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Breed & Health Resources

DIY Pet Care Remedy Dos and Don’ts

By Dr. Patty Khuly

preparing pumpkin puree

Brand-name product and their generic equivalents are usually great, but sometimes a simple home remedy works best. With any home remedy, ask your veterinarian before trying. Remember, DIY is not always best – use caution and common sense.

Non-toxic Home Remedies for Pets

But what are pet-safe, do-it-yourself alternatives that you can use for fleas, allergies, and even upset bellies? Every veterinarian has their favorites, so here are a few of mine.

Borax Powder

A simple way to get rid of fleas in your house is to sprinkle Borax on your floors and vacuum up the excess. It’s also a way to add extra strength to your pet’s standard medicated flea regimen without all the toxins. Fleas are difficult to deal with, but this certainly helps.

This laundry detergent pokes holes in the crunchy flea exoskeletons, effectively dehydrating them. Borax is safe for your pets if they manage to get into it.

Dawn Liquid Dish Soap

Nothing cuts through grease like Dawn Liquid Dish Soap. It’s safe to use on your pet’s fur but keep it out of their eyes because that could cause burning. Dawn also helps to clean up pet stains.

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea is widely known as a useful home remedy for upset bellies in humans, but pets aren’t accustomed with drinking tea. Instead, chamomile is great to treat skin ailments. Chamomile has disinfectant properties that sooth simple rashes and minor irritations without harsh chemicals that reduce the good bacteria on your pet’s skin.

To use chamomile tea on pets:

  • Brew a strong batch of chamomile tea
  • Pour tea into a clean spray bottle (don’t reuse a household spray bottle) and let chill in the fridge
  • Once chilled, spray liberally onto red or raw skin for an immediate soothing effect with no stinging

The best part is that, unlike many store-bought anti-itch creams, chamomile is fine for your pet to ingest so you don’t have to monitor them.

Epsom Salts

Epsom salts are helpful for pet wounds and swelling. To use adequately, your pet will need to sit still while you apply wet soaks to affected areas, so this may not be best for high-energy pets.

Epsom salt soaks and hot packs are almost always a great in addition to antibiotics and surgical attention. Sometimes they can even do the job on their own – but always consult your vet before using Epsom salts.

Hydrogen Peroxide, Baking Soda, and a Squirt of Dawn

I don’t find hydrogen peroxide as effective for cuts, wounds, and dirty ears – less harsh remedies are best for those. However, when hydrogen peroxide is combined with baking soda and a squirt of Dawn, it turns into one of the best home remedies ever for many smells that come with pet ownership!

This homemade recipe makes appalling odors disappear. Here’s how it’s done:

  • 4 cups hydrogen peroxide
  • 1/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 small squirt Dawn

Mix all ingredients together in a spray bottle for a solution capable of getting even the toughest smells, like anal gland odor from pet butts and clothes. It also works well on skunked pets. Nothing works as well on skunked fur and everything the skunked fur has touched (car seats included).

Oatmeal

If you have an itchy pet who’s willing to hang out in a bathtub, this is for you. Finely ground oatmeal (either baby oatmeal cereal or regular rolled oats put through a blender or food processor) can be stirred into a bath of warm water for a super-soothing and very inexpensive soak.

Pets with skin allergies and itchy superficial infections gain immediate relief with this approach. It’s especially helpful for dogs with really itchy feet. Plus, it’s 100% non-toxic and delicious too!

Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly is every bit as good as the more expensive brand name lubricants made specifically for cats with hairball problems or chronic constipation (though it’s definitely not as delicious). Put a dab on your cat’s paw or muzzle and they will lick it off and ingest it. This helps lubricate the passage of intestinal contents.

Aquaphor and Vaseline are safe for pets. Aquaphor is a petroleum jelly-like product with extra oomph for superficial stuff like crusty noses, peeling paw pads, and scaly elbows.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin can work wonders for easily constipated and diarrhea-prone[KB4] dogs and cats. It doesn’t always work, but it’s a do-no-harm approach that anyone can try during the early stages of any gastrointestinal ailment. However, never let your pet suffer more than a day or two of mild symptoms before you talk to your vet.

Home Remedies for Pets to Avoid

Now that you know some remedies that are helpful with itchy, sick, or smelly pets, it’s important to understand what not to use.

Essential Oils

Not a week goes by that I don’t have to explain to owners that some essential oils can be toxic to pets. Oils of cinnamon, citrus, clove, eucalyptus, oregano, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, tea tree (melaleuca), thyme, wintergreen, and ylang ylang (among others) are all poisonous to dogs and cats.

Because people apply oils to themselves for minor ailments, many assume it’s safe for use on pets. Dogs are often adversely affected, but cats’ livers seem especially ill-equipped to handle the compounds found in many of these oils. Local irritation, vomiting, and weakness are early signs. Liver failure and death may later result.

Imodium®

While not toxic, continued dosing of Imodium (as in, more than once) can worsen more severe infections in the intestines and usually does more harm than good. In some sensitive pets, this home remedy may even lead to a life-threatening pancreatitis.

One dose is usually okay (and should be kept in every pet first aid kit) but always check with your vet first. If there are no results after one dose, you should seek professional intervention.

Consider using probiotics and prebiotics for your pet instead.

Inducing Vomiting after Caustic or Sharp Substance Ingestion

This might seem obvious, but I often get calls from owners asking if they should use ipecac or induce vomiting another way after their pet has eaten something sharp. But imagine what a sharp object might do to a heaving esophagus – you definitely don’t want that.

Caustic and sharp materials have a way of damaging the stomach, esophagus, and mouth when they come back up. There is no at-home way to help your pet in this situation – you must visit a veterinarian immediately!

Advil, Tylenol, and other OTC Pain and Fever Relievers

Tylenol is dangerous mostly in cats since they can’t metabolize it and their blood turns a sickening chocolaty color, indicating that it’s not able to carry oxygen well). Unless an antidote is administered relatively quickly, most cats will die after ingesting even small amounts. However, dogs are not safe from Tylenol toxicity.

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) can cause stomach ulcers in dogs. Dogs are frequently dosed with these drugs by well-meaning owners who are trying to help when their pets have pain or a fever. Even a day or two of receiving these medications is enough to cause life-threatening esophageal or gastric ulcer, or even NSAID toxicity.

Milk and Oil for Seizures

I’ve heard this used especially when it comes to Bufo toad intoxication (and the seizures that often result). However, not only does it do no good for seizures or issues related to toad intoxication, a seizuring animal can easily aspirate volumes of this mixture into its lungs. The result is pneumonia of an often-fatal variety.

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