When is it Time to See the Vet?

Written by: Only Natural Pet Team

We get many questions here at Only Natural Pet about dogs and cats with health issues–from tummy troubles, itchy skin or ear infections to cancer. Sometimes, however, the condition of the animal is not so clear and the pet owner is not sure where to turn. A trip to the veterinarian can be stressful and costly, so some folks hesitate to take their companions to the vet's office right away. Sometimes waiting is reasonable and an animal can recover from a bout of diarrhea or itchy skin at home. Sometimes, however, waiting too long can have detrimental consequences for the animal. Below we have outlined some instances where home care is likely to be sufficient and some indications that require a trip to the vet. Keep in mind, however, that this is only a partial list and a rough guideline – whenever in doubt, CALL your veterinarian’s office.

Minor injuries, scrapes or bruises can sometimes be handled at home. If an animal has a scrape or wound in an area of an inch or two, first aid may be all that is needed. Larger or deeper wounds need medical attention and cat or dog bites always need veterinary attention.

You may need to begin by calming and muzzling the animal to protect yourself during first aid treatment. For immediate treatment of injuries or trauma we recommend keeping two products on hand: HomeoPet Trauma and Pet Essences Emergency Rescue Flower Essences. HomeoPet Trauma jump starts the healing process and Emergency Rescue Flower Essences treat the emotional trauma that accompanies most injuries. Both are safe to give even when veterinary care will be needed and medications may be administered. They should be given very frequently immediately following the trauma – every few minutes, and then tapered off as the animal begins to recover.

For smaller wounds, clip the hair away from the area, gently wash with warm water to remove debris, and apply an antibiotic cream. Keep the animal from licking the ointment off by stroking or brushing your pet for 10–15 minutes while the medication has a chance to do its job. Apply ointment several times a day. You should see healing beginning and improvement in the area within several days. If you don’t see improvement then it’s time to go to the vet.

Puncture wounds need to be treated with caution as they can be worse than they appear and can become infected more easily than surface wounds. Clean and treat with antibiotic ointment as described above, but call your veterinarian if you see any swelling or inflammation.

For bruises or minor strains the key is usually rest and protection of the affected area. Keep the animal confined if necessary and take them outside only on leash. Some sprains can take weeks to heal, so don’t let the animal become overexcited or let them begin normal exercise too soon. Musculo/Skeletal supplements, like Traumagesic by integrative Therapeutics can speed healing of bruising, sprains and strains. A calming remedy such as Only Natural Pet Relaxi-Herb or Love My Pet Stress Relief can help during the confinement period for restlessness or anxious animals. Provide some good chews, like Only Natural Pet Bully Sticks, for dogs to help them work off energy that can’t be expended through exercise.

When to see a vet for injuries, scrapes or bruises:

  • Wounds larger than 1-2” and/or deep wounds
  • Bite wounds–dog bites can cause more damage under the surface than you see and can become infected; cat bites very frequently become infected and antibiotics are almost always necessary.
  • Deep puncture wounds or punctures accompanied by swelling, pus or foul smell
  • Wounds that seem to spread or become infected (red around the edges or oozing puss)
  • If animal appears in significant pain – there may be injuries that you cannot see or the animal may need pain medication
  • Persistent limping or soreness in an older animal (possible signs of arthritis)

"If an animal has a scrape or wound in an area of an inch or two, first aid may be all that is needed. Larger or deeper wounds need medical attention and cat or dog bites always need veterinary attention."

Minor stomach upsets involving diarrhea or vomiting can often be monitored at home for a day or two before heading to the veterinarian’s office. These symptoms can often be traced to something simple such as ingesting something unusual (like the kitchen garbage), anxiety or stress, eating too much or too fast, or exercising shortly after eating, etc.

For the occasional bout of diarrhea, adding some canned pumpkin and probiotics to the food and feeding a bland diet for several meals may be all that is required. Canned pumpkin is an essential in every guardian’s pantry as it can help both diarrhea and constipation. Cats can get 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon, and dogs can have 1 tablespoon to ¼ cup or more depending on size.

For occasional vomiting, a short fast (one or two meals), small drinks of water and a bland diet can do the trick. (A big drink of water can further irritate a troubled tummy and cause more vomiting). A bland diet would be equal parts of boiled chicken and white rice–given in small meals. Hamburger and rice can be substituted with as much of the fat drained as possible - rinsing the meat will help wash away excess fat.

Handy upset stomach treatments to have on hand for minor stomach upsets include: Only Natural Pet Tummy Relief, Vetri-Science Fast Balance–GI or Homeo Pet Digestive Upsets for fast (almost immediate in many cases) relief from diarrhea and stomach upsets. Slippery elm bark or marshmallow (readily available at health food stores) can also help calm and sooth the digestive tract.

Cats often vomit or "gag" due to hairballs in their stomach. Long haired cats seem to have a greater problem since there is just more hair to ingest during the self-grooming process. Prevention is the best course of action for hairball problems – through daily grooming and the addition of digestive enzymes and essential fatty acids to the food. For cats who continue to have occasional hairball problems we suggest keeping hairball treatments, like Only Natural Pet Laxa-Herb, Only Natural Pet Hairball Chewables, or Pet Naturals of Vermont Hairball Relief Plus on hand.

When to see a vet for upset stomachs:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea occur together
  • Blood in vomit or diarrhea
  • Vomiting or diarrhea lasts more than a day or two
  • Animal appears listless
  • Multiple bouts of vomiting or diarrhea over a short period of time
  • Animal trying to vomit unsuccessfully (sometimes with profuse drool)
  • Distended abdomen or bloating present
  • Abdomen tender to touch
  • Animal shows labored breathing or appears to be in pain

Animals with chronic loose stools or diarrhea, or chronic vomiting should be evaluated by a holistic veterinarian for food intolerances, allergies or other underlying illness. For animals with chronic digestive upsets please see our article, "Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Other Gastrointestinal Issues."

"If home treatment does not alleviate or at least reduce your companion’s itch in three weeks, a visit or consult with a holistic veterinarian is advised."

Itchy Skin, paws or ears can be a sign of allergies or fleas. Itchy skin is never “normal” – there is no reason that any dog or cat should be chronically itchy. Dry skin is not “normal” no matter how hot or dry the air where you live. An animal who begins to scratch consistently needs immediate attention because it will only get worse if you wait.

First determine whether fleas are the culprit. A flea comb is an absolute essential tool for every household with a dog or cat. Even if your dog or cat is an indoor pet, fleas can find them. Check for fleas first and foremost because if you don’t and the fleas continue to multiply while you start treating for allergies, by the time you realize you have fleas they will be much harder to eliminate.

Run the flea comb through your pet’s hair and gather a bit of hair and “dirt.” Then put this between two damp white paper towels and press them together–if the “dirt” creates rusty looking spots on the paper towel, then there is a flea somewhere – most likely a family of fleas – on your companion. If you keep combing, you will likely trap some of them in the comb. Drown them in SOAPY water – fleas have been known to jump out of plain water. If your flea test is positive, please read " The Natural Approach to Flea Control" in our article archives. If the flea test is negative, then move on to treating for possible allergies. This includes three simple steps:

  1. Change to a hypoallergenic food.
  2. Add digestive enzymes to every meal.
  3. Add essential fatty acids (preferably fish oil) to the diet.

Please note: Many high-quality foods now add digestive enzymes and essential fatty acids to their formulas, but they DO NOT contain sufficient quantities of either to help eliminate allergic reactions and itchy skin. Please see our article, " Alleviating Your Pet's Itchy Skin," for more information about solutions for an itchy companion.

When to see a vet for itchy skin, paws or ears: If home treatment does not alleviate or at least reduce your companion’s itch in three weeks, a visit or consult with a holistic veterinarian is advised. (We do not recommend visiting traditional or conventionally trained veterinarians when allergies are suspected, as the most commonly prescribed conventional treatment with steroids or antibiotics will only prolong and exacerbate the problem). See the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association website for a list of holistic vets in your area.

Hot Spots can be secondary infections from an animal scratching or licking an area excessively or they may appear on their own – possibly a result of a mild abrasion, bug bite or moisture on the skin. They can hide under the hair, so you will need to clip the area thoroughly to treat them properly. Hot spots need to be kept clean and dry and you will need to prevent the animal from licking or scratching the area as much as possible. Apply an antibiotic spray or ointment frequently. Our favorites are Only Natural Pet Hot Spot Skin Relief Oil for dogs and Doc Ackerman's Instant Hot Spot Relief Spray for dogs and cats.

When to see a vet for hot spots: If the hot spot does not look better within a few days and clear within a week or so then it’s time to see the veterinarian for further treatment.

Ear Infections are quite uncomfortable and your dog or cat will alert you by shaking their head, tilting it to one side and/or scratching at the affected ear persistently or rubbing it along the floor or furniture. Chronic ear infections are very frequently a sign of allergies. Dogs with “floppy” ears such as hounds and cocker spaniels are more prone to ear problems as are dogs that love to swim. These animals may just need more frequent rinses with a good ear cleanser such as Halo’s Herbal Ear Wash or Ark Naturals Ears All Right.

The best treatment for most mild, chronic ear infections is to keep the ears clean and follow the steps outlined above for treating allergies. Use a topical ear wash to help control symptoms and control bacteria or yeast while you are helping your companion’s system heal from the inside, try the Animals' Apawthecary Herbal Ear Rinse which contains goldenseal and olive leaf to help control bacteria, or Only Natural Pet Ear Care with Tea Tree Oil which contains Echinacea and Tea Tree Oil to disinfect and clean the ear canal. Tea tree oil is antifungal and can be helpful in controlling yeast as well. Please check out our entire selection of ear washes and treatments. For additional information, please see our article, " Addressing Eye and Ear Disorders Holistically."

Ear mites can cause the same symptoms as an ear infection. Ear mites are more common in cats – especially younger cats or outdoor cats. Ear mites are spread by contact from animal to animal. If you suspect ear mites the only way to confirm the diagnosis is by having your veterinarian examine the ear discharge under a microscope to look for mites. The discharge from an ear with a yeast infection can look very much like that of an animal with mites, so examination without a microscope may have you treating the wrong thing. For ear mite infestations try PetAlive Ear Dr. Consistent applications and persistence are important when treating for mites.

When to see a vet for ear troubles:

  • If symptoms do not improve (or if symptoms worsen) with home treatment
  • The animal appears to be in significant pain
  • If you suspect a foreign object such as foxtail in the ear
  • If the animal is shaking its head so vigorously that the ear swells – this may be a hematoma and should be checked.

ALWAYS see a vet for the following conditions:

  • Lumps and bumps: Though older dogs often develop benign fatty tumors under the skin, it is always best to have new lumps checked. Lumps that feel solid and do not move around under the skin should be checked as soon as possible.
  • Shortness of breath: This can be a sign of heart trouble.
  • Straining to urinate with no urine production: This is an immediate emergency. A blocked urinary tract can be life threatening.
  • Sudden change in appetite: Can be an indication of serious illness such as kidney failure or hyperthyroidism.
  • Sudden weight loss or gain: Can be a sign of thyroid dysfunction or other serious disease.
  • Change in water consumption: Can be a sign of diabetes or kidney disease.
  • Sudden change in temperament.
  • Lethargic or reclusive behavior lasting more than a day.
  • Limping or chronic lameness (not attributed to minor injury): Can be arthritis.
  • Vision problems, cloudy or hazy eyes, or abnormal eye discharge: Eye issues do not lend themselves to home treatment. Veterinary evaluation is important.
  • Persistent bad breath: Can be a sign of digestive disorder or more serious dental disease.

Please remember this is only a partial list. When in doubt, call your veterinarian’s office or local emergency clinic.For more information about specific health conditions please check our Holistic Healthcare Library.