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News and Information about Dogs, Cats, and Pet Products

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The other day a friend of mine started talking about “hot spots,” and given our current arctic-blast weather conditions – plus the fact that there are still about 7 weeks to go until Spring, which translates to about 3 months for Chicago – my frost-addled brain immediately began daydreaming about balmy places like Key West and Cozumel.

But when she mentioned her 6-year-old poodle mix, Russell, I realized this was actually a pet-related conversation and (admittedly, with some difficulty) abandoned my imaginary beach. I made us both another cup of hot tea, which we held between our frozen fingers while she asked me if I’d ever encountered these on my own pups.

The answer, of course, is yes – in fact, most of us who’ve owned dogs long enough have had the unfortunate experience of discovering a “hot spot” at least once or twice. The official vet name for these is acute moist dermatitis, which conjures up just the right amount of “ick” factor. Hot spots can occur almost anywhere on your dog’s body, but common sites include the neck, cheeks, flanks, and thighs. They can be as small as a half-inch in diameter, or the size of a saucer. The affected area often appears red and irritated, bald, moist, weepy, swollen, sometimes even oozing. Needless to say, hot spots are kind of gross-looking – but more importantly, they’re extremely uncomfortable for the afflicted dog. Most pups experience intense itching, which often causes them to lick, chew, and scratch the area. In fact, hot spots can itch so badly that they often drive pups to self-mutilate as they frantically strive to find some relief. Unfortunately, this leads to pronounced (and sometimes rapid) worsening of the condition.

Hot spots can actually be caused any time of year – even in the dead of winter — by several initial triggers. These can include:

  • seasonal, environmental, or food allergies
  • underlying yeast infections or overpopulation
  • mite, flea, tick, or insect bites
  • superficial skin wounds
  • prolonged coat dampness after bathing, swimming, or playing in snow

The problem with hot spots is that bacteria can easily overtake the patch of irritated skin, which then becomes painfully inflamed and can even take on an unpleasant odor. Once the condition becomes this entrenched, your vet may be forced to use potent systemic treatments like antihistamines, antibiotics, and corticosteroids (i.e. prednisone) to break the cycle and calm the inflammatory response.

So as pet parents, is there anything we can do about hot spots? The best treatment is actually prevention, if at all possible. If your pup seems prone to hot spots, consider the foods and treats he’s eating. Are they dry, baked, or in kibble form? Do they contain a lot of starches, like rice or white potato? These can be cornerstones of a high-carb diet, and for many pets (particularly dogs, who are close cousins to wolves), a long-term, high-carb intake can lead to yeast overpopulation and other problems. In cases like these, adjusting your pup’s diet can often help dramatically – our Two Bostons team can provide some helpful guidance in this area. Similarly, adding Omega-3’s to the diet can be a huge help, because they naturally quell inflammation. High-quality fish oils like Ascenta Omega 3, Wholistic Pet Wild Deep Sea Salmon Oil, or Grizzly Salmon Oil deliver an abundant level of natural Omega-3. Since most dogs adore the taste, these products are especially great for picky eaters and can be drizzled right over your pet’s regular meal.

Hot Spot Remedies

Hot spots are an aggravating problem for pet parents, and an uncomfortable affliction for our pups. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help reduce their occurrence and minimize painful itching.

 

If your pooch already has a hot spot lesion, you can often help to relieve the itch by clipping the surrounding/overlying coat very short, then applying soothing topical agents. Often a bath with Zymox Shampoo is a helpful first step (we’ve blogged about this phenomenal product before) – provided you dry your pup immediately and very thoroughly. Another good option for more generalized itching is Bobbi Panter’s Itchy Dog Shampoo. You may also want to ask your vet to recommend a simple, over-the-counter antihistamine that can help make your pet more comfortable.

After this, you can try treating the affected area(s) with a range of proven topical agents. Pure virgin coconut oil like Coco Therapy (another one of our blog posts)  is very soothing and moisturizing, with natural antibacterial and antifungal (i.e, yeast-destroying) properties. You can also feed coconut oil directly to achieve similar benefits. But because dogs usually love the taste of coconut oil, be aware that you may need to use a cone (or at least close supervision) if you apply it topically to discourage licking. Another good option is Itchin’ for Relief by Happy Tails, which is an anti-bacterial serum that contains natural neem and aloe. It comes in a handy nozzle sprayer for targeted application – and because many dogs naturally dislike the rather pungent aroma of healing neem oil, they’re more likely to leave the area alone. Bowwow Butter Balm is another great Happy Tails product that’s super-emollient. Keep in mind, though, that if your dog has underlying yeast overgrowth, a product containing oat as a top ingredient can often compound the problem. Again, our Two Bostons team can offer specialized guidance.

One particularly effective remedy for managing hot spots is Zymox topical cream and/or spray, both of which are also excellent for basic wound care. These products contain hydrocortisone for inflammation relief, and can be applied one or more times per day. Zymox is made with a unique triple-enzyme blend, which naturally reacts with the infection to form antimicrobial properties. So one advantage of Zymox is that there’s no need to pre-clean the area before application – the cleansing process can actually disrupt this biological enzyme reaction. Both products are gentle and non-toxic, so you don’t need to worry if your pup licks the application site. The topical cream also features a catheter tip, which makes it easier to target hard-to-reach areas or skin folds.

If you’re vigilant about hot spots – evaluating your dog’s diet and surrounding environment, clipping/cleansing/treating any inflamed areas at their earliest appearance – you may often be able to avoid a vet visit altogether. Careful and regular examination of your pet’s coat can help detect these nuisance areas before they become totally unbearable for your pup. Ask anyone on our Two Bostons team for additional dietary, grooming, and management recommendations!

 

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