When your dog gets sick, in most cases the first thing you should do is check in with your veterinarian. Even mild symptoms could be the sign of something more serious going on.
But if your vet gives the go-ahead or if you're dealing with something familiar, natural remedies can sometimes be an option. Here are some possibilities for dealing with minor pet issues.
If your dog often has diarrhea or constipation, it's key that you talk to your vet to figure out the cause. But if stomach issues only happen occasionally, you may be able to find some help on your pantry shelf. Plain canned pumpkin — not pumpkin pie filling — may help calm your pet's digestive system and get it back to normal.
Pumpkin is high in fiber and is rich in vitamins A, C and E, as well as potassium and iron. Fiber adds bulk to your dog's stool by absorbing a lot of the water it contains. It also helps stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestines while inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria, points out the American Kennel Club.
On the flip side, pumpkin might also help if your dog is having issues with mild constipation. Just make sure you give your pet plenty of water because dehydration can make constipation worse. And, as with any medical issue, be sure to let your vet know if the problem persists for more than a day or two.
The AKC suggests about 1 tablespoon of pumpkin to deal with diarrhea and the Merck Manual suggests 1 to 4 tablespoons for constipation. Talk to your vet to make sure you're giving your dog the right amount.
Just like people, some dogs get dry, itchy skin. If your vet has ruled out underlying problems like food or environmental allergies, there are things you can do to help. Don't give too many baths, which can remove natural oils in the skin, drying it out even more, points out Dogster. But when you do wash your dog, use a moisturizing shampoo with aloe vera or oatmeal. Look for a hypoallergenic, gentle shampoo and consider following up with a moisturizing conditioner.
You might also want to consider adding a supplement with omega-3 fatty acids to your dog's diet. There are liquids you can pour on your pet's food or tasty capsules that your dog takes as a treat. Ask your vet for dosage suggestions.
The sniff test is the best way to tell if your dog's ears need cleaning, says veterinarian Marty Becker. Healthy ears don't smell; but if your pet's ears smell yeasty or just stinky, there's likely an infection underway. Becker suggests cleaning the ears if they have a mild odor or if your dog is shaking his head.
Most vets recommend using a gentle cleanser specifically made for a dog's ears. If you'd prefer something more natural, you can use just a warm, damp cloth. Although some natural sites recommend using mixtures of vinegar, alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, Banfield Pet Hospital points out that these can irritate the skin of some dogs and can also be painful if the ear canal is already inflamed.
Dry paw pads
In most cases, your dog's paw pads are tough enough to withstand most of the things they encounter. But tough winters, hot sidewalks and lots of hiking can occasionally cause your pup's feet to take a beating. You can buy products made from natural waxes and oils (Musher's Secret often pops up on message boards). Or you can dab paw pads with coconut oil or vitamin E oil, suggests Dogster. Rub in the oil thoroughly. Be sure to check with your vet if pads are cracked or bleeding.
Cuts and wounds
If your dog has a minor cut, wash it gently with warm tap water. You may also want to use a warm saline solution that you can make by adding one level teaspoon of salt or Epsom salts to two cups of water, says VCA Hospitals. Although you may read ideas that suggest otherwise, VCA says:
"DO NOT use soaps, shampoos, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, herbal preparations, tea tree oil, or any other product to clean an open wound unless specifically instructed to do so by the veterinarian. Some of these products are toxic if taken internally, while others can actually delay healing."
Wash your pet's bowls on a regular basis and change the water daily. Keep teeth clean with chew toys that scrub your pet's chompers and give treats like carrots and sweet potatoes that help clean while they fortify your dog's diet. But the biggest step you can take is actually brushing your dog's teeth. Use dog toothpaste and get in there and scrub away.
Fleas and other insects
Traditional preventative medications (either topical or oral) are preferred by vets as the most effective way to manage fleas and ticks. But if you'd like to avoid medication, there are more natural flea remedies to try instead. Vets recommend that if you choose one of these methods, you should do more frequent blood tests for your dog to monitor for heartworm and tick-borne diseases.
You can try making your own flea sprays from lemon, rosemary or neem oil. Adding brewer's yeast or apple cider vinegar to your pet's diet may also help ward off insects. Or you can create your own natural flea collar or add nematodes — microscopic, worm-like parasites — to your yard and hope they'll feast on pests.