Healing Our Pets Without Overusing Antibiotics

Reader Contribution by Aaron Miller
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It’s funny how differently we handle health issues and basic daily needs one way for humans and another way for our dear non-human friends, our pets. They eat the same food every day for years on end, and some for their entire life. I’m sure that’s not how nature designed it but it’s the way we do things now. Another thing we do is take them into the vet clinic anytime they have something wrong without a second thought (I notice this more in urban areas than rural ones though). We’ll go weeks with a cold but if poor little scruffy has the sniffles, call Dr. Grey cause I need the OR prepped, stat! But nothing bothers me more than paying hundreds of dollars just to have the vet tell me they don’t know and maybe try this or that, and to “keep an eye on it”. I could do that online for free. Though be careful, home diagnosis can be dangerous. In some mild cases, however, it can work out for the benefit of your wallet, your peace of mind and for the well-being of your best friend.

I have a goofy four year old Bulldog/Pitt-bull buddy named Winslow. If drooling all over the floor after drinking some water were a competition, he would be champion of the world. I recently left him in a kennel for a few days while I got married in August, more for my sanity than out of real necessity. Sure enough when he got back home he started in with the deep, throaty cough and hacking up of phlegm that accompanies the infamous “Kennel Cough” (he had the vaccine by the way). My wife’s parents were still staying with us and had their three dogs with them as well as our other dog Chester. Panic set in quickly for the household when they realized that kennel cough is what he had, being that it is very contagious. I had two choices; go to the vet or research some natural remedies. Being a responsible father I called our vet clinic first and asked some questions but received the answers I knew I would. There was nothing they could do but prescribe antibiotics. Sounds pretty serious right? If something needs antibiotics you don’t want to take chances right? Well that’s not necessarily the best outlook to have.

Antibiotic resistance is a real yet generally misunderstood problem, and part of the reason is overuse and lack of bacterial education. A little history lesson for you, in 1945 Penicillin was first used commercially. One year later 14% of Staphylococcus Aureus (the SA in MRSA) was resistant. By 1950, 59% was resistant and by 1995 the figure rose to 95%. Before the end of the millennium, the first Staph strain resistant to all known antibiotics infected its first three people, just forty-four years after being introduced. Today, the drug companies are making less and less new antibiotics so think about forty-four years from now. Three traits of bacteria help make antibiotic overuse a big issue. 1. Bacteria create new generations every 20 minutes which helps resistant mutations spread fast. 2. When they create a resistance to a particular antibiotic, they can create multiple additional resistances. Even to antibiotics we haven’t invented yet. 3. When they develop a resistance they can, especially during times of stress, pass that genetic code into the environment to other bacteria they come in contact with, even if it is a different bacterium.

Why am I lecturing so hard on antibiotics and kennel cough? Antibiotics work on bacterial infections only, not viral ones, which most kennel cough is a mixture of both so this won’t ‘cure’ kennel cough. Most vets will offer to run expensive tests to verify what exact strands they have but that still ends with a ‘keep an eye on it’ and an antibiotic to just sort of ‘cover the bases’. And given the very real problem we have with resistance, we have to leave them for emergencies only. It is not so far-fetched that within our children or grandchildren’s lifetime, they will be as vulnerable to infection as we were just 100 years ago. We all need to do our part to slow this end of the antibiotic golden age and nature is here to help. Pay attention to keywords such as “anti-bacterial” and “anti-viral”, this is why they work.


The first thing to do is keep them from over exerting themselves. Every time they cough and hack or throw-up, you get irritation in the airways and more inflammation. Keep them relaxed, keep them calm. It’s good not to have company over so they don’t run around like a crazy person (or dog). Oatmeal is good for calming and be sure to limit exercise.

Just like a chest cold, warm humid air helps open up the airways all clogged with mucus. I took a shower with Winslow and turned up the heat but kept the exhaust fan off to fill the space with steam. This helps though in our case I only did it once. If the problem would have persisted, I would have done it more but he started improving so fast that I just ‘kept an eye on it’.

Honey. Oh boy do dogs love honey, which is good because it coats the throat and helps with the irritation that causes them to cough and irritate the airways and throat. It also has fantastic disinfecting properties as well as anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-septic, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. Though the strength of these properties will vary depending on what plants the pollen was taken from, all honey has these traits. Make sure it is raw honey too. We know a lady not 5 miles away that does her own beekeeping and we buy our honey from her and her husband. Supporting local business and fresh raw honey; win-win. Winslow is 80 pounds so a tablespoon three times a day is fine but if you have an 8 pound dog like our Chester, you may want to give smaller doses.

Fresh Garlic. Garlic has fantastic anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties to it. It can however be tough to get your dog to eat garlic so I recommend a mixture that includes some other ingredients that I will mention towards the end.

Cinnamon. This is another good tasting natural product that has great anti-viral properties. Sprinkle some on the dog’s food and let them go to town.

Coconut Oil. This also contains strong anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Additionally it helps coat the throat and ease discomfort. The aroma makes it easy for dogs to enjoy without much persuasion. Too much coconut oil can lead to diarrhea so use less if this occurs. 

What I did besides giving Winslow honey a few times a day was create a mixture that I gave once a day. The mixture had a few tablespoons of coconut oil, one tablespoon honey, a couple cloves of garlic and sprinkled cinnamon. Some dogs are more sensitive to certain foods and some could have allergies to the ingredients so it’s best to always watch your pets anytime you try natural remedies. If the cough worsens, take your dog to the vet immediately.

Sources: foodsafety.ksu.edu/articles/280/molecular_mechanisms_antimic_resist.pdf



Aaron Miller lives in Olympia Washington where he grows organic vegetables and herbs. He and his wife make natural products at home in pursuit of a simpler life. They share their products and ideas at www.themillercollection.org