Many home remedies for minor canine ailments can be found in your pantry or garden and offer an effective, natural way to address minor ills in a timely fashion. Treating a problem when it starts can be much easier than waiting for it to become a major problem and then seeking veterinary care. And some of the preventive solutions, like parsley for bad breath or an oatmeal bath for itchy skin, offer an easy way to keep your dog healthy. Of course, it’s best to consult your vet if your dog’s symptoms change dramatically or if a condition worsens. Unsure if you need to see a vet? Refer to the box below.
Aloe Vera for Skin Allergies, Dermatitis, Burns, and Other Minor Skin Irritations
Aloe has been used topically for hundreds of years to treat skin allergies, dermatitis, burns, and other minor skin irritations. It is a very safe herb to use externally on your dog, just be sure to prevent your dog from licking the topical application—ingested it can result in strong laxative effects! You may need to put a t-shirt or cone on your dog to prevent your dog from licking the area.
The best, most reliable source of aloe is a plant that you buy and grow in your home. Aloe is hardy and manages well indoors in northern climates and outside in more temperate climates. To use aloe, first clean the affected skin with mild soap and lots of water. Dry the area well and apply a liberal spread of aloe over the affected area. For very furry dogs you may need to clip the hair around the wound/irritation. Continue with a twice-daily application of aloe until the area has healed. Discontinue use if the wound gets worse or swelling and/or redness occur. Tip: If you are buying aloe extracts make sure that it does not contain alcohol as it will traumatize the damaged skin and cause a fair amount of pain to your dog, instead use one with a water base.
Oatmeal for Dry, Itchy Skin
Colloidal oatmeal is often used to alleviate itchy dry skin. To use oatmeal in a bath, cook quick oats according to package directions (some packages call for adding butter while cooking—don’t add butter) then place cooked oatmeal in a sock, cheese cloth or nylon stocking. The gooey part of the oatmeal is actually the part that is the active ingredients so don’t discard any liquid left in the pot, just add it to the tub. Fill the tub with lukewarm water (should not be warm or hot as this will make your pet itchy) and place the oatmeal-filled sock in the tub. Soak your dog (or cat if you are brave) for 5-10 minutes, using the oatmeal sock as a sponge to work the oatmealwater into your dog’s coat. Rinse excess oatmeal out of the coat and then towel dry.
Ginger for Motion Sickness
Most dogs love going for a car ride but for some it results in stress and an upset stomach. Ginger, in addition to being a delicious seasoning for many foods, is often used for its stomach soothing properties. If your dog has a mild case of motion sickness, ginger may be just the thing to help him enjoy car rides again. It can be made into a tea and given before a trip (just a tablespoon or so at a time) or, more easily, it can be baked into a dog treat. Try adding a tablespoon of ground ginger to your favourite dog treat recipe and giving a couple of treats before your next car ride. A couple of ginger snap cookies may also help, although the high level of sugar in these is not great for dogs. Using ginger while acclimating your dog to the car by taking them on very short trips (i.e. around the block) may also help him overcome his motion sickness.
Liver Support Milk Thistle, which contains the active ingredient silymarin, is known for supporting a healthy liver. It has been demonstrated in human studies to protect against toxininduced liver damage, including that caused by chemotherapy treatments. Dogs that have liver problems or who are taking medications that can cause liver damage may benefit from taking a milk thistle supplement. An average dose is 200 mg of milk thistle extract per day for a medium-sized dog (30 – 40 pounds). Milk thistle is considered to be fairly safe and can be used with all dogs.
Natural Eye Wash for Eye Problems Goldenseal has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and can be used as an eyewash for dogs with mild conjunctivitis. Combining the soothing properties of chamomile with goldenseal increases the benefits. Make a chamomile tea (see inset), let it cool then strain it through a coffee filter or layered cheesecloth. Mix the chamomile tea with plain saline solution (three parts saline to one part tea) and then add three to four drops of goldenseal tincture. Use this mixture to rinse inflamed eyes. Note: Goldenseal is considered an at-risk plant due to overharvesting and destruction of its natural wild habitat. If you are going to use it, you should look for an organically cultivated source.
Calming For nervous or stressed out dogs, valerian, chamomile, and California poppy are all good options. All three of these herbs are known for their calming properties and many of the commercially available calming supplements contain one or more of these herbs. Typically valerian works as a sedative and anxiolytic. The recommended dose of valerian is 100 mg – 500 mg depending on the size of your dog. Chamomile can be given as a tea or tincture and has also been used as aromatherapy for promoting calmness. When used as a tea, brew it strongly, let it cool and then give about a tablespoon every couple of hours. If purchased as a tincture, a small amount (1/4 teaspoon per 30 pounds of body weight) is plenty. California poppy extract is also known for calming, reducing anxiety, and acting as a mild sedative. Use 5 – 10 drops of the extract.
Brewer’s Yeast, Essential Oils, and Vinegar for Flea and Tick Treatments Unfortunately, most flea and tick home remedies have been proven either ineffective or unsafe. Recent research found the application of brewer’s yeast to dogs did not reduce the number of fleas. Likewise, vinegar taken either internally or sprayed on the coat will have no effect on the number of fleas found on your dog. The use of essential oils, however, has proven promising. One study has shown that Neem oil is more effective in reducing the number of fleas on dogs than lemon oil, traditionally used to combat fleas, with Neem oil actually inhibiting the growth of fleas so they don’t reach adulthood. Both Neem and lemon oil have been found to be toxic to cats causing tremors or seizures so if you have cats in your house it is best not to use essential oils on your dog—and definitely not on your cat. In addition, Neem oil is moderately toxic to fish and aquatic wildlife so it should not be used on dogs that swim in natural bodies of water such as ponds, lakes, and rivers. The most effective way of preventing fleas and ticks is the pharmaceutical options available from your vet. Alternatively, the old-fashioned flea combs are also very effective in removing fleas—it’s time consuming but it works and is non-toxic to all life.
Home treatment or a trip to the vet? How to decide whether professional medical help is required. There are a few simple questions to ask yourself while you triage the situation. First, has the problem been going on for more than 72 hours? Long standing issues may need medical intervention. Has the problem gotten worse in the past day or so? When problems get worse or home remedies fail, it is time to seek medical help. If your dog is having difficulty breathing (panting, blue tongue or lips) you absolutely need to see your vet—respiratory distress is a serious medical condition that dogs can die from. Lastly, does your dog have a fever? Checking your dog’s temperature can be a really easy way to assess health. You don’t have to do a rectal temp (although it is the most accurate); you can instead use a thermometer under the arm (in the dog’s armpit). Armpit temperature for a dog is normally between 36 – 38˚C (97 – 100° F). Once your triage is done and you have decided that a trip to the vet is not necessary, you can start on a home treatment plan for your dog.
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