Bear lost, and had a chunk out of her lip to show for it.
It was late on a Saturday back in Winnipeg and owner Holly Moore was keeping an eye on it.
“It was weeping a weird little, clear liquid, so I thought well, it's starting to get infected,” she said. “It could be really expensive to take her to the vet to get it looked at. Maybe I’ll just put tea tree oil on it because I use that for my kids.”
Moore said she used it for scrapes and bumps and bruises on the children.
"It’s a germicide… so I thought great, I’ll put it on her.”
She put Bear in her crate for the night, but then she decided to google how effective tea tree oil is on dogs just before heading to bed.
She was horrified.
“The first thing that comes up is an absolute nightmare: ‘toxicity to dogs’, ‘never use it on your dog,’ ‘my dog died’, ‘my dog had paralysis,’ ‘my dog was (behaving as if it were) drunk,’ ‘my dog never woke up,’” she said.
She rushed downstairs and began rinsing Bear with dish soap as the website had recommended.
Moore watched Bear all night. She was relieved in the morning when Bear showed no sign of problems.
It’s the kind of story Dr. Corey Bartley of Dakota Veterinary Hospital hears regularly.
“It’s not surprising,” she said. “We do find a lot of times people are looking for quick remedies of something they already have at home or something … a little more holistic, that they think may be better for their pet.”
But what’s good for the goose, isn’t always good for the gander. She said in addition to tea tree oil, there are other naturopathic products not necessarily safe for dogs.
“That would include garlic, ginseng, St. John’s wort, aloe vera,” she said. However, she added, they can be used in certain doses even though they can be potentially harmful.
Bartley doesn’t recommend over the counter medicine or meds prescribed for humans, something she hears about from time to time.
“Tons of people use ibuprofen, but it’s toxic to dogs and cats.”
She said some dogs can tolerate aspirin but for others it upsets the stomach.
And you can’t combine it with other drugs.
“I’ve seen dogs where they were on some kind anti-inflammatory like aspirin ar or even a prescription from the vet, then they put their dog on pepto bismol because of an upset stomach. Pepto bismol contains a compound called salicylate and that is chemically very similar to aspirin. You can end up with really nasty side effects.”
Even disastrous consequences, she said.
And there are a lot of grey areas.
“Sometimes it’s not just as clear cut as toxic or non-toxic,” she said. Zinc diaper rash cream, for instance.
“It sounds pretty benign,” she said. ” But you’re dealing with a dog who is very likely to try and lick it off, and potentially ingesting it. It can be … harmful.”
Bartley said minor wounds can be rinsed with just water or with a gentle soap, such as hand soap.
A dab of polysporin is ok, but: “The caveat is then you have to make sure that your pet can’t ingest it.” Rubbing alcohol is out, because it hurts.
So, what should you do when you are worried about a cut or illness after hours?
Bartley recommends the ASPCA website, which has a special section on poisons. There is also a 1-800 number, 1 888-426-4435, but for Canadians there may be a charge.
Or, better yet, call the vet.
“Your vet is going to be more than willing to work with you to say,’Can this be safely used in your pet and if (so), beyond that, what’s the appropriate dose for your dog?’” said Bartley.
“There’s going to be a huge difference between an 8 lb. poodle and an 80 lb. lab.”
Holly Moore says she’s learned her lesson. “It’s a cautionary tale,” she said. “Don’t use anything on your dog, anything herbal, (and) don’t try to self-treat your dog."