Visits to the veterinarian can cost pet owners a pretty penny, but there are situations when pet owners can safely avoid vet bills by treating their pets themselves or by taking action to prevent dog or cat health problems. Among them…


The over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medication diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is a safe and effective motion sickness treatment for dogs and cats that become nauseated on trips, just as it is for humans. As an added benefit, Benadryl causes drowsiness, calming pets made anxious by travel.

The challenge is getting the dosage right—most pets are significantly smaller than people, and they require lower doses. One milligram of Benadryl per pound of body weight is a reasonable rule of thumb, but start with a much smaller dose—perhaps one-quarter of a milligram per pound—when you give a pet Benadryl for the first time. Though this medication makes most pets and people drowsy, it causes the opposite reaction in a small percentage of users. Discontinue use if the animal becomes hyperactive.

Helpful: To get dogs and cats to take medications, you can put soft cheese, bread or peanut butter around a pill or add liquid medicine to canned pet food or other food that your pet enjoys.


Signs of ear infections in pets include redness and swelling around the ear, loss of balance, red or yellow discharge from the ear or persistent ear scratching and head shaking. Once a pet develops an ear infection, a trip to the vet is required. But pet owners can help prevent ear infections by cleaning pets’ ears when needed. Look for accumulations of black-looking material or other matter.

Lie the dog or cat on its side. Ask a family member to help hold the pet down if it is large or feisty. Fill its ear with mineral oil, massage the area, then fill the ear with warm water to rinse out the oil. Ideally this process should be repeated three times with each ear, letting the pet shake its head to clear out the liquid after each filling of mineral oil or warm water.

Do this ear cleaning in the bathroom or outside. Otherwise the mineral oil and earwax could stain furniture or carpets.


A widespread weed, known as foxtail or grass awns, has aggressive seeds (awns) that stick to pets’ fur and burrow into skin, causing infections or abscesses.

In some cases, grass awns work their way into an animal’s chest or abdominal cavity, causing serious lifelong health problems or even death. Both dogs and cats can be affected, though problems are less common with cats, which often can remove grass awns while grooming. The best solution is prevention—regularly mow lawns where pets spend time and keep pets out of tall, weedy grass.

When a pet does get into tall grass, examine the animal very carefully and remove any seedpods and stickers. A trip to the veterinarian is required once a grass awn gets into the pet’s skin.


If a dog exhibits a dry and hacking cough that becomes worse when temperatures drop in the evening, the cause probably is kennel cough, which typically lasts two to three weeks. Kennel cough is spread like the common cold, so any contact with an infected dog potentially can transmit the disease. There’s little point to bringing a dog with kennel cough to the vet right away—as with the common cold, there is no cure.

To help relieve the cough so that you and the dog can get some sleep, try Robitussin DM, the same OTC medicine that you might use yourself. This won’t cure the underlying problem, but it can at least calm the cough for a while so that the pet—and everyone else in the house—can relax and sleep through the night. One teaspoon is a reasonable dose for a large dog…one-half teaspoon for a small dog. If the cough persists, it’s probably worth a trip to the vet.


Cats use their tongues to groom their fur, and some fur inevitably is ingested. While most ingested fur simply passes through the cat, some of it can remain in the stomach, becoming a hair ball.

If you have reason to believe that your cat has developed an intestinal blockage—an empty litter box suggesting constipation, for example, or repeated retching without producing a hair ball—put undiluted Carnation concentrated canned milk in its dish and let it drink. Soon after, the cat will have loose stools, cleaning out the intestines. If symptoms persist, see a veterinarian.


Plastic food and water bowls often are to blame when dogs develop these symptoms—some dogs are allergic to chemicals found in plastics. If so, switching to a stainless steel or ceramic bowl should solve the problem.

See a vet if the dog has not been eating from plastic bowls or if you make the switch and don’t see any improvement within two weeks or so. Plastic bowls don’t seem to cause these problems for cats.

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