How often have you seen your canine busily gnawing itself? At a glance, this behavior might appear as though it is just a simple process of grooming. However there is more to it and the implication could surprise you.
What Makes a Dog Gnaw?
A very common yet adorable habit of dogs is to lick and chew paws or other body parts. Boredom is one of the main reasons as to why dogs resort to this activity. But there could be another vital cause, namely irritation to the skin.
Reasons like insect bites (fleas, flies), skin allergies, and excess moisture on the surface are some common causes of skin irritation. Dogs that have a heavy coat or matted hair often have saliva accumulation under their fur. Over a period of time, this causes irritation on the skin and the only rescue is through chewing and licking.
What is Moist Dermatitis in Dogs?
Moist dermatitis or Pyotraumatic dermatitis often referred to as hot spots, is a skin condition in dogs that could be best described as superficial contamination. It is one of the most common dog skin disorders. When skin bacterium crosses the ultimate defense, it causes damage. This kind of a skin disease is characterized by stinky, soggy, localized infections that discharge pus.
How are Hot Spots Formed?
Hot spots are self provoked, and often your dog is its own adversary in inducing hot spots. If you observe your dog as constantly scratching or licking itself, it is time to prepare yourself to encounter certain skin conditions.
There is a secondary trauma too. The furry coat traps the moisture, leading to contamination. Dogs are so scratchy at times that intense licking over a short period of time might lead to a hot spot. This contamination renders the skin scratchier and uncomfortable.
Hot Spots Symptoms
Following are the progressive symptoms of hot spots as observed in dogs –
- Initially, the infected area becomes moist, red, and abrasive.
- As the contamination sets in, pus starts oozing out of the infected area.
- Gradually the dried pus and the eroded skin together form a tightly adhered scab and the infected area sheds fur.
- Once the infection sets in, it is followed by a cycle of itching, scratching, and chewing, leading to severe lesions. This stage is particularly agonizing. Touching the infected area may cause the dog pain that can be excruciating at times.
Risk Factors of Hot Spots
Usually young dogs are vulnerable to skin conditions such as hot spots. Dogs that have a thick furry coat like golden retrievers, Saint Bernard, German shepherd, Labrador retrievers, and Rottweiler’s are much more susceptible. When it is hot and sultry during summers, hot spots are a common occurrence among canines.
Home Remedies for Hot Spots
The good news about this skin ailment is not as awful as it looks and can be cured by topical treatment alone. As it is a superficial infection, there is no need to rush to the veterinarian, especially if it is still in its preliminary stage.
Always try out the simplest way to treat the ailment, which causes minimal stress to your pet.
If the hot spot is small and uncomplicated, there are various products available in the pet shop to prevent further contamination. A variety of pet safe products like topical sprays, medicated shampoos, and herbal therapies can be used for treatment.
Basic Steps to Treat Hot Spots At Home
Find the source – First and foremost you need to pinpoint the source of the itching and scratching phenomenon. Until found, you will not be able to choose the correct mode of treatment. Identifying the source will not only help you in treatment but will also prevent recurrence of the same.
For instance, if the infection is from insect bites or fleas, you need to opt for anti flea topical sprays or shampoos. If it is due to some allergy, you must exercise caution while choosing the proper medication. You need to recognize first if the sore is small and curable or does it require medical supervision.
Squeeze out the pus – If the hot spot is small and not as painful, remove the pus from the wound with the help of moist linen or medicated gauze. You need to be careful while squeezing out the pus as, while cleaning the top of the wound you might as well grind some pus into it, thus leading to further contamination. Use an antiseptic to clean the remaining area to ensure sterilization.
Soothing bath – Use a mild shampoo to bathe your pet. This would pacify your ailing pet and would also help in removing the contagions. Brushing would help in breaking the tangled lumps of hair, thereby preventing the recurrence of the infection. In furry pets the saliva accumulation is prevented by following the same procedure.
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Trim the fur – You need to gently trim the fur in and around the infected area. Clip at least few centimetres all around the sore. This will aid in rapid healing as it would allow air and proper medication to reach the wound. Proper grooming clippers should be used rather than scissors as the latter could lead to accidental laceration.
Prohibit licking – Do not allow your pet to lick the infected area. Use a cone to keep your dog from licking. You can also use an Elizabethan collar for the same. Bitter sprays are another means to keep your pet from gnawing at the area.
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Apply topical medication – Thrice a day daily, you need to apply hot moist compress over the wound. The process may last for five to ten minutes. Proper hygiene has to be maintained to keep the infected area clean as a dirt-free area encourages proper and good blood circulation. It also soothes the tissues of the contaminated area. You should let the area dry before applying any topical ointment or spray.
Leave the sore open – The wound need not be covered. The sore needs to breathe and applying any kind of bandages or wraps will only worsen the situation.
It is always better to consult your veterinarian before starting any home treatment. Always use pet safe products and while the treatment is on, provide your dog with a toy to keep it occupied.
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How to Prevent Hot Spots
Prevention is always better than cure. To this effect, preventing hot spots is the best way to rid your dog of itchiness. Discussed as follows are some preventive steps that you can take to spare your dog the misery of skin infection:
- An anti flea shampoo should be used. Flea control for your pet is the most significant step in preventing moist dermatitis.
- After a swim or a bath, make sure you pat your dog dry during the sultry, humid weather. Canines with heavy fur coat need special care during summers.
- Grooming your dog on a regular basis is very important. Beat your dog’s boredom by including games and adequate exercises to keep it mentally motivated.
- A good diet ensures healthy skin for your canine. A raw diet of meat and bones helps your four legged best friend to stay safe from hot spots and other skin ailments. For additional antioxidants in their diet, you can include few vegetables and fruits.
- Coconut oil is an effective anti allergic agent. It helps in breaking the scratching itching cycle of your pet that leads to hot spots. Coconut oil has anti bacterial properties too. Because dogs tend to lick coconut oil off their coats, the best way to use it is to mix about a teaspoon in its meal daily.
- Vitamin E acts wonders in treating the itching, gnawing cycle of your dog. These capsules can be added to the dog’s meal.
- Omega-3 fatty acids ensure a healthy and glowing coat for your pet. These are the most expensive fatty acids. Be careful while buying omega enriched products as most of them are found to be deficient. Introducing good quality fish oil in your dog’s diet can prevent hot spots and other skin infections.
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When Is Veterinarian Intervention Required?
Although canine eczema is a simple skin disorder, there are cases when there is something more to the situation than what meets your eye and observation. It might be a deeper skin contamination, a bite wound or some other kind of trauma which you might have mistaken for a hot spot.
When the hot spot becomes big and painful, immediately consult your vet. It might require a different therapy to cure. For instance, oral anti inflammatory medications, antibiotics, and anti pain medications might be required depending on the nature and cause of the sore.
Fortunately moist dermatitis or canine eczema is not a grave disease that could prove fatal to your pet. Proper and timely detection during the initial stages can cure it without any veterinarian intervention. But if you are unable to cure your pet with home remedies, do not delay in seeking your vet’s advice. Your prompt action will relieve your dog of unwanted agony.
- Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM, First Aid for Hot Spots in Dogs, VCA
- Heather Hoffmann, DVM, How to Treat Hot Spots on Dogs, PetMD