought fly spray before you put it on your dog, as many ingredients that are safe for humans are highly poisonous to dogs.
Meet Your Experts
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.