By Tracie Korol
My neighbor dog, Miss S, currently has two hot spots. She was clear on Monday; by Wednesday afternoon she had a weeping, oozing wound on her right front leg and another on her flank. Her gooey messes might be pyotraumatic dermatitis, wet eczema or Staphyloccocus intermedius, but they are what we generally group under the heading of “hot spots”.
They are warm and swollen to the touch, certainly painful and often smell dreadful. They can be triggered by bacteria, yeast, fungi, fleas, lawn-care products, irritating grooming products, anxiety, stress, boredom or as a reaction to having been recently vaccinated. In many dogs hot spots mark the return of autumn.
Most vets will treat hot spots by shaving the area, washing with disinfectant soap or rinsing with a liquid antiseptic. They will often use astringents, hydrocortisone sprays, antibiotics and steroid injections or pills. If the dog can’t leave the spot alone, she may be sentenced to the Cone of Shame, E-collar (the lampshade device) that prevents her from getting at the wound. Any dog can get a hot spot, but our pets are especially prone given our humid climate.
Because hot spots tend to recur, holistic practitioners tend to look beyond the obvious symptoms to the underlying causes. Richard Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, my mentor and author of one of my favorite reference guides with the longest, most unmemorable title (“Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats”) maintains all skin problems stem from the same health problem. He maintains that skin disorders stem from: toxicity from poor-quality food, environmental pollutants or topically applied chemicals; routine unnecessary yearly vaccinations that induce immune disorders in susceptible animals; suppressed disease (conditions that have never been cured that reappear as periodic skin discharge); or psychological factors such as stress, boredom, frustration, irritability. Miss S is morbidly obese, eats garbage kibble and is confined on the back porch 16 hours a day. I’d wager her hot spots are a trifecta of causality.
What’s the cure? Dr. Pitcairn says it’s all in the diet. I believe him.
He recommends a short fast followed by an improved diet, absent any processed grains, soy, chemical preservatives, artificial colors, flavors or synthetic vitamins.
The short fast (a couple of days, fresh clean water always available) will encourage the body to burn up fat deposits where it holds impurities. By the time your dog returns to a clean diet, her body will have already started the healing process. But what do you do in the meantime when your dog has a great, nasty owwy?
Despite a stellar diet, my Bea would routinely sprout a hot spot on her left hip every autumn. Before she could worry it into a full-scale drama, I would shave the area, wash it gently with an anti-bacterial soap, and apply tea tree oil diluted w/a neutral carrier oil. Often by the next day her little wound would be scabbed over leaving her to sport a fur excavation site for the next three months. Tea tree oil worked for The Bea. As it is a bitter, smelly oil her only reward for worrying the site was the slobbery “get this off my tongue” reaction we’ve all seen. Tea tree is a powerful essential oil, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and used by Australian WWII troops to fend off trench foot in the South Pacific Theater. It’s also known as melaleuca oil of MLM notoriety.
Herbal treatments such as powdered goldenseal, comfrey tea or chamomile compresses will soothe and dry the wounds. A couple of plain old black tea bags soaked in hot water, squeezed almost dry and left to cool can be applied directly to the hot spot for as long as your dog will allow. The tannins in the tea will help dry out the wound plus the cooling compress AND your personal attention will be soothing.
Holistic philosophy says that organisms function as complete units that cannot be reduced to a sum of its parts. If your dog gets a hot spot, certainly treat the “part”, but then look beyond the immediate emergency to find the source of the problem. With hot spots, as with other health issues, if the complete unit is healthy it follows that the parts will be healthy, too.