4 min read


Why Dogs Don't Like Vicks Vapor Rub



4 min read


Why Dogs Don't Like Vicks Vapor Rub




The smell of Vicks Vapor rub and other ointments with menthol as their base can set your nose tingling and your eyes watering. Imagine what this does to your dog as he has a much more powerful sense of smell than you have. A dog’s sense of smell is the most developed of his five senses and compensates for less sensitivity in the sight, sound, touch, and taste departments. Dogs are compelled to smell everything that they come across and as they do, they process the smells into individual compartments. The smell of Vicks is a strong smell coming from the use of camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oil. All these chemicals and oils are toxic to dogs. Vicks is used for treating nasal congestion and other ailments in humans. It is not a medication recommended for dogs due to the toxicity attributed to the core ingredients. Vicks is not recommended for children under the age of two either because of the effect it has on their airways and the mucus that develops when Vicks is inhaled into young lungs. Vicks can have the same effect on dogs and other animals; this was proven in scientific experiments. 

The Root of the Behavior

Dogs may want to smell a container of Vicks but almost immediately the menthol and other vapors will affect their olfactory structures. There will be an overload of a strong aroma. They will be repelled by the smell and generally will back away from the source of such an obnoxious nostril intake. Dog owners have been known to use Vicks as a deterrent to prevent dogs from marking or soiling areas of the house. Your dog may sniff with a curious inhalation of the smell and then remove himself from the area where the smell is found to be. The avid gardener, who becomes frustrated with a master digger, has been known to put Vicks on rocks in the garden to prevent the digger upsetting newly planted areas. A radical intervention! Should your dog decide to lick the chosen rock to sample the goo smeared on it the consequences could be very damaging to the dog. The toxicity of the vapor rub is known to be extremely dangerous for dogs and should not be taken lightly. Vicks is easily absorbed through the skin, and through the mouth, if your dog decides to take a sample. 

Generally, the smell will repel the dog and there will be no harm done. However, some dogs, especially puppies, may just be more adventurous and not able to resist the touch and taste experience of this new smell. Dogs have a ‘smell memory’ so once they have encountered Vicks and realized that it is a nasty smell they should be disinterested in encountering it again. Dogs do not enjoy chemical products like cleaning materials and detergents. Many of these products contain strong smells, for example, citrus and ammonia, that dogs do not like and so they are repelled by them. These chemical products take away the lovely doggie scents your dog has been indulging in and enjoys smelling around the house. Dogs' hair, dust from the garden, and other familiar smells that just make your dog feel comfortable. Menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus oil are not listed in his set of approved scents. 

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Encouraging the Behavior

The chemicals mentioned in the production of Vicks can have serious medical effects on your dog. How do you know that your dog has taken a lick of a toxic substance like Vicks? If you smell his breath, that should give you a key indicator of your dog taking a taste of some Vicks. The other symptoms that could follow would be vomiting, seizures, and respiratory problems. These are all the serious reactions to menthol or camphor poisoning. Seek the help of a vet immediately. Dogs are not very good at hiding their evidence and so you would probably be able to find the jar of Vicks or other menthol-based products to show your vet. 

If the irritation is mild and there is no sign of ingesting the product then you will see your dog pawing himself to relieve the irritation. It is wise to seek the advice of your vet immediately because you have no idea as to how much of the chemical has been absorbed by your dog. Even though your dog is repelled by the smell of this strong salve, he could have taken a sample out of curiosity. Only your vet will be able to decide how much has been ingested and how to treat the dangerous intake of a toxic substance. Although your dog shows his disgust for the Vicks vapor rub, it is advisable to check that a quick sample was not licked up by mistake with possible disastrous effects.

Other Solutions and Considerations

Dogs don’t like Vicks and other menthol-based products because they are so sensitive to smell. Dogs may enjoy all sorts of smells that we feel repulsed by but then we don’t have the same intensity of smell receptors that dogs do. The smell of Vicks can almost take your breath away and the menthol in the product is designed to clear airways of the congested patient. Dogs, with their super powered noses, will be smelling much more of the vapor than we will. The burning sensation, along with the eye watering and skin irritation, will put most dogs off interfacing with Vicks. 


When you have a whiff of Vicks and your eyes begin to water, try to imagine how much stronger that smell is to your dog. Vicks to the power of 500 or more, perhaps. A useful acronym attached to the vapors from Vicks goes like this: 

  • V – Very
  •  I – Intensive 
  • C – Camphor
  • K – K 9 
  • S – Stimulant

Dogs have a very good reason to be repelled by Vicks. The responsible parent keeps medicines out of the reach of children. The responsible dog owner should try to do the same for their fur-kids too.  

Written by a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 03/06/2018, edited: 01/30/2020

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