Every so often I find myself treated to an interesting story about someone's grandma's "famous" home remedy or some culture or another's preferred unguent, balm, salve or snake oil. Though not invariably dangerous, the bulk of these cures and creams suffer from the questionable status that arises from being wholly untested.
Which is why - at best - the most we veterinarians can tell you about their use on your cat is that they're unlikely to do any harm.
Some, however, don't even deserve such detached endorsement. In fact, when you ask your vet about them, we're more likely to offer you a look of alarm consistent with the dangers some of these pseudo-medical approaches pose.
NEVER Do Home Cat Remedies
Consider the following five so-called "remedies" I've run across by way of example of what NOT to do:
1. Essential oils
Never a week goes by that I don't have to explain to owners that some essential oils can be toxic to cats' livers. Oils of cinnamon, citrus, clove, eucalyptus, oregano, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, tea tree (melaleuca), thyme, wintergreen, and ylang ylang (among others) are all poisonous to cats.
But because owners are often instructed to apply them to themselves for minor ailments, many assume it's also safe for use on cats. Dogs may also be adversely affected, but cats' livers seem especially ill-equipped to handle the compounds found in many of these oils. Local irritation, vomiting, and weakness are early signs. Liver failure and death may later result.
2. Imodium for Diarrhea
Well, it's not exactly toxic, but continued dosing of Imodium (as in, more than once) can potentiate more severe infections in the intestines and usually does more harm than good. In some sensitive pets, this home remedy may even lead to a life-threatening pancreatitis. One dose is usually okay (check with your vet first), but, if you need more than one, that's a pretty good sign you need to see a professional. Want a safer option? Reach for probiotics and prebiotics instead.
3. Inducing vomiting after ingestion of caustic or sharp substances
This might seem obvious to you. But it's amazing how often I get calls from owners asking if it's a good idea to use ipecac or stick their fingers down their cat's throat to induce a gag reflex after their cat's eaten something sharp. One owner actually called to ask how to make her cat throw up after she's eaten a needle! Can you imagine what a sharp object might do to a heaving esophagus? Caustic and sharp materials have a way of damaging the stomach, esophagus, and mouth when they come back up. See your veterinarian instead!
4. Advil, Tylenol, and other OTC Pain and Fever Relievers
The most common issue is with Tylenol in cats (they can't metabolize it and their blood turns a sickening chocolaty color, indicating that it's not able to carry oxygen well). Unless administered an antidote relatively quickly, most cats will die after ingesting even small amounts.
The next most common is the stomach ulcer-inducing use of NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) 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 cats 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.
5. Milk and Oil for 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, especially when it comes to Bufo toad intoxication (and the seizures that often result).
Not only does it do no good for seizures or issues related to toad intoxication, a seizing animal can easily aspirate volumes of this mixture into its lungs. The result is pneumonia of an often-fatal variety.(?)
More… Never Do's to Your Cat
Think my top five are bad? Here are some more:
- Ridding pets of ticks by pouring alcohol on them and then applying a lighter's flame. (Ouch!)
- Rat poison to prevent heartworms.
- Chewing tobacco as a dewormer.
- Industrial-grade grease as a fly repellent.
- Pine-based household cleaners as a flea and tick dip.
- Garlic to prevent fleas.