Canine well-being is a series of articles sharing the experience I have gathered while living with and caring for dogs. They will address common canine health concerns. I am not a veterinarian. The contents of these articles are intended to inspire looking beyond conventional ideas and practices. Be responsible and do your own research and seek appropriate veterinarian advice (from a holistic vet such as Dr Pearson from Paws to Heal).
A few years ago I took a Pet First Aid course after which I bought a Pet First Aid Kit. I haven’t used it once. I don’t regret having it, one day its contents might still prove very useful. It makes me realise, however, there are items not contained in it that I use frequently for my dog’s common ailments such as hotspots, allergic reactions or wound care. The top three are activated charcoal, colloidal silver and salt water.
Activated charcoal is a fine, odorless black powder derived from superheating natural sources of carbon, such as wood. It is not the same substance found in charcoal bricks or burnt food. The manufacturing process of activated charcoal makes it extremely absorbent. It is used in emergency rooms to treat overdoses and poisonings. Its toxic-absorbent properties have a wide range of medicinal and cosmetic uses. To date, there have been no adverse reactions noted with activated charcoal in any of its various forms.
The healing properties of activated charcoal have been known for millenia. John Dinsley’s book CharcoalRemedies.com – The Complete Handbook of Medicinal Charcoal and Its Applications and his website are a treasure trove of information on the many uses of this wondrous black powder. I am surprised that charcoal tablets are not included in a Pet First Aid kit, they can be life saving when dealing with poisoning.
I have used activated charcoal for clearing infection from open wounds when there was swelling and yellow pus. The wounds looked healthy (no swelling, only pink flesh) again within 24 hours of having sprinkled on the powder. I also use it for Henry’s hotspots that form between the folds on his throat in summer due to trapped dampness. The charcoal absorbs the moisture and brings down the redness and the area returns to normal.
There is a slight annoyance factor when using activated charcoal – everything gets black. However, it does not stain, so the mess is cleaned up easy enough.
Activated charcoal powder can be bought in health food stores or online.
Less messy and equally effective for wound cleaning is colloidal silver. When researching this versatile liquid you’ll find controversial information. There have been no proper studies but the empirical evidence speaks for itself. Taken internally for a long period of time can result in a blue-grey discolouration of the skin and in rare cases, high doses of it can cause serious side effects such as seizures or organ damage.
My holistic vet recommends it topically for wound care and hotspot care as well as oral care. I’ve used it on Marvel’s hotspots – different to Henry’s, hers are not hidden but exposed and can air dry after colloidal silver has been applied. I use it on puncture wounds and scrapes and grazes. I wipe infected eyes with a cotton pad soaked in it (use seperate pads for each eye!). I sprayed it on Louie’s molars that had build-up that caused very bad breath.
Colloidal silver can be taken internally for stopping diarrhoea, to prevent parasites, boost the immune system and many other benefits.
Colloidal silver can be bought in health food stores or online.
A common wound care product dispensed by vets is Betadine (povidone iodine). I don’t like that it stains but more importantly when researching for this article, I discovered that there can be allergic reactions to it with symptoms such as hives, difficulties breathing, swelling of face, lips, tongue and throat, blistering, burning and more.
My Pet First Aid kit actually does contain four ampoules of saline solution which is practical when out and about. At home, I make my own salt water solution: dissolve half a teaspoon of sea salt in one cup of boiled water. Let it cool to lukewarm or room temperature before using it. Saline solution is good for flushing eyes and the nose, cleaning wounds, reduce infection, drawing out imbedded objects (splinters, seeds, etc) and more.
One of my foster dogs, a Spoodle named Harvey, had a barbed grass seed burrow through his coat, pierce his skin and start travel inwards. His incessant licking of the irritated spot made me aware of its presence quickly. I carefully clipped the hair around the spot and soaked his paw in warm salt water for ten minutes three times a day. As advised by my homeopathic vet, I also treated Harvey with two homeopathic remedies, one to support the lymphatic system and another to help with the soreness and speed up the healing process. After two days of salt water baths the seed was drawn to the surface and I could remove it with the tweezers.
I was blown away by the potency of this simple remedy when I had a nasty puncture wound on the joint of my middle finger from a dog bite. The GP that had a look at it was adamant I use antibiotics because of the severity of the infection, my whole hand was swollen painfully, all knuckles had disappeared and it was impossible to bend my fingers or make a fist. I said I would take his prescription just in case but would first try to simply soak the injured hand in warm salt water. I did so for 30 minutes at a time, every two hours for a day. The swelling and pain reduced dramatically and I decided to continue daily salt water soaks for a few days and forego the antibiotics. When the GP saw my hand a week later he was surprised and impressed by how well my finger was healing.
When Marvel ripped out a toenail during play, the site started swelling up and was very sore. Warm salt water soaks and a homeopathic remedy for the nerve pain helped her get better and heal again.
To lick or not to lick wounds
Even though scientific evidence suggests that dog (and human) saliva has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, allowing a dog to lick a wound is considered archaic (what with all the advances of modern medicine) and even outright harmful.
When I lived in Canada, several times my dogs were attacked by raccoons in self-defense after being cornered. Invariably, when the wound was in a spot they couldn’t reach and lick, therefore needing my care, these wounds would heal more slowly than the ones receiving their saliva treatment.
Over the years, Enzo had allergic reactions causing huge swellings in his face in response to tiny nicks or punctures. I’ve heard since about other dogs with a similar coat suffering from this condition too.
Aside from giving him the appropriate homeopathic remedies for the different stages of his allergic reactions, once the pus started coming out I cleaned the drainage holes with colloidal silver and manually helped the process when it was not too painful. Even though I was careful and used very gentle touch, he would flinch in discomfort. However, when Marvel set to nurse his wounds with her tongue, you could see how good it felt to him as he was leaning into it, relaxing, his eyes softening. A dog’s tongue is so adept at this job. When it was enough, Enzo moved away.
Of course, there are instances when licking is harmful. Licking at a surgical site can reopen the wound. Excessive licking can cause irritation and hotspots, even self-mutilation. In certain circumstances, when not being able to supervise your dog it is prudent to put measures into place to prevent licking.
When our dogs are injured and not well, we easily feel anxious. Partly this is because they can’t speak to us in the way we are most familiar and comfortable with, our human language. But also because there is a disempowerment when it comes to health – our own and that of our loved ones. Sure, it can be helpful to have the knowledge and skills of a trained professional at our disposal when we are out of our depth. But hand over all responsibility for even the most harmless ailments? Not only does that make us feel unnecessarily helpless but also exposes our dogs to needless treatments with steroids and antibiotics with the wide-spread “just in case” attitude. I’ve written this article on the topic as well as this one.
Everyone needs to find their own balance between when to seek help and when to take care of it ourselves. Our dog’s well-being – in this moment as well as in the long run – is our compass. Our confidence grows with each case we manage well.