Dog in Bath

As a rule, we veterinarians aren’t big on the DIY approach to animal health care. We’ve known too many pets who suffered the wrath of makeshift splints, botched wart removals, backwoods tail-docking methods and strange parasite-killing concoctions (some of which killed more than just the fleas). 

Which is why, excellent intentions notwithstanding, we always urge pet owners to seek professional veterinary counsel before embarking on an irreversible course of DIY care. Not only is it heartbreaking to see pet owners lose pets to conditions that might’ve been treated, it’s gut-wrenching to tell a client they’re responsible for it.

But, as always, there are two sides to the story. There are plenty of times when a DIY approach is warranted — even preferable — to a vet’s more formal interventions. Further, seeing as veterinary medical expenses can add up, it also stands to reason that pet owners might want to take on some of the workload.

C’mon, You Can Do It

For your edification, I’ve included 12 of these measures — including the simplest and the not-so-simple — in the following list:

1. Nail trimming. Dare I confess it? I really hate trimming a pet’s toenails in the exam room. Why? Not only is it difficult to do with a pet who rarely gets them trimmed, pets who only get it done during their annual visit tend to hate the procedure with a passion. No wonder she hates coming to the veterinarian’s office!

Granted, some clinics don’t mind the nail trims as much as I do! Unless you’re willing to take them there or to the groomer every few weeks (more for some, less for others), you, my dear pet owner, can be responsible for this task. Ideally, you would teach your pet as a pup or kitten to accept this procedure (which we will gladly show you how to do).

2. Hairball management. Buy a good brush (I like the Furminator) and get all that hair off before she does. Bathing a hairball-prone cat also helps remove loose hair, lest it end up sitting uncomfortably in the stomach and later, being spewed out. Other simple solutions include hairball formula foods and oral petroleum-based gel products.   

3. Therapeutic bathing. Yes, sometimes you need to look beyond the supermarket oatmeal-formula shampoos and ask your vet about therapeutic bathing for pets with skin issues. In fact, bathing your dog or cat twice weekly (or more for some!) might be just the thing she needs to control that skin condition. Make sure you let your veterinarian know you’re willing.

4. Sanitary clipping. It doesn’t take a degree in grooming to learn how to trim your dog’s overgrown eyebrows or your cat’s dingleberry-trapping butt hair. The last thing we want is a dog effectively blinded by her hair falling into a swimming pool or a kitty constipated because there’s too much poop stuck to her backside. (I’ve seen both happen.) Buy an electric clipper to accomplish these regular tasks safely.

5. Ear cleaning. All young pets should learn to have their ears handled and cleaned. Some may resist, but with persistence, almost all will learn, even as adults.

6. Tooth brushing. This is my number one recommendation for anyone who doesn’t like spending hard-earned cash on expensive, extensive dental cleanings. Make those cleanings simple quickies with few complications by brushing your dog’s teeth or cat’s teeth regularly. Daily is best and — so you know — weekly is, obviously, not as effective. 

7. Pilling. Learn early on how to give pills to your cat or dog. This will save you lots of time, money and frustration!

8. Taking a temperature. Buy a digital thermometer and mark it with a Sharpie. This is now your pet’s dedicated thermometer. Coat it with a smear of petroleum jelly and, whenever you’re worried your pet has a fever, insert the skinny end into the rectum about an inch. Normal temperature for a dog or cat is 100 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. You can learn how to do this. Nothing’s ever too gross to do if it’s in the service of your pet’s health, right?

9. Stopping the bleeding. It’s not hard to stem the tide of basic bleeding. Toenails trimmed too far will quickly respond to some simple pressure and perhaps a bit of flour, but more serious injuries may require tourniquets and lots of direct pressure until you can get to the veterinarian’s office.

By the way, you can and should know how to use tourniquets on both humans and animals. This is a lifesaving first-aid procedure that requires no advanced degree… just some sometimes-not-so-common common sense. 

10. Offering simple first aid. Speaking of tourniquets… simple first aid is within your grasp. Almost every community hospital offers a course. Some progressive veterinary hospitals offer them, too. Here, you’ll learn how to stabilize pets before bringing them in for professional vet care. Dealing with bleeding, seizing dogs, hit-by-car catastrophes and near drownings is something any dedicated layperson can learn.

11. Administering simple injections and subcutaneous fluids. It’s not hard. It just takes willingness.  Administering subcutaneous fluids, insulin or allergy medication isn’t difficult. Your veterinarian will show you how!

12. Monitoring diabetic pets. It’s impractical for pet owners to go to the vet every time they need a pet’s blood sugar monitored or urine checked. Checking your diabetic pet’s levels at home is now more doable than ever for highly motivated pet owners.

Sure, some of these seem tough, but I promise you can learn! Just don’t: dose your dogs with oil and milk when you think they’ve been poisoned, give them turpentine dips to kill mange, remove ticks with a flame (ouch!), offer rat poison to prevent heartworm or chewing tobacco for deworming. And whatever you do, don’t offer industrial-grade grease as a fly repellent.

As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and good deeds forgone. (I added the last part.)

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