Neem Oil: A Miracle Herb for Dogs — and for You, Too!

This summer, keep pests off your pets (and yourself) the natural way, with safe, nontoxic neem oil. It's also great for sunburns and dry hair!


It’s only early May, but already I’ve been almost devoured alive by mosquitoes. There are few things I hate more than awaking to the sound of skeeters buzzing in my ears — it’s like a squadron of fighter planes aiming for my head! And if you think I’m exaggerating, consider this pithy quote attributed to former EPA chief (and Scottish Terrier fancier) Christie Todd Whitman: “Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.” Ain’t it the truth. Yesterday alone, I smashed three skeeters, all of them engorged with blood. Ewww!

The benefits of Neem Oil

Happily, there’s all-natural, nontoxic ammunition that stops molesting mosquitoes in their tracks. It’s the single most important thing you can keep on hand all summer, for your dog’s well-being and your own. It’s neem oil, aka Azadirachta indica, extracted from the neem tree (a relative of the mahogany). The tree grows profusely in India, where people have great respect for neem’s healing powers. Ancient Indian texts call it “the curer of all ailments.” Studies show that neem is antiseptic, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal — and check this out, it’s also spermicidal! In short, neem is something of a botanical miracle.

Take care in the summer months

Starting now and through the summer months, I’ll be keeping a bottle of neem oil by my bedside to arm my dogs and myself against the mosquito menace. Neem is a biopesticide; applied topically, it doesn’t just repel mosquitoes (and fleas, too): It kills them — naturally. It has absolutely no harmful side effects.

You can give your dog vet-prescribed, oral heartworm-preventative medication to battle mosquitos, but know that it’s made of the chemical Ivermectin, and using it is basically putting poison into your dog. What’s more, with heartworm meds, the mosquito has to take a bite out of your best friend to suck up the poison and die — the stuff does nothing to repel or prevent bites. So Spot will still suffer an itchy bite, and if he’s particularly sensitive, he could also experience an allergic reaction to the venom. All this will lead to lots of itching and scratching, which could in turn cause a skin infection.

Because the neem is absorbed into the bloodstream via the skin, your dog becomes repellent to the stingers. Mosquitoes seem to know that neem spells death, so they hate the very smell of it, which is admittedly extremely pungent, not unlike roasted garlic. Some people hate the smell as much as mosquitoes do. But I’ve grown accustomed to that singular scent and even find it strangely comforting — that’s how grateful I am for all the good it does.

How to use neem on dogs

To protect my dogs, I dab spots of neem on top of their heads, behind their ears, on their shoulders and flanks, and on their tails. During mosquito season, I do this every two to three days. I also give my dogs one capsule each of neem “supercritical extract” supplement, mixed with their food twice weekly, to arm them from the inside out. I also take the capsules, and dab spots of neem on my scalp, on each wrist, behind my knees, and on my ankles (a popular mosquito target).

Neem boasts a host of other health benefits, including magically healing sunburn and any other kind of temperature or chemical burn. A bottle of this stuff is a must for any dog first aid kit. A quick topical application of neem oil to the affected area soothes and heals the burn amazingly fast. If your dog fries himself while sunbathing without sunscreen, add add four or five drops of oil to TheraNeem Pet Shampoo (my dogs’ favorite), or any gentle, sulfate-free pet shampoo, and give him a bath in cool water.

Any dog experiencing excessive shedding, itchy skin, or allergies can also benefit enormously from regular baths with neem shampoo, which is gentle enough to use every day. My German Shepherd Desiree’s dry, flaky, madly shedding coat improved dramatically after a few shampooings with TheraNeem-plus-neem.

Neem oil and people

Dry skin is the culprit of many doggie dermis problems, but neem oil is extremely emollient, so it moisturizes canine skin super efficiently. (If you have dry skin, check out neem products for humans, including soap, shampoo, conditioner, and cream. I recently took up swimming, and to prevent skin damage from the hyper-chlorinated pool, I slather vanilla-scented neem cream over my neck and face. People with eczema or psoriasis often say they find relief with neem, too. And aficionados of skin art — such as animal activist Simone Reyes or executive editorial director Janine Kahn — will appreciate neem’s skin-soothing power after a tattoo session.

If you have a green thumb, know that neem is also prized by horticulturists for its efficacy at keeping pests away from prized plantings, so there’s no need to use poison in the garden, and that’s great news for gardeners’ dogs who may or may not be prone to nibbling at plants. One more crisis averted!

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