Harvey loves playing in the back garden. Zoe also has an older dog, a collie called Max, and the two animals often chase each other around. Last Sunday, when Harvey came back indoors after a garden playing session, Zoe noticed that the fur on the back of his neck looked wet. When she looked closer, she could see that the hair was spread out, with a red dot at the centre of it. She thought that maybe he’d been bitten by a bug, or perhaps he’d scraped it against something. The two dogs can get rough enough with each other, dashing backwards and forwards, and maybe this was the equivalent of a schoolboy scraping his knee in a playground tumble.
Harvey didn’t seem to be bothered about it at all. He was in as good form as usual, behaving normally. Zoe decided just to keep an eye on him; it wasn’t worth going to the emergency vet with such a minor problem.
The red dot on Harvey’s skin had grown bigger
The situation had changed by Monday morning. The red dot had turned into a large oval-shaped red blotch, bigger than a two euro coin. Fluid was oozing from it, causing the fur to stick to it and making it difficult to see what was going on. It was irritating Harvey now, and he kept trying to scratch the back of his neck. Zoe phoned the vet and brought Harvey straight down to see me for an urgent appointment.
As soon as I saw Harvey, I knew what was going on. This was a classic example of a so-called “hot spot”, a condition technically known as a “surface pyoderma”. It always starts with a small focus of damage to the skin: Zoe’s suspicion of an insect bite or a small graze could have been correct. The problem is that bacteria and yeasts invade the damaged area, multiplying rapidly, producing acids and toxins that further irritate the skin. At this stage, it gets itchy, and dogs try to scratch the area, which just makes it even more red and sore. A vicious circle kicks in – the more the dog itches it, the worse it gets, and the bacteria and yeasts continue to multiply, making the area even more red and angry-looking.
The problem is easy to treat, but you need the help of a vet. All the fur around the sore blotch needs to clipped off, to stop it from getting clogged up with discharge, and to allow the red area to cool down and dry out with the free flow of air around it. It isn’t easy to clip the fur: I used electric clippers, and Zoe did her best to hold Harvey still while I got the job done. Some dogs need to be sedated, but Harvey was a good patient, staying still for just long enough to let me finish. Once the fur had been clipped off, I cleaned the sore area with warm water and a gentle antiseptic, much as a parent might clean a child’s grazed knee. I then applied a soothing ointment that contained an antibiotic and some anti-inflammatory medication. Harvey was also given a course of antibiotic tablets to control the infection.
Without treatment, the sore patch would have continued to double in size every day: I have seen dogs with “hot spots” as big as dinner plates. The good news is that treatment was highly effective: Harvey began to improve immediately, and two days later, his skin looked almost normal.
There’s only one problem: Harvey still has a bald patch. It’ll take around two months for his fur to fully grow back in. It’s just as well that he isn’t a vain dog!
- “Hot spots” are a common type of skin irritation in dogs
- The underlying cause is often difficult to identify
- Urgent veterinary treatment is needed to get hot spots under control
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