If your pooch is under the weather, your first port of call must be your vet. However, some minor maladies, such as cuts and scratches, can be treated at home. You may also want to supplement your vet’s ministrations with some supportive home care. Luckily, some common household products can be used in particular situations to help your dog. Always check with your vet first to ensure you are doing the right thing.
I often see posts on social media from desperate dog owners, asking the dog community for advice regarding their sick or injured pet. Since most dog owners are not scientists or vets, they cannot be called upon as experts in dog medicine. As a result, the answer thread is usually a mire of pseudoscience and anecdotes that are as well-intentioned as they are dangerous. How is the original poster supposed to distinguish between useful and harmful? The following list is based on the most commonly suggested home remedies I have seen. With their efficacies backed up by scientific research, clinical studies, and logic.
Coconut oil: An Excellent Moisturiser, But a Poor Medicine
Its high smoke point does not give it magical properties.
Coconut oil is revered for its supposed ability to improve your dog’s skin and coat, help his digestion, fight infection and irritable bowel, and even heal wounds. Some people add coconut oil to their dog’s food; others rub it into the skin and then wash it off. While small amounts of coconut oil in your dog’s diet won’t do him any great harm, podgy pooches can do without the added calories. Research on the effects of coconut oil on dog health is scarce; most studies have been conducted using petri dishes or mice.
There is no evidence that feeding coconut oil to your dog will have any effect on his skin, coat, or digestion. Claims of antibacterial properties are based on studies investigating bacteria from human mouths or petri dishes. Whilst lauric acid, the main source of saturated fat in coconut oil, has some limited antimicrobial properties in a petri dish, those properties are not carried by coconut oil. There is, therefore, no reason to feed your dog coconut oil, except as a treat if he likes it.
Coconut Oil: Benefits
So is coconut oil of any use at all? Potentially, yes. Coconut oil penetrates human hair better than mineral oil does, so it may improve coat health and shine if used in a shampoo or rubbed into the coat and washed off. One good source is CocoTherapy Organic Virgin Coconut Oil.
However, it should not be applied to open sores or wounds. Doing so may trap dirt, inhibit wound cleaning, or cause your dog to lick the wound more since he may like the flavor! There is no evidence that coconut oil is more effective than standard antiseptics, or simply cleaning and dressing the wound. And rats in a lab do not translate to your dog at home: a clean cut on a clean rat in a clean environment is less likely to become dirty or infected than a dog who likes to roll around in the garden and lie down in puddles.
Turmeric: a delicious spice, and nothing more.
An ancient Ayurvedic treatment for many ills, but sadly it will not help your dog.
Touted as a wonder spice, I have seen turmeric recommended by dog owners as a treatment for pain, inflammation, and even some serious conditions such as cancer. You can even buy or make “golden paste,” a suspension of turmeric in various wholesome-sounding oils, often mixed with other spices to improve the (otherwise poor) absorption of curcumin by the body.
Turmeric contains curcumin, the supposed active compound. Curcumin gives mixed results in clinical trials, sometimes giving scientists hope in developing a wonder-drug by showing signs that it has done useful things when it hasn’t. Research in curcumin is prolific and sometimes promising, but never definitive. While it may appear to cause various effects on living tissue in the lab, no double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial in humans or dogs has ever shown curcumin to be effective as a medicine. If your pet is suffering from painful or inflamed joints, applying a cold pack (make sure it is not uncomfortably cold) or giving him a gentle dog massage may help him feel better.
However, the curcumin in turmeric may reduce inflammation and can be good for your arthritic dog. One good source is Zesty Paws Turmeric Curcumin Bites. It can also have a calming effect.
In the study, the dogs were given 8 mg of curcumin per kilogram of body weight. My 25 kg herding dog mix would, therefore, need 200 mg per day. Since turmeric powder only contains 1-4% curcumin, that translates to 3-10 generous teaspoons of turmeric a day sprinkled on his food, and that’s assuming that all the curcumin in the turmeric is bioavailable (able to be absorbed by the body), which it is not. Curcumin and turmeric have been shown to be toxic in humans and lab animals if ingested in large quantities, and long-term use as a dog supplement carries risks. Feeding large quantities to dogs is therefore not advisable until further research has determined how much is too much.
Even two teaspoons of turmeric is a lot for one meal.
Garlic: can help to heal wounds, but should not be given orally
Don’t feed this to your dog.
Garlic is not something I see recommended very often, except as an oral supplement for parasite control. This is unfortunate, as it has great potential as a home remedy – though not as a parasite preventor. Garlic is poisonous to dogs in moderate to high doses (15-30g per kg can cause serious illness or death), and even small amounts should probably not be fed long-term. Garlic should not be fed to your dog as a vitamin supplement or antibiotic, or to treat or prevent cancer, due to the availability of more effective, well-researched, and safe alternatives. Feeding your dog a balanced meat-based diet, supplemented with a small amount of safe fruit and vegetables, should be enough to preclude vitamin deficiency.
If you shouldn’t feed garlic to your dog, what use does it have as a remedy? Garlic contains some powerful antimicrobial properties which can help prevent infection and promote wound healing. For small, fresh wounds, applying a tiny amount of garlic mixed with water on a clean cloth or dressing may help prevent it from becoming infected, provided that you also keep the wound clean and prevent your dog from licking it.
Apple cider vinegar: delicious in salads, but useless as a medicine
Your dog may enjoy a slice of apple as a treat, but he won’t appreciate the vinegar.
Apple cider vinegar is popular among humans for treating all manner of minor complaints. That is their choice. But to recommend it as a dog medicine is irresponsible, as there is little evidence that apple cider vinegar does anything medically useful in any animal. Furthermore, there is no evidence that apple cider vinegar is more medically useful than any other kind of vinegar. If you pour vinegar directly onto cancer cells, they die (it is acid, after all), but that does not mean apple cider vinegar cures or prevents cancer in dogs.
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV): Good for Dogs?
There is some evidence that vinegar reduces blood glucose spikes in diabetic humans and rats, and reduces the appetite, promoting weight loss. However, that does not mean you should give it to your dog, as it does not decrease glucose absorption, and these studies were in humans, not dogs; there is no evidence that apple cider vinegar has any beneficial effect on dogs. Additionally, feeding acidic liquid to your pet is not good for his teeth, and may cause issues with the upper gastrointestinal tract.
Applied topically, any vinegar has antibacterial and antifungal properties. However, its acidic profile can irritate or even burn skin, especially after frequent or prolonged skin contact. Vinegar is not recommended for use on wounds or damaged skin. This may hurt your dog and irritate the area. It does not prevent or heal allergic reactions. A diluted solution of any vinegar may help keep your floppy-eared dog’s ears free of bacteria and fungi, but test it on a small patch of his delicate ear skin first to ensure it won’t cause any reaction, and don’t get it into his ear canal or any places where you can’t rinse it off.
Honey: as good on wounds as it is on toast
Drizzle it on ice cream, a gammon joint, or your dog’s grazed paw.
Dogs often suffer minor cuts and scratches, for example from poking their noses into cat-related situations. Keeping the wounds clean and dry is usually enough to allow them to heal fine. Large wounds and those that have become infected should see a vet. However, sometimes you may feel like applying something to the wound to prevent it from becoming infected. As mentioned above, vinegar and coconut oil are not good things to apply to wounds, but a mixture of garlic and water might prevent infection or cure addictions, and is harmless so long as your dog doesn’t keep licking it off.
No human ointment should be applied, as many are poisonous. However, honey possesses powerful antibacterial properties and is safe for (non-diabetic) dogs to ingest in small quantities. In fact, some vets apply honey to wounds that won’t heal. My dog recently had a tumor removed, and the stitches became infected. His vet applied honey under the bandage as a topical antiseptic. He is also on antibiotics, as honey is not a magical cure-all. It only works on the surface, but for a minor wound, honey alone may be effective at preventing infection.
A little bit of honey goes a long way to heal a small wound.
Many people, when talking about honey, recommend that you buy organic, raw, or manuka (tea tree) honey. However, you can save a few bucks buying regular honey. All honey is antibacterial, as it contains a lot of sugar and a little hydrogen peroxide. (it is worth noting here that hydrogen peroxide, while effective at killing bacteria, and promoting wound closure, can delay wound healing even in low concentrations, and should never be directly applied to wounds). Manuka honey may be slightly more effective at lower concentrations than regular honey. But if you’re going to slather it on undiluted, it doesn’t matter what kind you. There is little evidence to suggest that manuka honey is more effective than other honey types. Certainly not enough to justify the price difference.
When considering your dog’s health, you want to make sure that any substance you use will help him without harm. If you are unsure about any particular substance, always check with your vet before using it on your dog; many things that are safe for us are poisonous to them. Natural substances are as likely to be harmful as artificial stuff. Wasp stings and snake bites are a testament to that. Just because somebody used a particular ingredient on their dog and they believe it worked; does not mean that ingredient will heal your dog. While most of the substances listed above are not the miracle cures, research continues into the healing properties of kitchen ingredients.
Janet Miller is a dog trainer, former AKC judge and lifelong dog lover. She writes regularly for Your Dog Advisor, The Bark and a number of other dog-related blogs.