Help for Healing Dogs with Hot Spots

You might think of a hot spot as a great bar or restaurant but to your dog a hot spot is some far more unpleasant.

In the canine world, “hot spots” are an all too common condition consisting of open sores that are constantly being bitten, scratched, or chewed. Also called Acute Moist Dermatitis, these painful skin lesions can develop at any time of the year, but they are more common in the warmer months.

Hot spots can occur anywhere on the body, often in more than one spot. Hot spots are typically self-inflicted, usually caused (and made worse) by biting, licking, or scratching one particular area. Warm to the touch, a hot spot is a red, painful, swollen patch of skin one to four inches in size that oozes pus and can give off quite a nasty smell.

The infection progresses when the dog licks and chews the site. These circular patches appear suddenly and enlarge quickly, often within a matter of hours. It is common to notice a small area of inflamed skin in the morning (perhaps an inch or less in diameter) and then come home from work to see that the sore has grown substantially and is now several inches in diameter.

Two approaches are necessary for dealing with hot spots: first treat the sore and second remove the underlying cause to prevent recurrences. There are some very effective home remedies if the hot spot has not progressed too far and your dog lets you treat him (hot spots are extremely painful and some dogs, even ones who are usually very gentle, will growl or snap if the area is touched). Dogs who don’t respond quickly to home remedies or dogs with severe or persistent hot spots will need to be seen by a veterinarian.

  1. Clip away hair to expose the hot spot. The bacteria creating the infection thrive in moist irritated skin, so the first step is to get air to the area and dry it out.
  2. Cleanse the area with cool water and a gentle skin cleanser. Pat dry.
  3. Use a tea bag compresses (black or green tea) to help dry and soothe the area. The tea acts in place of a cortisone cream (which can “gunk up” the wound and prevent the necessary air flow to dry it out). The tannic aids in the teabag ooze onto the skin and have a soothing, itch relieving effect. Simply wet a bag of black or green tea and use it as a compress against the sore. Hold the bag to the skin for four or five minutes, then pat dry. Do this two to four times daily for several days.
  4. Prevent the dog fro traumatizing the area by applying an e-collar. I have a Soft E-Collar ($17.00 – $49.95; http://www.bonafido.com/page6.html) which I find much easier to use than the traditional cone shaped e-collar.

There are several topical solutions that you can use to help stop the hot spot and speed the healing process:

  • Domeboro’s (Burow’s) solution (aluminum acetate) is inexpensive and available over-the-counter at pharmacies to help dry the skin out. Follow package directions and use as a spray or compress.
  • GentaSpray Topical Spray has to be prescribed by your vet, but it’s a great first aid spray that works very well to help heal hot spots.
  • Calm Coat ($11.95; http://www.calmcoat.com) is an all-natural essential oil mixture that is naturally antiseptic, antibiotic, and antifungal. It helps stop the itching and has a soothing, cooling effect when applied and helps speed hair re-growth.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Knowing how to keep hot spots from reoccurring will save you a lot of time, heartache and money (in vet visits). Fleas, mites, skin allergies, irritant skin diseases, ear and anal gland infection and neglected grooming are the most common causes of hot spots.

Hot spots often in breeds with long, heavy coats, and tend to appear just before shedding, when moist dead hair is trapped next to the skin. Double or triple the number of grooming appointments if necessary.

Many types of dermatological problems are avoided by feeding a high quality food, preferably with human grade meat, that doesn’t contain ingredients like corn, wheat and soy. Fish oil supplements are excellent for promoting the production of natural anti-inflammatory substances in the body and for improving the health of skin (don’t forget to give extra vitamin E when giving fish oil).

To keep fleas away, I add Bug Off Garlic ($15.00; http://www.springtimeinc.com) at each meal and when we go out hiking or anywhere there is a greater chance of picking up fleas I spray the dogs down with Neem “Protect” Spray ($12.00; http://www.arknaturals.com).

Omega-3s: Essential Fatty Acids for Your Dog

Essential Fatty Acids, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, provide for a number of major vital functions in our dog’s body (as well as our own) and are quickly becoming a popular supplement among veterinarians to treat a wide variety of ailments.

Omega-3 supplements are commonly used for treating allergies and soothing irritated, itchy and flaky skin. They can significantly reduce joint inflammation to help reduce morning stiffness and painful joints in arthritis patients. Plus they are now being recommended in cases of kidney disease, heart disease, cancer, elevated cholesterol, autoimmune disorders and diabetes.

All that doesn’t mean you should wait for your dog to be sick to supplement his diet with Omega-3s. In healthy dogs, it helps promote healthy skin, a shiny coat (which helps reduces shedding!), healthy brain function, and boosts the immune system.

Essential fatty acids are grouped into two families: Omega-6 and Omega-3. Processed dog foods already contain high amounts of Omega-6 (from meat, fat and plant matter), but lack sufficient quantities of Omega-3. So it is important to add good sources of Omega-3 daily to your dog’s diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), comprised of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Not all Omega-3 supplements are created equally and so you need to pay attention to the EPA and DHA content as well as the source when purchasing an Omega-3 supplement.

While many pet food manufactures are adding flax seed to their kibble as their source of Omega-3, I have found that the very best source of useable Omega-3s for dogs is in fish body oils (not liver oils).

Plant sources of Omega-3, like flax seed, must be converted into EPA and DHA in the body to be of any nutritional benefit, and this conversion can be difficult or impossible for many dogs, especially older or sick dogs.

Cod liver oils and fish oils are not the same. Cod liver oil is extracted from cod liver and is an excellent source of vitamins A and D, while fish oils are extracted from the flesh of fatty fish. Fish oils contain very little vitamin A and D, but cod liver oil contains lower quantities of EPA and DHA. If you tried to obtain the therapeutic amounts of EPA and DHA from cod liver oil you would end up overdosing on vitamin A and D. So stick with fish oil.

I recommend looking for a fish oil supplement that comes from wild caught, non-threatened species of small fish (i.e. anchovies, mackerel and sardines) and has high quantities of EPA and DHA.

When giving fish oil on a regular basis extra vitamin E, an important fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant, is typically needed. Fish oil oxidizes easily and the body will use up its stores of vitamin E when processing fish oil. Therefore sufficient vitamin E is required in the diet to prevent a vitamin E deficiency in your dog.

Most fish oil supplements contain additional vitamin E, though this is typically only enough to preserve the product and not a significant source for the body to use. It is better to supplement natural vitamin E instead of synthetic, so when buying vitamin E look closely at the label. Natural vitamin E is listed as d-alpha tocopherol and synthetic vitamin E is listed as dl-alpha-tocopherol. One little “L” makes a big difference is how effectively the body can use it.

I encourage you to work together with your veterinarian to determine if a fish oil supplement is okay for your dog and to find out dosage information for both the fish oil and vitamin E.

Natural Solutions to Pet Allergies

Wheezing, coughing, sneezing, itching, watery eyes, rashes and difficulty breathing are all common symptoms for people with pet allergies. If you think you are allergic, don’t give up your pet just because of an allergy. There are ways to relieve your symptoms and keep puppy (or kitty) in your home.

The first thing to do is to get tested and have the allergy confirmed by a doctor or allergist. There are many types of allergies, and yours may not be pet-related (according to the Human Society of the United States, approximately 15% of the population is allergic to dogs or cats).

If you truly are allergic to your dog, your allergist will present you with options. Unfortunately, many allergists recommend getting rid of your dog without going over other options that are available. While there is no cure for allergies, you can happily live with your dog and make life a lot more pleasant by following some simple guidelines to help keep the house as dander-free as possible.

Avoid heavy carpets and curtains, which can be difficult to thoroughly clean and can hold far more of the particles that cause allergic reactions. Lightweight or sheer curtains and smooth surface floors like hardwood, tile, marmoleum, cork and bamboo are the best options.

If you do have carpeting and replacing it with a hard flooring is not an option, use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filtration system and have the carpet steam-cleaned several times a year. This will help keep your carpets cleaner and pick up more the dander from your floors.

Use an air purifier containing a HEPA filter to help remove some of the dander in the air. An added bonus is that air filters remove a lot more than just pet dander from the air. Indoor air pollution is a growing health risk and by using an air purifier in your home you’ll be breathing cleaner air (plus you’ll probably have to dust the house a lot less!).

Keep your pets off the furniture. If you need a good excuse to splurge on that Italian leather couch you’ve been wanting: leather furniture is easier to clean and holds far less allergens than upholstered furniture.

Most people spend more time in their bedroom than any other room of the house, making it an ideal room to be an “allergy free” zone by limiting or prohibiting your dog’s access to it. You should definitely keep him off your bed at all times (not even a quick five minute snuggle is okay).

Now time to make your dog as hypoallergenic as possible. Hygiene and good grooming habits are vital. Bathing your dog on a weekly basis can significantly reduce the level of allergens on fur. Such frequent bathing can upset the pH of your dog’s skin, so make sure to use a mild soap to prevent irritation.

In between baths, you can wipe your dog down with a wet cloth or hand towel.
Done on a daily basis this can help remove dander from your dog before he sheds it in the house.

Brush your dog regularly to remove dander and make sure to wash your hands and possibly change clothes afterwards. Brushing should be done outdoors and is most effective when done daily.

A good, well-balanced diet is essential. Make sure your dog’s food includes a sufficient amount of natural fats, to help make his skin less dry (which reduces shedding). If the fat content of his food isn’t sufficient, you can add a teaspoon of olive oil to his food (this also helps create a beautiful shine on his coat!).

Aging Gracefully: Tips to Help with Your Dog’s Arthritis

Many dogs develop arthritis as they age, with Osteoarthritis being the most common type of arthritis. It is a degenerative joint disease that affects anywhere from twenty to eighty percent of dogs (depending on who you ask). But as our knowledge grows and medical advances are made, arthritis is becoming easier to treat so that our furry friends can continue to live comfortable lives.

Osteoarthritis is a slowly progressing disease that occurs due to the breakdown and destruction of your dog’s cartilage. As it gets worse, the bones (now with far less cartilage to provide shock absorption) begin to grind against one another causing pain, inflammation, and a reduction in mobility.

Just as in people, arthritis in dogs causes pain, stiffness, lameness, slowness of movement and a reluctance to walk as far as usual. It is a progressive and debilitating disorder that is generally seen in larger breeds (though it can affect any size dog) and typically affects the hips or spine, but can occur in any joint in the body. Some symptoms to look for are whimpering or moaning when joints are touched, excessive licking of joints, difficulty climbing stairs or jumping into the car, and constant chewing on paws.

Although there are no miracle cures, there are a number of options available to dog owners to help make dogs with arthritis more comfortable. Every dog will respond differently to various approaches, so there is truly no one “best” treatment for every dog.

It is helpful to provide your dog with some basic exercise, such as swimming or walking (avoid strenuous and high-impact activities). Overweight dogs tend to have more problems with arthritis – the more weight on those poor old joints, the harder it is to move around. So shedding a few pounds with regular exercise can make a big difference.

While making sure that you’re not over-feeding your dog, you should also reexamine the food you are feeding. The poor-quality protein typically found in low-end commercial dog foods could be contributing to some of your dog’s arthritic symptoms. I can’t put enough stress on the importance of a good quality food. I was recently able to take a foster dog off her arthritis pain medications simply by putting her on a high quality food and giving her a little fish oil. That small change made a huge difference in her comfort and activity level.

There are a variety of supplements available that are able to promote better joint health. Glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), boswellia and ashwagandha are some of the more common joint supplements available. Some studies even indicate that glucosamine may help rebuild cartilage – something traditional NSAID pain relievers are unable to do.

Speaking of NSAIDs, your vet may prescribe medications such as corticosteroids or NSAIDs for your dog. Please do some research and discuss the options with your vet as some of these popular pain medications, such as carprofen (Rimadyl®) – an NSAID, can have dangerous side effects, especially when used long term.

Make sure your dog has a comfortable place to sleep such as an orthopedic dog bed that is designed specifically for dogs with joint problems. Another helpful item is a rear support harness. Just as the name implies, it’s a harness that fits around the dog’s hips, allowing you to lift a portion of the dog’s weight off his hind legs.

These are all just some of the things you can do for your dog to give them relief from arthritic pain. Explore the options to determine which works best for your and your dog so that you can both continue many more happy and pain-free years together.

Pins & Needles: Acupuncture for Dogs

Holistic Veterinary Medicine is becoming increasingly popular for our pets. The holistic approach to medicine and overall health includes a variety of modalities, one of which is acupuncture.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has called acupuncture an integral part of veterinary medicine. Additionally, the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health have officially recognized acupuncture as an effective treatment for many conditions & diseases.

In human medicine, acupuncture has been very useful for a variety of ailments, particularly for the control of chronic and acute pain. Acupuncture has also proven to be highly effective in treating animals. In fact, one of the earliest records of veterinary acupuncture was some 3000 years ago in India for the treatment of elephants.

So exactly what is acupuncture? According to the philosophies of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there is a continuous flow of Qi (life energy) throughout the body. In order for someone to maintain good health it is essential that Qi flow in a smooth and unobstructed manner. When the energy flow is smooth and in balance, your pet is healthy. If the balance is disturbed, then your pet can feel ill or be in pain. Acupuncture helps to return balance to the body’s Qi. At specific points along the meridians (acupuncture points), the energy flow can be stimulated and the delicate balance of Qi energy in the body and encourages the body to begin the healing process.

Acupuncture is one of the safest forms of medical treatment for animals when it is administered by a properly-trained veterinarian. A typical acupuncture session consists of gently inserting specific, slender needles into specific acupuncture points and left in from 5-30 minutes while you and your pet relax in a quiet room. Most pets relax soon after the needles are placed and often fall asleep during these treatments. You may begin to notice an improvement in your dog’s condition within the first two to six treatments, depending on the severity of the condition(s) being treated. Side effects of acupuncture are rare, but they do exist, so make sure to discuss any potential side-effects with your veterinary acupuncturist.

When can it be helpful? The typical effects of acupuncture include pain relief, decreased inflammation and an increase in blood flow to the area, making it an ideal treatment for a wide variety of ailments. It is typically sought after for treating functional problems such as those that involve paralysis, non-infectious inflammation (such as allergies), and chronic or acute pain. Conditions such as hip dysplasia, arthritis and nerve damage often respond well to acupuncture.

In any modality of holistic medicine it is important to assess your dog’s overall health and wellness. Your dog’s ability to heal with the aid of acupuncture may be affected by his age, home-life, nutrition and any disease that may be present. This is where integrating conventional medicine with alternative medicine, using the benefits of both, comes in handy as blood work, x-rays or other tests may be necessary to paint a full picture and determine the diagnosis. A knowledgeable veterinary acupuncturist will let you know if and what conventional tests would be helpful in establishing a treatment plan that will treat the entire patient and not just address one presenting complaint.

Before you decide on any treatment approach, it is important to get a good diagnosis and then look at all the options, including acupuncture and those offered by conventional medicine.

If you’re interested in learning more about acupuncture for your pets, here are two organizations that can help you locate a certified veterinary acupuncturist near you: The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society – http://www.ivas.org and The American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture – http://www.aava.org

2007 Holiday Gift Guide

Last winter I tried snowshoeing for the first time and was instantly hooked. My dog Yogi loves to play in the snow, so I figured it was a no brainer to bring him along. Of course I’m out there in snow pants, a warm jacket and snow boots while Yogi had nothing. As you can probably guess Yogi’s first time snowshoeing didn’t go so well. He was getting cold and his paws were a big problem as he started getting these huge ice cubes growing in between his toes. Eventually we had to cut the adventure short and turn back.

Then I started looking around for snow gear for Yogi. I figure if I get to have all sorts of gear that keeps me warm then it only makes sense that Yogi does too. RuffWear made the best dog snow gear I could find so I outfitted Yogi with a pair of Bark’n Boots Grip Trex to keep the snow and ice from getting in his paws (with a set of Bark’n Boot Liners to keep his feet warm). Then, to keep his core from getting cold he also now goes out with the RuffWear Cloud Chaser Soft Shell Jacket. This setup from RuffWear worked wonders for Yogi and now we’re able to play in the snow for as long as we want instead of stopping when the cold and snow get the better of us. $9.95 – $74.95 at http://www.ruffwear.com

RoamEO GPS Dog Collar

If you have a gadget-enthusiast dog lover on your list then this is the gift for them: a GPS unit for you dog! Basically you put a GPS-enabled collar on your dog which transmits information to a handheld receiver that then shows your pet’s location, what direction your dog is heading and how fast he is moving.

Perfect for camping or even just around the house (especially if you’ve got an escape artist). When we go camping I create a customized GPS fence by simply walking the perimeter of where I want him to be able to go. Then if he dog goes beyond his “fenced” area the receiver starts beeping so I can retrieve him.

One of the things I really like about the RoamEO is how easy it is to use. There are no monthly service fees or complicated set up procedures that require a PhD to figure out. Right out of the box I put the collar on Yogi, turned the receiver on and within a few seconds I was getting GPS info! $549.95 at http://www.roameoforpets.com

OllyDog Saucer Bed

After a hard day of play it’s important to have a comfy place to rest and recoup. I’ve always had a bit of a penchant for dog beds, but Yogi and I are both very picky. Yogi wants comfy and I want cute. Luckily OllyDog makes super cute, very versatile and extra comfy dog beds.

These saucer beds come with an extra cushy foam pad covered in a variety of adorable patterns and a removable, washable grey bolster (pillowy sides), so it makes for a comfy retreat. The saucer bed is also great for traveling since you can separate the bolster from the base pad and then take just the pad on trips. $95 – $150 at http://www.ollydog.com

Donations to The Humane Society

Instead of exchanging traditional gifts, every Christmas my girlfriends and I exchange donations to charitable organizations. We each choose a favorite charity and then make donations in honor of each other. Making a gift donation is an excellent way to give gifts and share the spirit of the holiday season. The Humane Society (www.hsus.org) is a great animal organization to make gift donations to.

Wanted: 4-Legged Jogging Partners

Studies show that having a regular workout partner increases the odds that you’ll stick with a fitness regimen. But finding a jogging partner with the same level of commitment and schedule can be pretty tough. Fortunately, the perfect partner who will never cancel or criticize is probably curled up on your couch: your dog!

Beyond the obvious health benefits for both of you, a regular exercise routine helps create a tired and happy dog. However, there are a couple things to think of before grabbing the leash and heading out with your new running partner.

Not every breed was built for endurance exercises like running. Dogs with short legs or short muzzles typically don’t make great running partners and some very large breeds are at higher risk for bloat/gastric torsion. A trip to the vet can help you determine if your dog is ready to start a running program.

When you’re ready to begin, start out slowly and gradually increase the duration and intensity in order to build up endurance. Warm up and cool down periods are just as important for your dog as they are for you. Without a proper warm up & cool down, your dog is just as prone as you are to injuries like pulled muscles and torn ligaments. For dogs this is even more dangerous because dogs generally try to hide when they are injured, potentially leading to an even more serious injury.

Be extra-conscious of what type of surface you are running on. You get to put on expensive gel-filled running shoes to cushion your joints and protect you from the ground. Your dog however is running on his pads, which could be very tender if he hasn’t been doing many outdoor activities. The most common dog jogging injuries are worn or torn pads. Try to run on grass, dirt or other soft and cool surfaces. Starting slow and easing into a jogging routine with your dog gives him the chance to toughen his pads. If you notice problems with his pads (regular inspections are a must – daily is best), take your dog to your veterinarian.

Your dog’s pads serve a second important function: perspiration. Dog’s are only able to cool down by panting and by sweating through their pads. If the ground is hot, your dog won’t be able to cool down as much. With only these two mechanisms of perspiring, dogs don’t get rid of heat as well as humans and they can get overheated very easily. Learn what the signs of heatstroke are and watch for them (bright red gums and tongue, thick saliva, etc.).

Treat yourself to the right gear. Using a body harness on your dog (I prefer the front hooking harnesses as they help deter pulling) is far better than attaching to a neck collar, which can put un unnecessary strain on your dog’s throat and wind pipe. Another great item to invest in is a hands-free leash. A hands-free leash, like the one made by Liston ($30, http://www.liston.com) attaches around your waist, allowing you to run without having to change your arm action or posture to accommodate your dog.

If you’re going running for longer than 30 minutes, make sure to bring water for your dog (you may have to teach him how to drink from a water bottle or bring along a foldable bowl), or run in an area that has access to water that is safe for your dog to drink.

Running with your dog is a great way to spend time together and get your daily workout in. Just start slow, be safe and have fun.