Does Bitter Apple Spray Work: Is It a Safe and Effective Way to Prevent Your Dog from Licking and Chewing?

Can you use bitter apple spray to stop your dog from chewing your furniture or prevent them from licking their wound?

The was bitter apple spray is meant to work is as a taste deterrent. The common scenarios in which you might want to use it is as part of puppy-proofing or wound protection. Does it work? Is it enough to discourage dogs from laying their mouths on things that should leave alone?

Does Bitter Apple Spray Work: Is It a Safe and Effective Way to Prevent Licking and Chewing?

What tastes dogs like?

As you likely noticed, dogs are quite willing to eat things that gross us out just thinking about it. It would seem that there is nothing they would consider a turn-off. Most dogs will eat just about anything not only with disregard for the taste. They don’t even seem to care whether things are edible in the first place.

Canine taste buds can differentiate bitter, salty, sweet and sour. Dogs also have specific receptors that are tuned for meats, fats, and meat-related chemicals. During their evolutionary diet, dogs also developed a sweet tooth.

How things smell and their texture are important as well. However, dogs don’t have nearly as many taste buds as humans do.

In a taste sensitivity contest with dogs humans clearly win.

Dr. Stanley Coren

The purpose of taste preferences

The sense of taste serves a survival function. Bad taste alerts to something harmful, indigestible, or poisonous. Pretty important.

While dogs don’t appear to be very discerning about what things taste like, they dislike bitter tastes. Which is why bitter-tasting agents are used as taste deterrents. One problem with that, however, is that the canine taste buds that register bitter taste are at the back of their tongue.

Further reading: How Good Is Your Dog’s Sense of Taste?

Why a distaste for bitter things?

Most poisons in nature are bitter. No, not everything bitter is toxic and not everything toxic is bitter. However, as a rule of thumb, the distinction works surprisingly well. T

Further reading: Genetics of Taste and Smell: Poisons and Pleasures

hat explains why dogs find bitter taste unappealing. But the location of the respective tastes buds on the dog’s tongue means that it takes prolonged chewing or licking to have any effect.

Coating items with such bitter-tasting material will eventually keep most dogs from chewing on them, but the keyword is eventually.

Dr. Stanley Coren

Bitter apple spray and other anti-chew products

Because dogs do find bitter taste offensive, it inspired the production of various products to deter dogs from chewing or licking inappropriate things. The rationale is simple—they make things taste bad.

Some of the commonly used deterrents include:

  • Grannick’s Bitter Apple® Spray or Gel
  • Veterinarian’s Best® Bitter Cherry Spray
  • Yuk-2e Anti-Lick Gel
  • Bitter YUCK!® No Chew Spray
  • and Chew Guard® Spray

Many of the products use a proprietary blend of bitter extracts. Frankly, I find that rather ambiguous and would prefer the ingredients properly itemized. However, they have a good track record of being non-toxic. If you chose your product carefully, it should be safe both for your dog and your furniture or wherever you choose to apply it.

Is it effective?

As I already touched on earlier, it may or may not stop your dog from licking or chewing what they shouldn’t. How well this strategy will work depends on the following:

  • length of exposure
  • your dog’s individual taste preference
  • your dog’s determination
Length of exposure

The length of exposure has to do with the location of the bitter taste buds on the dog’s tongue. A quick lick or gulp isn’t likely to be enough to register.

Fortunately, if your dog sets their mind on the chewing target, they might stick with it long enough unless interrupted. Unfortunately, the object might not survive this period.

If you’re trying to deter your dog from objects such as shoes or cords, it is better to keep them out of reach instead. Of course, you cannot do that with your furniture and might give the bitter apple a try.

To teach your dog to keep their teeth of things, using bitter apple in conjunction with training might be helpful for you. Managing the environment, appropriate training, and plentiful supply of things that are meant for chewing goes a long way. Anti-chew products can be helpful but don’t replace proper training.

Dogs learn quickly. You can read more about that in the Rescue Dog Diary: Taming Of The Wild Beast—Cookie’s Transition To Civilization

Your dog’s taste preference

Some dogs don’t have the adverse response to bitter taste. You might need to apply bigger amount or try a different brand. Or find a different way altogether.

Your dog’s determination

Getting your dog to stop chewing on inappropriate objects is one thing but what if you’re trying to prevent them from licking and chewing on themselves?

If your dog has a wound or area that itches or hurts, their determination to “tend to it” is going to be stronger than any deterrent you might try to use. You can try bitter apple to prevent fur chewing or wound licking but I recommend a healthy dose of skepticism.

Can you use bitter apple to protect wounds and incisions?

It is important to protect any wounds and surgical incisions from being licked or chewed on. Our veterinarian always pointed out that when it comes to incisions, twenty minutes of licking can undo two days of healing.

In general, head cones are the safest and most effective to keep your dog from messing with their wounds or incisions. Depending on the location and your dog’s craftiness, they might still find a way to get at it.

Bitter apple can be applied to fur or dressing but never directly to the disturbed tissues. You can try rubbing some of it around it. It might work with some dogs.

We had pretty good results with Jasmine but it was a complete failure with JD.

When it comes to excessive licking, lick granulomas, wounds and incisions, it is more effective to manage how the area feels rather than trying to manage what your dog does. As well as it is the more effective solution.

If your dog is stressed, itchy or something hurts, find a way of addressing that directly instead of stopping your dog from messing with it. Even if you succeed, your dog might stop licking and chewing it but won’t stop being miserable.

In closing

Using bitter apple during puppy or rescue dog training—while teaching them the rules—is likely the best scenario when it can be useful.

After consultation with your veterinarian, you might be able to use it to protect wounds or incisions. I’ll point out again to never apply it directly to them, though but only on the surrounding areas or dressing.

Related articles:
Canine Post-Op Wounds: Taking Care of JD’s Wounds

Further reading:
Do Anti-Chew Sprays For Dogs Work?
Homemade Bitter Apple Spray
How to Make Bitter Apple for Your Dog

Categories: Dog health advocacy

Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

6 Comments
  1. The bitter spray didn’t work for us. We had to puppy proof the house and be diligent about catching her in the act for stuff that couldn’t be proofed. A consistent string of strong “ah-ah” noises and replacing whatever she was chewing with a permissable something did the trick.

  2. We tried bitter sprays with our dog when he was a puppy. He was a master nibbler of furniture… Long story short – none of them worked. We called the spray “furniture tenderizer!” So, we ended up having to sequester the furniture until he outgrew the chewing… I think this was an out of the ordinary experience though as we’ve heard other people’s success stories.

  3. Interesting post! I never used bitter apple spray, or any similar type products, with my dogs but I did try it a few times back when I kept house rabbits. It came highly recommended by fellow rabbit owners but, strangely enough, I had one little buck who seemed to actually enjoy the taste of the spray. After accidentally getting a mouthful of it once myself (so gross!), coupled with the fact that it didn’t work so well at deterring the rabbits, I threw out our bottle and never bought it again lol.

  4. Cathy Brockway

    Ahh, the bitter apple debate! Like you posted, I feel it is so much dependent upon each individual dog and how badly they really want to chew something. The same has held true for my cats. Thanks for breaking down the details for us – very helpful.

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