Bug Spray Is Toxic to Cats

Last Updated on April 13, 2020

Creepy crawlies seem to dampen the joys of summer every year. This is especially true at night when you have to worry about things like mosquitoes. Most people will opt to use some kind of insect repellent be it spray, cream, or a saturated accessory. While using these things responsibly shouldn’t cause any harm, it is important to know that almost all bug sprays (and insect repellents) are very toxic to cats.

Safety First

Using these sprays, creams, and other items whilst outdoors is the safest method of use. You do not want any of the chemicals being accidentally sprayed, dripped, or dropped near your kitty. It is best to use these items at a fair distance away from wildlife as well so applying them on your deck, in your driveway, or in your garage is best.

NEVER Apply Indoors

Many of the ingredients found in common insect repellents are considered toxic for your cat to inhale.

Toxic Ingredients to Avoid

Below is a list of toxic ingredients you want to avoid altogether. These ingredients can cause severe and sometimes long-term ill-effects to a cat. Be sure to read labels if you are purchasing a traditional bug spray from a store.

  • Amitraz
  • Acephate
  • Carbofuran
  • Chlorpyrifos
  • Diazinon
  • Disulfoton
  • Fenoxycarb
  • Fonofos
  • Malathion
  • Methomyl
  • Parathion
  • Permethrin
  • Propozur
  • Terbufos
  • Tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP)

Natural Does Not Mean Safe!

A lot of pet lovers will opt for more natural insect repellents which is a great idea in general but just because the label reads “natural” doesn’t mean it is safe. Many essential oils found in natural bug sprays and creams are mildly to severely toxic to cats. When looking for a more natural bug spray it is important to make sure it doesn’t include any of the ingredients below. If it does, which most do contain at least one, it is best to only use it outdoors.

  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Citronella
  • Citrus
  • Eucalyptus
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Pine
  • Sweet Birch
  • Teatree
  • Wintergreen
  • Ylang Ylang

Bug Spray Alternatives

Here are a few ways to protect yourself outdoors without having to worry about accidentally poisoning your cat (or yourself!). All of these options are easy to use, easy to find, and relatively cheap.


If you want to use something that will be safe to use around your cat (and other pets) that actually works, look no further than lavender. Having potted lavender on your deck or patio is a great way to keep bugs away from your house. This works for mosquitoes, flies, moths, ticks, fleas, and even some spiders. To protect yourself on the go, mix some lavender essential oil in your favorite skin lotion or in a carrier oil like coconut, olive, or sesame and apply it to your skin. Never apply full strength lavender essential oil to the skin, it can cause irritation.

CAUTION! Do not apply lavender oil directly to your cat’s skin!

Tiki Torches

If you spend a lot of time in your backyard in the summer or have a swimming pool, getting some tiki torches is a great idea. This will keep night time (and even daytime) insects away from you without having to apply anything directly to your skin or clothes.

Citronella Candles

Citronella candles work the same way tiki torches do by keeping the insects away from you. It masks the smell of things like carbon dioxide and lactic acid we produce. You can use these on your deck, porch, or by your pool, but you never want to use them indoors. The fumes can cause nervous system damage in cats.

Bug Zapper

If you are not concerned with being completely humane to the insect population, investing in a bug zapper or two will do the trick. These are great for deck and porch areas you frequent at night. There are many different designs and sizes to choose from on the market so just go with whatever one is best for you. Be sure to check the reviews!

What’s your method for controlling the bug population? Did we miss any? Leave a comment below and tell us!

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6 thoughts on “Bug Spray Is Toxic to Cats”

  1. This has to be the single most intelligent comment section I have ever seen in my life. Thanks for all the useful info! 🙂

  2. Hello! I am enjoying your website and appreciate all that you share. Out of concern, though, I want to mention that from what I’m noticing in other sources Lavender appears to be toxic to cats!

    • Thanks for your comment, Gemini’s Cat Butler. Lavender is a toxin to cats in a concentrated state such as essential oil when applied directly to a cat’s skin. This post addresses the use of lavender on human skin, not feline skin. You can safely use lavender oil and lavender scented products around your cat so long as it is not directly applied to their skin or digested. Lavender (the plant) is actually in the mint family, the same as catnip, and is considered otherwise safe for cats.

  3. For things that are safe, how about an ingredient that actually works – picaridin. Of the 4 alternatives you list, none have been shown by respectable labs to repel mosquitoes much. The smoke from a Tiki Torch works – but only if you’re enveloped by the black smoke, not just near it. And bug zappers kill moths, which are important pollinators!

    • Thanks for your comment. There is a lot documented on the items mentioned above, including scientific studies that show they do indeed repel bugs. There is no published evidence on whether or not picaridin is safe for cats, only dogs. Cats are quite different from dogs in terms of what chemicals they can and can’t tolerate this is why medicines used for them are vastly different from those for humans and dogs (often use the same medications in different doses).

      Here is one scientific study that discusses the use of natural repellents including lavender and citronella: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6189689/

  4. THANK YOU for the info of insecticides to avoid around cats. One note- bug zappers are useless with mosquitos…they are not attracted to UV light.


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