Sunday, July 31, 2011

Outdoor dogs: Oh what that fur coat may be hiding

This is the story about a hot spot.  It's about a hot spot that started off small and grew up big and bad.  But at least this story has a happy ending because they do not all turn out that way.

"Hot Spot" is a fairly common term used mostly to describe a moist area of skin infection and most of the time we use the term when we are talking about this skin lesion on dogs.  If you haven't heard the phrase "hot spot" before, here is a nice article "Hot Spots in Dogs: What are they? How to cool them down!" that talks all about them.  Veterinarians see hot spots all year-round but they are certainly more common in the summer because the underlying causes (fleas, insect bites, scratches from thorns, allergies, etc.) are more common in summer.  But the "hot" in hot spot is not because we see them in hot weather, it is because the skin is "hot" and inflamed.  And while most hot spots are indeed a "spot" on the skin, as you will see from this next case, they can become very large and do so very quickly.

Except in some cases of working breeds of dogs (Alaskan Huskies come to mind and sheep/cattle guarding dogs as another), I never quite understand why someone would have a pet dog and leave them tied outside 24/7.   But I have seen it work well many times for both dog and owner so I am not judgemental as to say it should never be done. (There are those who would criticize me for all my outdoor barn cats too.)  However, if you have an outside dog, there are some particular hazards that you need to watch such as heat related issues in the summer and cold related issues in the winter.  And in the summertime, you need to pay particular attention to the health of your dog's coat and SKIN!  That is SKIN capitalized with an exclamation point!  Most of our dogs are very very furry and that fur can hide a lot of problems. 

This is a picture of Big Red (not his real name) the Saint Bernard.  He is sedated and lying on a treatment room table.  Red came to the clinic because his owner had been trying to clear up a skin infection for about a week and things were getting worse and getting worse quickly.  I fully believe that all of this happened in about a week because I know how fast a small hot spot can turn into a big hot spot.
Doesn't look too bad does it?  You can tell the fur is a little matted up along his back, but most of this is because the owner had been using Kopertox to try and treat the skin infection.  For those who don't know, Kopertox is a green liquid that is used to treat a condition called "Thrush" that occurs on the bottom of hooves in horses and cows.

Now here is a little side note and a heads up for all dog owners.  If you want to make your veterinarian or veterinary technician thoroughly disgusted and upset with you, go ahead and treat your dog's wounds with anything sticky or gooey.  This means BAG BALM or VASELINE or CORONA OINTMENT or KOPERTOX or the list goes on and on and on.  Gooey ointments are not meant for animals with thick fur coats and all they do is make everything worse.  They attract dirt and they keep wounds moist when wounds really need to dry out.  They gum up clipper blades when fur is needed to be shaved from a skin wound and makes the job 300% harder.  Enough said.

Now back to Big Red.  Big Red was an outside dog.  He had a hot spot start on his back.  He lived outside.  It is summertime.  Can you think of what might make this whole situation worse?  I'll give you a minute to think.  Times up.  Think flies.  Think maggots.  To give Red's owner credit, he was trying to work on this problem.  He had been hosing Red off with water every day.  He saw that every time he hosed the dog, maggots would be flushed out of the wound area.  He tried fly spray, but the hot spot had already started to spread and was like a runaway train.  Other than the Kopertox (which I think was just applied in a moment of frustration), the owner was doing everything right, but he did not know the first basic principle of treating a hot spot.  You HAVE to shave the fur off the infected area of skin.  Oh, you can sometimes get by without this step in an inside dog with a half dollar or small sized hot spot.  But if you have a big dog with a wound and it lives outside and it is summertime, you HAVE to shave the fur.  And so that is what we did and this is a picture of Red after having his hot spot shaved.

And then one more picture after his skin has been cleaned and scrubbed and he is sleeping on the big blue furry blanket in the clinic kennel area.

This looks awful and it is, but this is not a case of abuse.  This is just ignorance.  Ignorance can be cured through education.  And thus the purpose of this blog.  Red's story has a happy ending.  His owner brought him in early enough that Red walked into the clinic with a wagging tail and left with a wagging tail.  Not all maggot infested dogs are as lucky.  I've seen many that have to be carried into the clinic on a stretcher.  Some live, but some get to go home in a body bag.

And so the lesson to be learned from this little adventure is if you have a dog and especially an outdoor dog, you need to be DAILY checking your dog over for what might be hiding under that fur coat.  Your dog's life could depend on it.

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