Dog skin irritations are called by many different names. Sometimes referred to as hot spots or "licksores," they are known scientifically as acral lick dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis. These irritations are caused by excessive licking of what probably started as a minor irritation such as a flea or mosquito bite.
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If you've noticed your dog has a minor skin irritation and you're wondering how to treat it, this is not the time to take a wait-and-see attitude. A lick sore will only get worse if it is not treated. If you have waited too long to seek treatment and the irritation is deep, a visit to your vet is in order. The veterinarian will almost always administer a shot of a corticosteroid anti-inflammatory drug such as depo medrol and may prescribe prophylactic antibiotics. The injection will stop the inflammation, and the antibiotics will hold off any opportunistic bacterial infections. The vet may also dispense a topical anti-inflammatory or antibiotic with anti-itch and pain medication built in, though in most cases it's best to keep the area dry.
The Holistic Approach
If you are trying to avoid using commercial preparations on your dog's skin irritations, and the hot spot is relatively superficial and minor, you can try using a holistic approach. Shave the area with electric clippers, or with scissors if you don't have clippers. Wash the area well with warm water and an antiseptic soap such as Phisohex or Betadine. Be sure to rinse the area well. Brew some strong black tea and allow the tea bags to cool. Apply them to the hot spots by holding them in place for about five minutes several times a day. The natural tannins in black tea (not herbal tea) will dry out the area. You can use witch hazel in place of black tea: Simply pour the witch hazel from the bottle, or saturate a cotton ball or gauze and hold it on the area.
Some dogs, especially white short-haired dogs, are susceptible to sunburn. If the irritation you are dealing with is not a hot spot but sunburn or another type of superficial, minor burn, you can treat it as you would your own. Shave the area so you can keep a watchful eye on it. Look for signs of infection such as redness beyond a normal sunburn, which would present as a light or medium pink with swelling or oozing. Apply aloe vera straight from the plant leaf itself or use a commercial preparation made with aloe vera. You can also use creams containing vitamin E or slice open a vitamin E capsule and drip the contents onto the burned area if the area is not too big. Apply a cool compress. For a little extra soothing and comfort, store your aloe vera or aloe vera gel in the refrigerator.
Soothing All Over Irritations
If your dog has a rash of unknown origin, take him to the vet for a diagnosis just in case it is something serious, like poison ivy. However, if your dog has a minor heat rash or has gotten into trouble with fleas, mosquitoes, ants or some other pesky little critter, he may have an all-over irritation that calls for more than what a cream can handle. The best way to soothe this type of skin irritation is with a cool bath. Use a shampoo made for dogs, but get one that has one of the following ingredients: Oatmeal, lavender, eucalyptus or baking soda. If you cannot find a dog shampoo containing oatmeal, you can use the oatmeal in your cupboard. Run it through a food processor or blender until it is a fine powder, then add it to your dog's bath water. Lavender has a calming effect on the skin that is not only palliative but also curative. Eucalyptus is not only soothing but has antibiotic properties and repels fleas. If you cannot find a dog shampoo containing eucalyptus, you can add several drops to any mild dog shampoo. You can add baking soda directly to the dog's bath water.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.