Why Home Remedies Aren't Always the Best Option for Your Pet

Why Home Remedies Aren't Always the Best Option for Your Pet

As pet owners, we’ll do anything we can to help our pets live happy, healthy lives. This includes keeping them free of ticks and fleas, relieving their itch, and managing pain. Some pet owners prefer to use natural or at-home remedies for a variety of these ailments.

However, natural doesn’t always mean “pet-safe” or effective, and what might work well for humans as far as at-home remedies go, might be unsafe or even toxic for your pet. At-home remedies can sometimes help prevent or treat some problems in certain situations. However, they can also cause problems — from prolonging the time your pet suffers from the condition to worsening the condition.

Google doesn’t personally know your dog or cat and their unique situation like your veterinarian will. Always discuss any potential home remedy treatments with your vet and work with them to see if there’s a safer (and more effective) treatment.

Commonly used (and potentially dangerous) at-home remedies for pets

  • Tick and flea preventatives
  • Mosquito repellants
  • Pain treatment
  • Allergy medications
  • Anti-itch baths

At-home tick and flea solutions

There are a few different home remedies and DIY options that people choose for flea and tick prevention. Many of these methods have been proven ineffective, and in some cases are actually toxic for your dog or cat.

  • Garlic. This commonly recommended natural flea preventative can be quite toxic to dogs and cats, especially smaller ones and those with existing problems with their red blood cells or kidneys.
  • Diatomaceous Earth. This fine silica powder is made from fossilized microscopic algae remains and is a popular form of natural pest control. Unfortunately, it can cause digestive irritation or upset if ingested by cats or dogs — like when they groom it off themselves. Diatomaceous Earth can also cause respiratory problems for cats and dogs when inhaled, especially if the pet has existing respiratory problems.
  • Cedar chips & bedding. Some dogs are allergic to cedar, causing them to exhibit itch symptoms[1].
  • Brewer’s yeast. Given as a dietary supplement, brewer’s yeast was shown ineffective at repelling fleas[2].
  • Ultrasonic waves. Ultrasonic waves from collars or plug-in devices are shown to be ineffective against fleas on cats[3].
  • Pyrethrins. These “natural” sprays derived from the chrysanthemum flower can be very effective at repelling and killing fleas, mosquitoes, and ticks. But these “natural” compounds can also be extremely dangerous for use on, or even around, cats who are extremely sensitive to their neuromuscular effects[4].

To ensure your pet is protected from ticks and fleas and the diseases they carry, visit your veterinarian for a safe treatment option.

Mosquito repellants

Natural products, like essential oils, have been shown to have varying effects on repelling mosquitoes. Some essential oils like citronella, patchouli, clove, and makaen can provide some degree of mosquito repellency for around 2–4 hours, but need to be used undiluted, which increases the potential toxicity to your pet. Lemon eucalyptus and picaridin have also been shown to repel mosquitoes, but there are no products approved for use on dogs and cats on the market[5].

It’s important to note that while these home remedies for pets may repel mosquitoes, they aren’t 100% effective at stopping a mosquito carrying heartworm disease from transmitting the disease to your dog or cat. Ensure your pet is on a yearly heartworm disease preventative medication to help protect them from being infected.

Pain treatments

Dogs and cats are very different from people, including the way we metabolize medications. That’s why you should never give your dog or cat human over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications in your medicine cabinet at home without first talking to your veterinarian. Ibuprofen has been known to cause gastric perforation in dogs[6], and acetaminophen (brands like Tylenol) is extremely toxic to cats, even in small amounts[7].

If your pet has chronic pain, like from osteoarthritis, talk with your veterinarian to see if there is a more convenient, longer-lasting option to help your pet manage their pain.

Anti-itch and allergy treatments

If your pet seems to be scratching an itch non-stop, you might be tempted to try something you already have at home to bring them some relief. While treatments like oatmeal baths or rubbing coconut oil on your pet may provide them with some temporary relief, it doesn’t address the underlying problem of why your cat or dog is itching. This may cause the itch to turn into a chronic problem, causing your pet more discomfort, itchiness, and secondary skin infections. Work with your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause for your pet’s itchy skin or ears so you can find a treatment plan that helps your pet best manage their itch.

While home remedies for pets may help them with a variety of issues, they haven’t necessarily been tested for use on animals, making them potentially dangerous or toxic. It’s a risk that should be talked through with your veterinarian to assess the pros and cons.

The Zoetis Petcare Team

The Zoetis Petcare Team

As the world’s largest animal health company, Zoetis develops and creates innovative products that improve the health of your pets. The full line of Zoetis Petcare products are so trusted and effective, they’re in almost every veterinary practice in the country.

  1. Masuda, K. et.al. In vivo and in vitro tests showing sensitization to Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) pollen allergen in atopic dogs. J Vet Med Sci. 2000 Sep;62(9):995-1000.
  2. Baker NF, Farver TB. Failure of brewer's yeast as a repellent to fleas on dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1983 Jul 15;183(2):212-4.
  3. Hinkle, N. et.al. Egg Production, Larval Development, and Adult Longevity of Cat Fleas (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) Exposed to Ultrasound. Journal of Economic Entomology, Volume 83, Issue 6, 1 December 1990, Pages 2306–2309.
  4. Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids. Pet Poison Helpline. https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/pyrethrin/. Accessed October 4, 2019.
  5. Trongtokit, Y, et.al. Comparative repellency of 38 essential oils against mosquito bites. Phytotherapy Research 19(4):303-9 · April 2005.
  6. Godshalk CP. Gastric perforation associated with administration of ibuprofen in a dog. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1992 Dec 1;201(11):1734-6.
  7. Ilkiw J. Paracetamol toxicity in a cat. Australian Veterinary Journal, 64: 245-247. doi:10.1111/j.1751-0813.1987.tb09693.x

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