Dogs Life consulted some of Australia’s leading natural veterinarians to explain the benefits of home remedies and natural cures.
Home remedies are generally inexpensive, easily accessible and they can be very effective when used alongside conventional therapies, says veterinarian Dr Barbara Fougre in Sydney.
One of the great benefits of using natural, home remedies is the wider range of options that becomes available for treating a particular condition, says Dr Bruce Syme, a veterinarian from Victoria who promotes natural foods and supplements for dogs.
I still use conventional drugs and therapies 70 to 80 per cent of my working day, but it is the other 20 to 30 per cent, using natural remedies, that can make all the difference to the outcome, he says. One type of treatment should never exclude the other, which is why practitioners now call it complementary medicine instead of alternative medicine.
Fougre tells Dogs Life that while behaviour problems and serious conditions, such as cancer, are not likely to be changed by home remedies, these remedies are an excellent adjunct to herbal therapy, conventional medicine and acupuncture.
Typical conditions that can respond well to home remedies include hot spots, mild skin rashes, mild tummy upsets, minor wounds, scratches and mild eye irritation, she says.
Syme adds that allergies, skin disease, arthritis and joint injuries, immune system dysfunction, liver damage and diabetes can also be treated using natural, home remedies.
However, it is important that you tell your vet if you are using home remedies, as these substances may interact with or potentially limit the effectiveness of conventional medicines. And if there is no improvement in 12 to 24 hours after using a home remedy, seek advice from your vet immediately, Fougre warns.
Fougre recommends some useful home cures for common canine conditions.
Fleas: Neem-based products, as well as certain diluted essential oils can be helpful when treating non-allergic dogs with fleas, Fougre says. But because of the potential for toxicity, professional advice from holistic vets should be sought.
Dry skin and coat: Skin conditions will respond to a better diet and supplementation with omega-3 essential oils, flax seed and fish oils, and evening primrose, she says. As a therapy, start with higher doses then reduce the dose once the skin has responded, usually in two to three weeks.
Minor wounds: Minor wounds can be cleaned with green tea, Fougre says. And depending on whether your dog can lick the wounds, a honey, aloe or tumeric dressing can help with wound healing and preventing infection.
Insect bites and stings: First remove the stinger. If there is swelling or irritation, seek veterinary advice as allergic reactions can be severe and regular conventional treatment can be life saving. But where the effect is not that obvious, witchhazel and an application of ice for three to five minutes to the area can help reduce the sting, Fougre says. Then dab some aloe on the site.
Stiff joints: There are several natural veterinary products that can assist joint health, including fish oil, green-lipped mussel and glucosamine, Fougre says. However, this is a painful condition, so veterinary advice is important.
Risks and dangers
While home remedies can be very convenient when you already have the ingredients in the cupboard, some people want to use home remedies to avoid a visit to the vet, Syme tells Dogs Life.
Trying new home remedies when your dog is sick can delay vital diagnosis and treatment, and can cause unnecessary suffering for your dog, he says.
Dogs can’t tell us how much pain they’re in, which makes it difficult to prescribe a home remedy, Fougre adds. Ive seen many cases where a symptom looks to be minor, but is actually part of a bigger problem, she says.
Often, people assume that just because something is natural, it must be safe. But this is not the case. Both vets agree that many natural ingredients can be toxic and dangerous to dogs.
Allergies to natural substances are still possible, and dogs can have series reactions, especially if they are they are allergic types, Fougre warns. Before using a natural remedy, its always a good idea to do a patch test. This means applying a very small dab to a less hairy part of the body (like the groin area), then waiting 24 hours to see if there is a reaction. If there is, you’ll need to avoid that substance.
Owners should first take their dog to the vet when a problem arises to get a diagnosis and consider all the options. Sometimes a conventional approach will work more quickly to relieve discomfort.
However, if a condition is mild and the dog isn’t bothered too much, natural remedies from around the house can be effective, Fougre advises. Try to work with an open-minded, regular or holistic vet, who is experienced in natural medicine.
Ingredients to avoid
Unless you know what you’re doing, natural substances can be very unsafe and toxic, Fougre warns.
Human products aren’t always appropriate for dogs, she says. The smaller the dog, the greater the possibility for adverse effects due to overdosing. Avoid human crmes with strong scents, as they can cause salivation and vomiting if licked by dogs.
High doses of raw garlic or raw onions can cause a specific type of anaemia and can irritate the gastric lining, adds Syme.
Garlic isnt in my opinion a useful flea treatment for dogs, Fougre tells Dogs Life. Ive had clients use it for flea control and it has had no effect given topically or orally.
Essential oils, eucalyptus and tea-tree oils are potentially deadly to dogs if taken orally. Deaths have been reported on a number of occasions when essential oils have been used incorrectly, Fougre says.
In addition, high doses of aloe vera and vitamin C orally can cause diarrhoea, Syme suggests. Some plants used in natural medicines can also be very toxic, such as foxglove (digitalis) and bella donna (atropine).
A to Z of useful ingredients and supplements
Aloe vera: A safe and effective substance that stimulates wound and burn healing. Clear aloe vera gel works well for minor skin irritations. Burns should always be treated by a veterinarian first. Warning: The green part of the aloe vera leaf can be irritating to dogs and should not be given orally.
Bee pollen (propolis): Said to stimulate the immune system and can be a useful food supplement. Warning: Some people and dogs can be allergic to it.
Chamomile tea: Used to make a cool eyebath that soothes inflamed or itchy eyes. It can also help minor tummy upsets. Warning: Ensure your dog doesn’t drink the tea. Some teas contain theobromine, which dogs cannot metabolise efficiently. Ingestion of this ingredient can cause gastrointestinal upsets and seizures.
Dimethylglycine: A natural substance found in meat, seeds and grains. It can be a useful supplement for dogs with seizures, allergies, heart disease, eczema and arthritis.
Echinacea: Stimulates the part of the immune system that fights disease, bacteria and viruses. It can also be useful for mild upper respiratory tract infections. Echinacea should be prescribed by a veterinary herbalist, as dosage is very important. Warning: Some dogs can have allergies to echinacea, as it is part of the daisy family.
Eucalyptus oil: Has potent anti-fungal properties and repels topical parasites such as fleas. It can be used to wash bedding and to help remove dust mites. Warning: Eucalyptus oil can be very harmful to dogs if swallowed. It should only be used by experienced people diluting it.
Fish oil: Cold-water fish such as herrings, sardines and mackerel contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and can help relieve the symptoms of skin allergies.
Flaxseed oil: Can help to maintain a shiny coat and stimulate the immune system. Flaxseed oil may also be beneficial in a number of disorders, including heart disease, arthritis, eczema, allergies and some forms of cancer. The seeds can help with mild constipation if they are soaked in water first, then mixed with a dogs food.
Garlic: Known as a natural antibiotic and blood cleanser. It reportedly repels intestinal parasites, aids digestion and reduces flatulence. Warning: Garlic is potentially toxic in excess. Animals ingesting foods with garlic may develop anemia secondary to oxidative damage to the red blood cells and altered platelet function.
Ginger: Added as a digestive aid and well-known for its ability to settle digestive upsets, nausea and travel sickness. Also possesses anti-inflammatory ingredients.
Honey: Has antibacterial properties and is used on open wounds to absorb pus and stimulate tissue growth. Tip: Look for Manuka honey from New Zealand.
Ice: Can be very useful if there is a sprain or injury. Apply for three minutes, then take a break and repeat. Contact your vet for advice.
Jam: Can be a great way to disguise the taste of tablets to help medicate dogs. Smear medications with naturally sweet organic jam and make medicines a yummy treat.
Kelp: A rich source of iodine, which is vital for the normal function of the thyroid gland. Kelp is also rich in B, D, E and K vitamins, along with calcium and magnesium.
Lavender oil: Can help insect bites and stings, but don’t let your dog lick the oil. Tip: Lavender oil in a diffuser can help calm dogs at home or when driving to reduce stress.
Milk thistle: Extracts are clinically proven to help restore and promote liver function. Milk thistle can help when your dog is on long-term medication that damages the liver.
Neem oil: Helpful in controlling fleas and lice when used topically.
Oatmeal: Can soothe itchy skin.
Olive oil: Useful to help wipe oil from the earflap. A dab of almond oil on a tissue can also be used.
Parsley and barley grass: Potent green foods that contain high levels of vitamins, minerals and powerful anti-oxidants.
Plain yoghurt: Pro-biotic bacteria in fresh, cultured yoghurt can assist with dietary imbalances, diarrhoea and irritable bowel disease. The acidic nature of yoghurt also makes it a good, topical remedy for moist, irritated areas of a dogs skin around the vulva, anus and lip folds. Dogs will lick the yoghurt however, so it should be applied sparingly. Warning: Some dogs will have diary allergies or intolerance. Dog-specific, pro-biotic powder called Protexin is also available.
Peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide can be useful for cleaning infected wounds or abscesses. It can also be used as an ear cleaner (dilute to one per cent).
Tea tree oil: Can help repel fleas when used topically (in a shampoo or rinse).
Tumeric powder: Acts as a mild anti-inflammatory. It can be made into a paste to treat minor wounds and skin infections.
Vitamin C: A natural anti-oxidant that assists the body during times of stress and disease. It can be useful for adjunctive treatment for a number of conditions where oxidative stress is an issue. There has also been some evidence linking vitamin C deficiency and hip dysplasia.
Wheat germ: A potent, natural source of vitamin E for dogs.
Yeast: As a powder, yeast is high in protein and a great source of B vitamins. It can help skin disease, heart disorders and low energy. It may also boost a dogs immune system. Warning: Avoid fresh yeast, bakers yeast and uncooked yeast doughs, as these are poorly digested and potentially dangerous to dogs. Some dogs can show skin reactions.
Zinc: A good dietary supplement, as modern pet foods can be deficient in it. Zinc deficiency affects the skin, immune system and reproductive system.
It is important to discuss with your veterinarian or a natural practitioner the benefits of the above ingredients for your dog. Natural substances can be unsafe and toxic for dogs, and allergies to natural ingredients are still possible.