Oats have tons of health benefits, and not just for humans. The wholesome grains can help pets in numerous ways, from relieving itchy skin to regulating digestion.
“They’re an easy-to cook, easy-to-buy, inexpensive whole grain,” says Dr. Cailin Heinze, assistant professor of nutrition at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “That’s kind of what makes oats stand out.”
Always consult a veterinarian before introducing oats to your pets, she says, to make sure you’re serving them healthy amounts. Also, it’s important to rule out any allergy issues. But if your vet gives the go-ahead, oats can be a great, natural addition to a pet’s diet and bathing routine.
Here are some ways you can use oats to help your four-legged friends inside and out.
1. Make a Gentle Shampoo
Oats have anti-inflammatory properties, so they can be very calming on dogs’ and cats’ itchy or irritated skin. It’s easy to make your own oat shampoo, says Dr. Laurie Coger, a holistic veterinarian and owner of The Healthy Dog Workshop. She recommends using a food processor to grind up plain oatmeal, then adding water and “maybe a little coconut oil or a little gentle shampoo, just to get some suds-ing action.”
Homemade oat shampoo can be a more natural option than commercial pet soap, Coger says, because it doesn’t contain any fragrances or hidden ingredients that could irritate a sensitive animal.
2. Soak Your Pet in Oats
For even deeper relief, you can give your pet a soothing oat bath. “Grind [dry oatmeal] up fine and put it in a bath, and just sit there and soak a dog or a cat in it, assuming they’ll tolerate it,” Coger says.
Oat shampoos and soaks are especially great for cats, she adds. Kitties, of course, groom themselves constantly, and “you have to be so careful about what they’re going to ingest, if any residue is left on the skin,” she says. But if they ingest any oatmeal residue, “it’s not going to hurt them a bit.”
3. Apply a Soothing Compress
If you want to soothe a specific patch of irritated skin on a cat or dog, an oat-based mixture can be effective. Grind dry oats into a powder, mix them with water and, if you have it, some aloe gel, Coger recommends.
Then, put that mixture into a porous pouch, like a cheesecloth or coffee filter, and apply it as a pad to the pet’s skin, letting the liquid seep out.
4. Stir into Your Pet’s Food
“There’s nothing wrong with mixing in some oats into a dog’s kibble or canned food, if that’s something that they like,” Heinze says. Just cook oatmeal like you’d make it for yourself, and stir a small amount into your pup’s food dish. Oats, in moderation, can be a great carbohydrate for dogs because they’re full of linoleic acid, a type of omega-6 fatty acid that helps keep animals’ skin strong and healthy.
Oats are also a good source of soluble fiber, “which can slow down the absorption of glucose in the gut,” Heinze says. “That can lead to more regular blood glucose, and less of a peak after meals.”
5. Serve as a Stand-Alone Snack
Even if you don’t want to use oats as a daily carbohydrate source, they can be a great occasional treat. If your family is having oatmeal for breakfast, it doesn’t hurt to offer your pup his own small dish, Heinze says. Just don’t serve your pet a bowlful of oatmeal every day, she cautions, because variety is important when it comes to dogs’ snacks. And, as with all snacks, cooked oatmeal shouldn’t make up more than 10 percent of your pet’s total caloric intake.
As for cats? Skip the oatmeal snacks altogether. Eating oats won’t harm your kitty, but “it’s just not a natural thing to feed them,” Heinze says. “Some cat diets have oats in them, and that’s fine, but I just don’t see the purpose of adding additional grains.”
6. Grow Your Own Oat Grass
Oatmeal might not be a cat’s favorite snack, but kitties do like munching on oat grass, which can help with digestion. “Cats certainly do like to pick at green things,” Coger says. “A lot of people theorize … that a cat is looking for fiber so it can throw up a hairball or move things through in a more efficient digestive manner.” Oat grass also contains some of the same beneficial chemical compounds as oats, though in a less concentrated form, she says.
Oat grass growing kits are commonly available at pet stores or supermarkets, making it easy to cultivate small amounts of oat grass indoors.