Everyone's tried home remedies. But they're not all created equal. With that in mind, here are my top eight picks for safe and effective treatment of minor ills:
1. Epsom salts: When pet wounds and swellings inevitably rear their ugly heads, Epsom salts are almost always helpful for optimal home care. As long as your pet will abide wet ministrations, Epsom salt soaks and hot packs are a great adjunct to antibiotics and surgical attention. Sometimes they can even do the job on their own––just don’t skip the step where you see your vet first!
2. Chamomile tea: Considered the ultimate home care for upset human tummies, I’ve used strong chamomile tea for a number of skin ailments in pets. This common West Indian remedy relies on the natural disinfectant effect of the plant. A soothing solution, chamomile calms minor skin irritations by killing yeast and bacteria complicating the lesions with their presence—without the harshness that may reduce the body’s own "happy" bugs.
My favorite approach? Make a strong chamomile tea, pour it into a spray bottle ($1.49 at Target) and let it chill in the fridge. Then spray it on red and raw skin liberally for an immediately soothing effect.
Ears raw and sore from frequent allergies? Add a tiny dash of distilled white vinegar to the cooled tea for a low-cost ear cleansing solution almost on par with the chlorhexidine rinses you buy for $8 to $12 a bottle at the vet’s.
3. Petroleum jelly: It’s every bit as good as the more expensive brand name lubricants made specifically for cats with hairball problems or chronic, low-grade constipation. A little dab will do ya. It’s also great for crusty noses.
4. The Furminator: OK, so I’m a freakish devotee of this magic wand. It’s the only feline hairbrush I’ve ever met (it’s made for dogs, too) capable of eliminating disgusting and uncomfortable hairball hurling in some of my most afflicted feline patients. Considering that surgery to remove monster hairballs is not unheard of (we had one a few months back in hospital), the Furminator is a way more cost-effective approach. It also helps keep the shedding in the bag instead of on your floor.
5. Canned pumpkin: For either easily constipated or diarrhea-prone dogs and cats, pumpkin can work wonders––though not always. It’s a do-no-harm approach that anyone can try, but never let an animal suffer for more than a day or two of mild symptoms before you talk to your vet.
6. Borax powder: Got fleas? Yeah, me too. Want a solution that complements your standard Frontline and Advantage (and now Capstar and Comfortis) regimen without all the toxins your standard bug-man lays down? Try Borax powder. The standard 20-Mule Team stuff works wonders on fleas by poking holes in their crunchy insect exoskeletons.
My way? Sprinkle the stuff on your floors then sweep or vacuum up the excess. The invisible crystals left behind will do great work on the fleas your pets bring in while you’re not looking. It’s inexpensive and practically non-toxic compared to what the bug-man brings.
7. Oatmeal cereal: If you’ve got an itchy pet willing to hang out in a bathtub, this is for you. Finely ground oatmeal (as in baby oatmeal cereal) can be stirred into a bath of warm water for a super-soothing soak way cheaper than the Aveeno stuff. Pets with skin allergies, infections, and any other itchy disease gain immediate relief with this approach. Many dogs even come to love this tactic for its in-tub lappability (I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t let my Aveeno-soaking pets do the same).
8. Hydrogen peroxide and baking soda: No, it’s not a grade-school volcano recipe. Instead, it makes appalling odors begone! I mix 4 cups of hydrogen peroxide with 1/3 cup baking soda and a splash of dishwashing detergent to make a spray-bottle solution capable of getting even anal gland aroma off my scrubs (and pets’ backsides, too).
I first learned of this approach after researching popular de-skunking regimens when I worked the ER beat in skunk-infested Philadelphia. This simple mix is not only way more vet hospital friendly than the tomato juice bath, it’s effective on a wide range of anal gland-contaminated surfaces, too. I don’t think I could survive veterinary practice without it. Thank God for simple remedies!
As with all home remedies, asking your vet before embarking on any of these projects will often save you a lot of hard work and bring better results––while addressing the issue of safety (remember, even what looks like a superficial wound may be just the tip of the iceberg).
Dr. Patty Khuly