By Paula Fitzsimmons
When your dog is feeling under the weather, your vet should be the first person you call. Seemingly minor symptoms may be indicative of a serious underlying medical condition, in which case do-it-yourself remedies could be ineffective or cause more harm than good.
But if your dog has a minor ailment, such as dry skin or a mild upset stomach, some home remedies can be quite beneficial. Here are nine simple, vet-approved home remedies that can provide relief for your canine companion.
1. Vitamin E Oil for Healthy Skin
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight aging, says Dr. Judy Morgan, a holistic veterinarian based in New Jersey. (Antioxidants prevent free radical damage, which scientists believe contributes to aging.) While your dog couldn’t care less about maintaining her youthful glow, she can still benefit from Vitamin E oil. Morgan says it adds protection against UV radiation, which is especially beneficial if your dog spends a lot of time outdoors.
It can also be used to moisturize your companion’s dry skin. Morgan recommends massaging Vitamin E oil on your dog’s coat. “Vitamin E capsules can also be broken open and used on warts, calluses, or dry spots,” she says, adding that there is no cause for concern if your pet licks off the small amount of the oil.
2. Electrolyte-Replacing Liquids for Diarrhea
Flavorless electrolyte-replacing liquids (such as sports waters or pediatric drinks) not only help athletes to rehydrate and babies to recover from illness, but also can supply your sick pooch's body with much-needed fluid and electrolytes if he’s suffering through a bout of diarrhea.
“Dogs lose fluids and electrolytes when they have diarrhea, so offering them a drink that contains both can be appropriate, particularly if their appetite hasn’t fully returned to normal,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, veterinary advisor with petMD.
Consult your veterinarian as to the appropriate dosage before giving these types of liquids to your dog and to determine whether additional treatment is necessary.
3. Yogurt for Dogs
Delicious, plain yogurt can be a healthy treat for your dog. The live probiotic organisms in the yogurt may also help keep the bacteria in your dog's intestines in balance, but “the canine digestive tract is not the same as ours,” Coates cautions. “There are better options out there that are made specifically for dogs.”
Probiotic supplements for dogs are widely available through veterinarians and over-the-counter. Coates recommends ones that are made by reputable companies and that have the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal on the label to ensure that you are purchasing a safe and effective product.
4. Chamomile Tea for Upset Stomach and Minor Irritation
Chamomile soothes the stomach by decreasing muscle spasms and cramps, Morgan says. “It also decreases inflammation of mucous membranes, so it decreases inflammation of the stomach and intestinal lining.” Chamomile tea can be added to dog food or your dog's water bowl, or given by mouth with a syringe, she says.
Getting your dog to drink something new is not always easy, however, admits Dr. Patty Khuly, owner of Miami, Florida-based Sunset Animal Clinic. She primarily uses chamomile on dogs with minor rashes and irritations.
Khuly recommends brewing a strong chamomile tea, pouring it into a clean spray bottle, and letting it cool in the refrigerator. “Then, spray liberally onto red or raw skin for an immediate soothing effect—with no sting.”
5. Oatmeal for Itchy Skin
If you’ve had the chicken pox, you may have taken an oatmeal bath to soothe your itchy skin. “Oatmeal contains chemicals called avenanthramides and phenols, which have anti-inflammatory properties,” Morgan explains.
Pets with skin allergies and superficial infections get immediate relief from oatmeal, says Khuly, who is a general veterinary practitioner. “It’s especially helpful for dogs with really itchy feet. Plus, it’s 100 percent non-toxic and delicious, too.”
To create your own remedy, Morgan suggests grinding the oatmeal to a fine powder and mixing it with water to apply as a poultice (drying agent) on hot spots or inflamed areas. If your dog tolerates baths, you can add the oatmeal formula to warm water, and let your dog soak for five to 10 minutes.
6. Epsom Salts for Wounds
You might use magnesium-rich Epsom salts to relieve sore muscles. They have anti-inflammatory properties and are also useful for soaking and cleaning wounds, Morgan says. “They cause abscesses to open and drain, relieving pressure in the wound and allowing healing. We use these a lot for soaking feet of horses and also dogs with inter-digital sores.”
To create a soak for your dog, Morgan advises mixing the Epsom salts with warm water and applying the soak on your dog for five to 10 minutes, three times a day.
7. Oils for Flea Prevention
If you are reluctant to use conventional flea prevention products, you might have looked into natural options. “There are a lot of recipes out there—some good, some bad,” Morgan says. Essential oils can be very effective, she says, “but must be diluted so they do not cause harm to the animal.” (Note: Some oils that are safe for dogs may be toxic for cats. Check the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control for guidance and consult with your veterinarian.)
Morgan likes coconut oil, which you can either give your dog orally or apply externally on his coat. “The higher the lauric acid content in the oil, the more effective it will be,” she says. “Many inferior coconut oils have very low lauric acid content.” Coconut oil can also be used as a carrier oil for essential oils.
After using a dog flea comb daily to help remove fleas from a dog’s coat, Integrative Veterinarian Dr. Carol Osborne recommends bathing your canine companion with a natural pet flea shampoo. “Start, for example, with a pint of organic oatmeal shampoo, and then add two tablespoons of either neem or tea tree oil, shake well and begin bathing. Pets may be bathed weekly or as needed.” Keep in mind that improper dilutions of tea tree oil and other essential oils can be toxic for pets, so consult with your veterinarian first. And while natural options like these may help repel fleas, they are unlikely to solve a full-blown infestation on their own.
8. Hydrogen Peroxide, Baking Soda, and Dishwashing Liquid for Deodorizing
Aside from the redness, swelling, sneezing, and other symptoms a skunk encounter can create for your dog, is the offensive smell. A de-skunking remedy Khuly suggests is a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dishwashing liquid, which she says works on skunked fur and everything the skunked fur has contact with. Mix four cups of hydrogen peroxide with one-third cup baking soda and a small squirt of dishwashing liquid, and apply it liberally to your pet’s coat, she says. Rinse well after about five minutes and repeat if necessary.
While it’s not the most glamorous topic, this solution also works well for stinky anal glands, Khuly says.
9. Licorice Root for Itchiness
No, this is not the same as the licorice candy you eat. Licorice root is actually a form of cortisone, and cortisone relieves skin irritation and reduces the urge to scratch, says Osborne, who practices in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
You may see bottles of licorice root in stores that sell health products. Pet supply stores also offer licorice products formulated for dogs. Some dog-specific products designed to treat allergy symptoms in dogs may also include licorice root.
If you’ve given your dog a flea bath and dip and she’s still itchy, Osborne suggests the following herbal, home remedy: “Take five drops of licorice root, five drops of dandelion root, and five drops of cat’s claw. Mix all three together and give five drops of the final solution to your canine by mouth, once daily for 14 days in a row.”
“Since cortisone is a type of steroid, it’s important to talk to your veterinarian before giving these products to your dog to prevent any potential cross reactions and/or side effects with any other medications your pet may be taking,” Osborne advises. Also, some licorice root formulations have been associated with low blood potassium levels, muscle breakdown, and kidney damage. Make sure you are working with a veterinarian who is well-trained in holistic medicine before you reach for any herbal remedy.
Baking soda, dishwashing liquid, hydrogen peroxide, and chamomile tea are a few items you may keep in your home that can also double as home remedies for your dog. Remember to first talk to your vet about any unusual symptoms your dog has and whether these products are appropriate for her situation. Taking away your canine companion’s discomfort may already be well within your reach.
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