For your reading pleasure — and with the hopes of averting catastrophe — I’ve compiled a short list of home remedies best not undertaken. Feel free to contribute your own ideas on what works (and what might be unsafe) in your comments below.
1. Milk and oil for toad intoxication and seizures
This may be a typically Miami home remedy but it’s not without a national presence. New York, California and Texas vets report some of the same. Hispanics seem to favor it but Anglos in my community seem to consider its use, too.
Not only does it do no good for seizures or issues related to toad intoxication (seizures as well), a seizuring animal can easily aspirate volumes of this mixture while in the throes of a neurological storm. Aspirate: as in inhale. The result is pneumonia of an often–fatal variety given enough of this slurry. Here's a post describing one patient's ill effects after receiving this so-called treatment.
2. Essential oils (for cats, especially)
Cats have been found to respond adversely to many essential oils. Because owners are often instructed to apply it to themselves for minor ailments, many reason it’s safe for pets. Dogs may also be adversely affected but cats’ livers seem completely ill equipped to handle the compounds found in these oils. Vomiting and weakness are early signs and liver failure and death may later result.
3. Immodium for gastroenteritis
Well, not exactly fatal… But continued dosing of Immodium can potentiate more severe infections in the intestines. In some pets this can lead to a life-threatening pancreatitis or bloat. One dose is usually OK (check with your vet first) but if you need more than one that’s a pretty good sign you need to see a vet. Want a safer option? Try probiotics like FortiFlora or PetFlora.
4. Inducing vomiting after ingestion of caustic or sharp substances
OK, so this might seem obvious to you. But it’s amazing how often I get calls from owners asking if it’s a good idea. One recent call? “My dog ate a needle and I just gave some hydrogen peroxide but I don’t think I gave enough.” Well, thank God for that. It was sitting in the stomach and required surgery to remove it—sewing thread and all.
Caustic and sharp materials have a way of damaging the esophagus when they come out. One call to the ASPCA's Poison Control hotline is all it takes to know what home remedy might be effective, if any. It costs sixty bucks for the call but you can’t do better for the level of specialized knowledge they supply 24/7.
5. Advil, Tylenol and other OTC pain/fever relievers can be highly toxic
The most common issue is with Tylenol in cats (they can’t metabolize it and their blood turns a sickening chocolatey color, indicating that it’s not able to carry oxygen well). Unless administered an antidote relatively quickly, most cats die.
A close second is the stomach perforating use of NSAIDS like Advil and Aleve, for example, in dogs. Dogs are frequently dosed with these drugs by well-meaning owners who are unwilling or unable to wait for medical advice after assuming their pets have pain or a fever. Even a day or two of receiving these medications is enough to occasion a life-threatening esophageal or gastric ulcer.
Finally, I should mention that not seeing the vet when something serious lurks and thinking you can apply home remedies with impunity is a huge no-no.
It’s hard, after all, for vets to diagnose and treat illnesses. So what makes some people think they can do better? Money, usually. Vets are expensive (we know). But, as we say in Spanish, “lo que cuesta barato sale caro,” meaning that skimping, in this case on veterinary care, can be an expensive proposition. And a phone call doesn't cost much, right?
Dr. Patty Khuly