She's been licking and chewing on that spot on her flank for the better part of a day, and it's now a raw, open sore, oozing fluid.
Dusty has a superficial pyoderma, a skin infection known to veterinarians as pyotraumatic dermatitis and to dog owners as hot spots. Hot spots are surface skin infections caused when populations of normal skin bacteria grow and overwhelm normal resistance. They are generally circular patches that lose hair, can be swollen, may exude a smelly pus, and can be painfully itchy, causing the dog to scratch, lick, or bite to the point of self-mutilation. Untreated hot spots can spread and provoke a normally even-tempered dog to growl or nip when touched.
These troublesome sores can seem to arise in a matter of hours with no warning, but they do tend to follow a pattern that helps in predicting their occurrence.
Dogs most susceptible to hot spots are those with heavy coats and histories of allergies, ear infections, flea infestations, irritated anal sacs, and grooming problems such as hair tangles and mats, but any dog can develop this infection. Dogs in warm, humid climates may develop hot spots when they shed their undercoats if the dead hair is trapped next to the skin, and dogs with behavior problems may mutilate themselves by licking and thus encourage an infection to become established.
The most common locations for hot spots are the legs and feet, flanks, and rump — areas that can be reached by licking or biting — but these localized infections can also appear on ears, neck, and chest if the dog is continually scratching.
Two approaches are neccessary for dealing with hot spots: treat the sore and remove the underlying cause to prevent recurrences.
Veterinary dermatologist Lowell Ackerman recommends the following treatment in his book Skin and Haircoat Problems in Dogs:
Ackerman recommends against the use of ointments or creams because they can seal in the infection and hinder recovery. In severe cases, a veterinarian may suggest the use of an Elizabethan collar to prevent mutilation and give the spot a chance to heal.
If the underlying cause is tangled or matted hair or trapped dead hair, put the dog on a regular grooming schedule either at home or at a grooming salon. Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Shih-Tzus, and other breeds with long hair that tangles easily should be groomed at least twice a week so that snarls and mats do not form. Never bathe a dog with matted or tangled hair — comb the snarls out first. Clip mats if you cannot easily comb them out, and make an appointment for professional grooming every four-to-six weeks if you cannot keep the dog mat-free on your own.
If the underlying cause is allergies, begin an aggressive campaign to rid your home and yard of fleas and work with your veterinarian on a plan to reduce allergy triggers for your pet. Household dust, plant pollen, lawn chemicals, and diet can all cause allergies or can build to a crescendo of allergies if the dog's sensitivities cross a threshhold. Frequent vacuuming, supplements to keep the skin and coat healthy, air purifiers, and baths in skin-soothing herbal or medicated shampoos with aloe, oatmeal, jojoba, or eucalyptus can help. Next step is over-the-counter antihistamines such as Benadryl or Atarax — with a veterinarian's approval. If these don't work, then steroids to reduce the inflammation and the immune system reaction to the allergen and perhaps antibiotics to cure the infected hot spot are the next course of treatment.
If the underlying cause seems to be behavioral — if your pet doesn't have allergies or fleas or a more serious skin condition, but is so bored, stressed, or lonely that he maims himself with constant licking or scratching, he may need more exercise, playtime, and attention. This can be the easiest or the hardest treatment to implement because there's no pill or ointment for long-term success; the requirements are time, consistency, and perhaps an investment in training books, an obedience school, a dog sitter, or an animal behaviorist.
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