Skin and Coat

Submitted November 26, 2008

Q.) We are entering duck season down here in the south and our lab is in need of a bath. I would like to do it now but my husband would like to wait until January. She will hunt again in 2-3 weeks. Will that be enough time to rebuild her coat oil or should we wait until January?

A.) I think if you use the correct shampoos you will be fine bathing your dog. When I duck hunted a lot with my Chessie, Emma, I would bathe her after every duck hunt. She was a house dog who slept on a dog bed in our bedroom, and as much as I love the sites, sounds and smells of a duck marsh I had no desire to drift off to sleep with that smell hanging in the air. We never had an issue with dry skin, a poor coat or issues handling the cold water.

The shampoo that I use most frequently in my own dogs is an oatmeal-based pet shampoo. I don't buy anything expensive, just what's available at the time I need a shampoo. The oatmeal shampoos do a good job of cleaning the dog, and at the same time, aid in overall coat and skin health. You definitely will want to avoid any of the "medicated" shampoos or shampoos that are degreasing shampoos. These harsher products certainly could affect the oil layer of the coat and lead to issues down the road. Also, most of the flea preventatives that rely on the oil layer of the coat to disperse recommend only waiting 24 hours after a bath to allow the oil layer to replenish.

Unless your dog has some other underlying skin issue, I wouldn't get too worried about bathing regularly. Just like with anything there is the possibility of going overboard, but a regular bath during hunting season isn't one I'd be too concerned about.

Submitted October 22, 2008

Q.) have a three- year old male altered black lab. I have owned him since he was 8 weeks old, wonderful little guy. Last year when he was about 18 months, I sent him off to school for Upland Bird hunting.

He came home after seven weeks with a huge desire to hunt and a new happiness with his new "job". I noticed that his claws were worn down, way more that I had ever seen. He showed no sign of pain or tenderness. As the nails grew back, I noticed that they were growing back at a very fast pace. Far faster than before he went to school, and much faster than the other dogs in the house.

In July of this year, he tore out a nail while running in the back yard. I assumed it was a fluke, took him to the vet. The vet trimmed all his nails, put him on antibiotics to prevent infection, bandaged the foot and that was that. It appears that the growing nail is doing so independent of the quick.....the nail over the top, with the quick fully exposed on the underside.

Since July, he has lost six nails, three of which were on one foot. I have taken him to the vet every time, always with the solution being antibiotics and bandage. Recently, while hunting, I noticed that Deuce was limping, I checked his feet and legs to find that he had torn yet another nail out, and was bleeding a bunch. Off to the vet again, 2 hours later we finally stopped the bleeding, had another bandage in place and the dog is done hunting for the year.

The vet seems to think that the dog may have picked up some sort of infection while at the upland school, that may have moved into his bones and is causing the nail issue. I would think that three courses of antibiotics would have dealt with the infection.....am I wrong? The symptoms he exhibits seem to closely resemble the symptoms of symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy. I understand the SLO is not common in Labs, but is it possible, is there anyway of confirming without amputation of a toe?

Our current vet is wonderful, I have not a single complaint about her care and treatment of our dog. I do however wonder if a "city" vet possess the same knowledge as a vet working with hunting dogs in a more rural setting. I would assume that there are Vets who specialize in working dogs? Do you have any suggestions on such a specialist?

A.) I'm sorry to hear of your struggles with your pup. Conditions like you are describing can be very frustrating, from both sides of the exam table. With the number of times this has occurred I think everyone would agree that there is something more going on with this dog other than bad luck with broken nails. The problem is determining just what is involved with the "more." The most important thing I can stress is that your dog has a condition that isn't normal and so this means as veterinarians we have to work through a "diagnostic tree" in order to find the answer. Sometimes we go down the right "diagnostic branch" with the first test or treatment other times it may take several tests and/or treatment options before we are able to determine exactly what is ailing the dogs with these oddball conditions.

The list of possibilities includes things like auto-immune diseases (essentially the body attacking itself), infections and internal problems like liver disease. Some of these are tricky to diagnose and unforturtunately with the auto-immune diseases an amputation of one toe for diagnostic purposes may be in order. On the infection front, I would be thinking more along the lines of fungal infections rather than bacterial infections, especially after the multiple courses of antibiotics.

You mention a specialist and I certainly am one to advocate how important they are, especially with these more complicated cases. In your case though, it isn't necessarily a "working" dog specialist you would want to see, but rather a dermatologist, and if there isn't one near, then an internal medicine person to put the pieces of your dog's puzzle together.

One note on bringing this up with your vet. I think too often clients worry that we will be offended by second opinions, or at the suggestion of referrring the dog to a specialist. Most practitioners would welcome the opportunity to involve a specialist and sometimes its just a case of not bringing it up because so few clients want to go that route. In our practice I have had my dogs to specialists more times in the last three years than the rest of the practice's clients combined.

The times I get frustrated with second opinions is when a client takes the dog to another vet without any guidance or based on the recommendation of a friend who sends them to Good Ole Doc SoandSo. In those cases the dog may be getting a second opinion from someone with less diagnostic capabilities instead of more. I would strongly suggest asking your vet for a recommendation, especially since you have been satisfied with the care to this point, that way you will be getting an opinion from somone whose opinion your vet respects instead of rolling the dice and potentially ending up in a worse situation.

Submitted 9/19/2008

Q.) I have an eight-year old lab and every year he starts chewing and scratching to where his hair comes off. I have tried every thing to help him. The vet I called said to give him benadryl and try oatmeal shampoo. These helped but not totally. Each year it gets worse, can you help?

A.) Outside of diarrhea and vomiting I would rank skin issues as some of the most common ailments we see in our canine patients. Often in cases such as yours, the condition is related to allergies, and right now is a prime time for seasonal allergies to be flaring up. Many times when people think of allergies they think of respiratory problems like hay-fever, asthma, sinus issues, etc. With our dogs however, the irritation is not to the respiratory tract but rather to the skin. The problem varies from dog to dog, with some dogs having just a mild irriation related to the allergies while a larger percentage will have secondary infections that occur as a result of the skin being irritated. A dog that may be a 5 or 6 on a 1-10 itchy scale will suddenly become and 8 or 9 due to these secondary issues. Trying to control just the allergies when these infections are present will offer no relief to these itchy dogs.

You mentioned that you "called" a vet to get some suggestions and now you are "emailing" another. My suggestion with cases such as yours would be to schedule an appointment so that the dog's condition can be evaluated and the appropriate treatment can be started. If there are issues other than the allergies contributing to the problem it is often a two-step process: first getting the infections under control, and then coming up with a management plan for the allergies. This is one of those times when you aren't going to get one course of medication and have the problem go away forever. Allergies are managed but never cured. It will be vitally important to communicate wtih our veterinarian on a regular basis what treatments are working and which ones are having no effect. Many times after the initial couple of visits this communication can take place via phone.

With seasonal problems it is helpful to also keep track of when the problems start and end. In the future it may be possible to start some of the control measures prior to the onset of the itchiness in hopes of controlling the problem early before the secondary infections flare-up. The key is that there isn't a quick fix or cure but rather this is a condition that can be management but it takes input and communication on your part to help your hunting partner out.

For more information on allergies check on the Itchy Dog Article in the Information Library.

Submitted 11/03/2007:
I have a three-year old Large Munsterlander female. She is a real tail wagger and has a long tail according to breed standard. She almost chronically has a bloody tip on her tail as she bangs it on stuff constantly. The worst problem is in the woods, but of course she hits it on the table, the walls, the dog house, etc. It is a problem no only for her, but also because of the bloody pant legs, walls and other stuff. I am wondering if it is reasonable to consider docking her tail? Any advice would be appreciated.

This is a tough situation and can be a frustrating one to get back under control. Two problems that I have seen contribute to this are dogs kenneled in areas that are just wide enough to allow the tail tip to constantly be traumatized. Sometimes a slightly smaller or slightly larger area will keep the tail tip protected.

The second issue I see is a low-grade infection of the tail tips, which makes them prone to constant breaking. This combined with the fact the infection is never cleared, leaves the tail vulnerable. I have had some success with a longer than normal course of antibiotics, regular cleaning, and the application of a collagen based product like EMT Gel. The key is that once the damage has been going on for a long time, it takes a very long time to attempt to get things back to normal.

Lastly, and I do mean lastly, I have had to amputate tails to varying degrees. While this may seem like an easy fix, the incision has to heal correctly and there is not a lot of extra skin to protect the area. In a dog that is already suffering tail trauma this doesn’t put the odds of healing well in our favor. This means you will have to be even more vigilant than in my above recommendations for medical treatment. Many of these dogs with a “happy” tail become problem healers after surgery, and so I save that option for when there are no other medical treatment options.

Submitted 11/04/07:
I have a 13-month old male GSP that develops cracks and splits in the webbing between his toes on the bottom of his front paws after running in the snow. They split and bleed and he will take turns holding each paw up when he’s not running. He really seems to opens his paws up and grab with the when he runs so the snow makes contact with the webbing. His pads seem fine and nails are short. One paw also bleeds slightly at the spot where his dew claw was removed and has not fur to cover that small patch of skin. My younger pup is out for the same time and has not problems. I so far have soaked his paws in warm water with a touch of Epsom salts and applied a vitamin E Vaseline type cream, as well as ordered him hunting boots. Is there anything I can do as a preventative once they heal up for hunting in the snow?

This is a fairly common problem in this part of the country, and as you have noticed seems to affect certain dogs more than others. I know you have already ordered your boots, but if I may make a suggestion on that front I can’t say enough good things about the products from www.dogbooties.com. I have had tremendous success and I think they are greatly underpriced. I usually order them a dozen or two at a time so I have multiple pairs on hand and am able to rotate. My preferred model is the 1000-Denier Cordura with the Velstretch fastner. I previously would apply vetwrap to keep these in place, but with the new closure system I did not lose a single booty this year.

With the current condition of the feet it might be worthwhile to have them checked by your veterinarian. It is possible that the snow and subsequent wetness actually caused a skin infection of the webbing and that it wasn’t from the mechanical damage of the snow. We see a fair number of dogs with bacterial and/or yeast infections of the interpad area. Treatment can range from some topical sprays/shampoos to longer term oral medications.

As for something preventative, I think the booties will be your best bet on that front.

Submitted 11/07/07:
About one week ago I inherited a rescue English Pointer. Every morning the dog wakes up and scratches at both ears for a half hour or until I get up and scratch his ears for him. The ears look clean and there aren’t any signs of mites, but I noticed a small amount of pus and redness around the pinna. Sometimes it is painful to the touch. I looked in a book and they recommend 70% isopropyl alcohol with 10% iodine, does this sound reasonable? I really can’t afford a vet visit right now so I’m hoping to try something else first.

A couple of things from the soapbox. If the ear is irritated to the point of being inflamed with pus, alcohol is going to burn like crazy and the dog likely will become head shy. You mention no evidence of mites, and while they are not as common in older dogs, you can almost never see them without the aid of a microscope. Lastly, if it is infected to the point of visible pus you NEED to go to the vet, and you are beyond the window of home care.

While it would be great if everyone could own pets, the simple fact is that they do cost money and sometimes we have to spend money in order to seek appropriate care. Whether we buy, adopt or find these dogs we are making a contract with them as a living thing to provide appropriate care, and sometimes that entails a vet visit for correct diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately with homecare, in some situations, you can end up in a worse situation than had you just went in initially.

Some ear problems are manageable at home. That being said, a dog that can’t sleep, has pus in his ears and is very itchy needs to be seen and treated by a veterinarian.

Submitted 10/17/07:
I have an 18-month old yellow lab who went for his first hunt last weekend. He had a scar on his leg from when he was a pup. On his first hunt he must have rubbed it on some brush and it opened up. He developed an infection and the vet treated it with some antibiotics. I have since taken him hunting again and his scar opened up once again. The hard part is that the scar is right above where his leg bends so putting any type of protection over it is difficult. Short of having surgery is there anything else I can use? What about stretchy athletic tape? If he has to have surgery at the end of the hunting season to clean it up I am fine with that, I just don’t want to lose any valuable time in his first year of hunting. Any suggestions?

This is a conversation I have just about every week during hunting season with dog owners. I take a different approach to the situation than most, because I cherish the short time we have in the field with our dogs and even a two-week period on the bench recovering becomes a huge portion of a dog’s hunting career.

Without seeing your particular wound I’ll speak in generalities on how I handle injuries of this nature. First, as far as an ideal healing scenario, rest and the appropriate treatment will almost always result in the best cosmetic results. That being said I try my best not to lose any time in the field, which likely will result in delayed healing and the likelihood of a scar; however, I never promote anything I feel is detrimental to the health of the dog. My recommendations are usually much more liberal in trying to get a dog back out in the field than the recommendations from a non-hunting veterinarian. I recently had a conversation with a gentleman from Wisconsin at a motel game cleaning station. His dog had went through a fence and had a simple laceration on its chest. The vet that sutured the dog up recommended more than a month of rest which I thought was insanely long considering it would essentially take the dog out of most of the waterfowl season and good, early-season pheasants. With the proper care from the owner many of these dogs can return to activity much, much sooner.

The key is your willingness to manage the area to maintain it in optimum health in order to continue hunting the dog and ensure the injury doesn’t get worse or become infected. If it is an area that just gets rubbed raw and oozes, then I’d probably just make sure it gets thoroughly cleaned after each hunt and protect prior. The area you describe is very difficult to bandage or wrap and no matter the material it likely will be an exercise in frustration. One thing you might try is to apply a layer of EMT Gel to the area prior to the hunt. You’ll want to do it long enough before going into the field so that it has had time to dry and form a barrier, yet not too long prior so that the dog could lick it off. Keep a close eye on the situation and monitor for infection. I’m not a big fan of long-term use (more than a day or two) of antibiotic ointments, if it doesn’t stay nice looking with cleaning and EMT gel then you may need a course of oral antibiotics.

Depending on how the wounds are handled in the field, if I see lacerations on Monday morning it is my goal to have the dogs back out hunting the following weekend, and at most only missing one weekend. If these wounds are properly managed during the season, most of the minor ones will heal up fine during the off-season when the dog has plenty of time to rest.

These dogs are put through extreme conditions and do experience some minor and nagging injuries throughout the season. With minimal effort on the part of the owner many dogs can hunt through these conditions without any detriment to the dog. The important points are to know when it is more than a minor annoyance and to have the dedication to manage these injuries for the best benefit and health of the dog.

Submitted 3/13/06:
My four-month old English Setter had developed some kind of cyst on the back of her neck just above where her shoulders come together. It seems liquid filled because I can squeeze it in my fingers and it is kind of free floating under her skin. It causes her no pain even when I squezze it. It’s the size of a ping pong ball or golf ball. Is this a common thing in females?

With the age of your dog I would very highly suspect this is a normal vaccine reaction, as that site is a very common site for vaccinations. I would recommend touching base with your vet to find out if this is possible based on her vaccine schedule and where they typically place their vaccines. If it is not related to the shots, then I would recommend having the fluid aspirated and looked at to make sure it is just a benign reaction to something.

Submitted 11/02/07:
I have a two year old black lab with whom I hunt both waterfowl and upland game. On a recent hunting trip she rubbed her nose and muzzle badly in rough cover. She was so abraded that the black pigment has been rubbed through in several spots and the skin is now pink. Will the pigment in her nose regenerate to its black color? I have been treating the area with bag balm and aloe, is this the correct course of action?

It seems like over the course of their lives that dogs with heavily pigmented noses will usually experience some degree of fading, and this is particularly true of hunting dogs whose noses are frequently irritated. In your particular situation either the pigment will come back normal, it will come back faded in those areas, or it will remain noticeably discolored. Take a look at the nose of any seasoned campaigner and you can often see just how hard they were hunted.

As far as treatment I am not a big fan of topical ointments, and particularly in an area the dog can just lick them off. If the areas look infected or become infected I would opt for oral antibiotics otherwise I would just make sure the area stays clean and let the natural healing take place.

Submitted 10/1/2007:
My puppy drags his butt on the carpet, does he have worms?

It is possible that your puppy has worms, because puppies and parasites can go hand-in-hand even at the cleanest of breeding facilities. I always recommend a fecal float be performed and the appropriate worming be administered for all puppies.

With that being said, when dogs scout (one of my technicians affectionately refers to it as butt surfing), the problem is more than likely one with the anal glands. Dogs have glands which sit just next to the rectum and empty into the rectum. Occasionally these glands will become impacted with debris and/or infected. A simple examination by your veterinarian can determine and correct this annoying problem.

Submitted 9/22/06:
I have a three- year old GWP. For the last two years she breaks out with red bumps and losses the hair on her underside and the backs of her rear legs beginning in late fall-early winter. I used meadow hay the first year and straw the second year. I have since switched to shredded paper. I also switched to a high performance dog food at the same time. I believe it is related to one of the two. This condition disappears in the spring.

If the dog is having a seasonal problem occurring at the same time each year, I would bet that the food is not an issue. Certainly a condition like this could be a contact allergy to the bedding, skin infection (primary or secondary) or an inhalant allergy. One thing I would recommend would be to have your vet evaluate the skin at the time the condition is occurring to see if there is a bacteria or yeast issue, as this may help in resolving the problem. Also it would nice to know is she itchy in these areas or are you just noticing the hair loss?

One thing I will throw out there to run by your vet is a condition called seasonal flank alopecia. I have three wirehairs in my practice that get this condition every winter. It is basically a hair loss condition related to the decrease in daylight we experience in the northern part of the country. Two of the dogs just have hairloss with no irritation, the third does get little bumps. I think the bumps are related to irritation that occurs to the hairless areas, and are not causing the hairless areas. Typically this occurs in the flanks (just in front of the rear legs), but with the breed and the time of year it may be worth looking in to.

Submitted 9/8/07:
We have a 17 month old chocolate lab. My husband insists that we do not bathe him. He thinks he needs the natural oils for duck hunting season, he will be swimming in the rivers. The dog is not just a hunting dog, he is a family pet, who sleeps in our room and is inside a lot. He stinks! Can I bathe him without harming his oils?

Your husband may not agree with the answer, but you sure would get the green light to bathe him from me. Certainly over-bathing could be detrimental; however, periodic baths will not harm the dog’s natural oils. I would go with a gentler, pet-formulated shampoo, like an oatmeal-based product, though, as certain shampoos will be harsher and could definitely remove too much of the protective oils.

It is my opinion that dogs, like labs, also benefit from a professional grooming a couple of times a year. When they are blowing a coat or getting ready to put on a thicker coat, I believe a good professional groomer can greatly aid in accelerating the process, resulting in better overall coat and skin health.

Submitted 3/14/07:
My Golden Retriever and I do a lot of hiking. I want to get her a chest protector but worry about overheating when hiking in Arizona in the summer. What type of material would be best for this kind of weather.

I have owned a number of these products and the one I have settled on is a skid plate that I have seen sold under different packaging. The actual labels on the two I’m using now read "The Original TUMMY SAVER” by Pointer Specialties, though the phone number is worn off. I have seen them in just about every sporting good retailer that has a minimal dog supply selection. It is a light material with reinforcement over the sensitive underside areas. The closure system is three Velcro straps, one over the neck, one behind the legs and one around the abdomen. I have tried numerous buckle closure vests that just didn’t get snug. Also with the neoprene vests and/or the zippered vests you cover up more of the dog than is needed which will contribute to heat issues. As far as dog vests go I wouldn’t change a thing about this one, as it provides protection and allows for ventilation.

Submitted 12/28/06:
I have a seven-year old lab that has an incredibly shedding problem. The hair falls out in huge clumps and is all over the house. We brush and bathe her regularly. I have been told that if a dog drinks out of a toilet that it could cause this shedding situation. Is there any truth to this? Any other ideas as to how to remedy this? We have taken her to our vet and he said he has never seen anything like it.

Although it does not relate to the shedding I would encourage you not to let your dog drink out of the toilet. From a hygiene aspect, this is wrong on so many levels and also the main reason I never let a client dog lick me in the clinic.

If this is just a shedding issue it is very common, and there are some things you can try to lessen the problem, though it will never totally go away. The only further question I would ask would be, are there areas of noticeable hair loss on the dog or active skin irritation? If the answer is yes to either, it needs more investigation by a vet as it is indeed a problem.

With excessive shedding there are a few things I would recommend. The first would be to make sure your dog is on a high quality diet. Diet has a significant impact on coat and skin health and the poorer the diet the worse the hair coat. Now, on the other end of the spectrum it is also my experience that dogs that are on very high-quality diets get thicker, more luxurious hair coats, and as a result, blow their coats in greater quantity and for longer periods of time.

Early in my career I would scoff at people with short-haired dogs that had them groomed. I just didn’t understand the benefit. However, after having my own dogs groomed I can tell you first hand that groomers have a lot more tools at their disposal than the brush and bath so many of us use at home. I don’t have my dogs groomed monthly; however, I think all house dogs (especially the hunting breeds) seem to benefit from regular grooming. With some this may just be twice a year when they are blowing their coats. You will notice a considerable difference in the hair around the house.

In addition to a high-quality diet, at certain times of the year I will also supplement dogs with a well-balanced Omega 3/6 fatty acid product. This seems to help overall coat and skin health in dogs with problems such as yours.

In summary the most important point is to make sure there is not a medical condition causing the problem. If that is not the case then I would recommend a high-quality diet, regular grooming and potentially a fatty acid supplement.

Submitted 12/20/2006:
I took my dog pheasant hunting for the first time. I noticed the next day he had pink showing under his nose and upper lip. Normally it is all black. Is it a reaction to tall grass and thorns or is it something else.

This is a very common problem with hunting dogs. Likely it is more from the trauma and rubbing of the cover more than it is a reaction. This year across the country we had an extremely dry and hot hunting season, which seems to make the cover even more abrasive to our dogs.

A couple of things to keep in mind are to make sure you keep these areas clean and dry after the hunt, so that they do not turn into skin infections. Also, you can try to prevent the problems by using things like Vaseline around the areas prior to going into the field. One thing to be cautious of is keeping the Vaseline out of the eyes, nose and mouth.

Submitted 1/29/06:
I adopted a GSP that is spayed and around five years old (field trial washout). She is an excellent family companion and a fair hunter.

I noticed that she had scratch marks around her neck and throat area and she scratched often. So I did the flea/tick/mite dips to little avail. Next I visited my local vet who suspected allergies and possibly bugs. Bugs were ruled out under the microscope as well as given antibiotics. The allergy plan was to feed her a hydrolyzed diet and a monthly cortisone shot.

The problem is she continues to scratch and has very little hair left behind her ears, around her eyes and nose area. Her belly area is smooth, pink and hairless. The GSP tends to sneeze and paw at her face sometimes. She tends to cut easily in the field too. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

I think to begin with there are a couple of resources you should take a look at in the library section. As you will see from reading them, there are a number of causes to the itchy dog. With your description of the loss of hair and itchiness there are a couple of things I will throw out.

The first is that there are a few parasites that can cause what you are describing but that do not always show up on microscopic exam. I would discuss with your vet about possibly treating for these parasites, regardless if they are found on exam or not. Also, as you probably noticed from the articles, I am not big on using the monthly cortisone shots, there are a number of other options that do not come with the numerous side-effects that can result from repeated cortisone shots. Here again, finding the source of the problem will be incredibly important.

Lastly, I do not use they hydrolyzed diets that are out there for allergies. The theory behind them is good, but I have not really seen any conclusive studies that support their use. I am more apt to use diets with novel protein and carbohydrate sources that are designed for allergic dogs.

My treatment plan for a dog like this would be to treat for external parasites like mange, re-evaluate the allergy plan and potentially try a different prescription diet depending on how steps one and two went.

Submitted 12/19/05:
I have a male chocolate lab who is five years old and has horrible wounds on both front ankles from licking. I have been to three vets in the last year and a half since the problem started. I have tried numerous antibiotics and allergy pills, none of them helping. The only way I have gotten them healed is by making him wear an Elizabethan collar for six weeks or so and wrapping his legs in gauze with Neosporin everyday. When the hair would grow back I would leave the collar off and within two to three days he would have them both licked raw again. He has been neutered and is kenneled with a spayed yellow female. She has no problems such as this and is from a different litter His wounds are very sensitive and sore. He is in really good health otherwise.

It sounds like what you are describing is termed a lick granuloma, which is basically an irritation that occurs and the dog licks and develops a thickened sore that is difficult to heal. We used to believe these were related to boredom or stress, but further research and understanding has shown many of them are related to other common skin conditions, including allergies. Many times these areas are infected and will resolve on an extended course (21-28 days) of oral antibiotics, though be prepared for their return or for further treatment. I usually will not use medications to alter the dog’s behavior initially but rather try to find the source of the irritation. Also, wrapping the feet is not going to really address the issue, as the dog will still be irritated and you will just be preventing him from relieving his irritation.

If you have already gone through the long course of antibiotics with no change, then I’d recommend looking deeper for other causes. If none are found, then I’d get more aggressive with treatment. In some of the long-standing wounds that we can’t get to heal, we will occasionally use a laser to “burn” off the affected tissue and essentially make a long-standing, thick wound into a fresh wound that should heal more easily. Unfortunately with these types of issues there just isn’t a quick fix until the underlying problem is identified. You mention you have done some allergy pills; however, I think this dog will need more than just a course of pills, but rather a long-term plan aimed at healing the wounds and then also preventing them from reoccurring.

Submitted 2/22/05:
My two-year old GSP has been suffering from skin allergies in mainly her ears and under the front arms and legs for about one year now. I just read your article about dogs with allergies and was wondering what type of food to give her to see if that could be causing the problem. We currently feed her Pedigree. We give her Benadryl several times a week and put hydrocortisone cream on her ears, but nothing seems to help. Please advise us as to other things to do that can get this situation under control?

If the problem seems to be seasonal rather than all of the time, I would suspect that it is not food-related. There are a couple of steps I would recommend taking prior to jumping to a prescription allergy diet. The first would be to get her on a high-quality food, one with a good, single-protein source (i.e. chicken or lamb or fish not a combination) and also a primary grain source like rice. The other important point of the diet will be one with a good ratio of Omega 6 & 3 fatty acids, ideally a ratio of 5:1 to 10:1. Next, I would evaluate your treatment protocol with your veterinarian.

The most important thing will be to get any infections fully under control, for example the ears. Next I would choose three different antihistamines and use them each for a two week period (at the correct dosages and timings) and determine if one is more effective than the others. Your current use of Benadryl only several times a week is likely not a good trial of this product. I find that many people do not use Benadryl frequently enough or at the correct dosage. Again, consult your veterinarian about this.

I would try the higher-quality diet, infection control and antihistamines for one to two months before jumping on board with a true prescription allergy diet.

Submitted 2/7/05:
I have a yellow lab who is a daughter of my black lab. She should have a black nose, but starting last October I noticed it was turning chocolate in color. I thought it was because of the rubbing of the grass during pheasant season, but the black color has not come back. Could this be allergies?

It is common for heavily pigmented areas of the dog to discolor as the dog gets older. I see this very commonly in black-nosed, but light coated dogs. If the dog is otherwise healthy and the nose is not actually inflamed or irritated, I don't get too concerned. There are diseases that can cause discoloration and inflammation of the nose, lips, eyelids and/or around the rectum that can be very concerning. These can be symptoms of auto-immune disease and will warrant further diagnostics. If it is just discoloration I wouldn't worry to much; if there is irritation or things just don't look right I would have it looked at by a veterinarian.

One other note, occasionally we'll see this type of problem in dogs that are allergic to plastic. If you are currently using plastic food and water bowls, I would recommend switching over to metal or ceramic dishes.

Submitted 11/22/04:
I have an 18-month old Chessie that spends a lot of time in the field and has chronic contact dermatitis on his belly. My vet has put him on prednisone, antihistamines, etc. Treatments break the cycle, but don’t cure the problem. My question is this, would you recommend some topical cream or balm to soothe the irritation?

My first course of action would be to perform some diagnostic tests on the area. There are several skin conditions that can cause a dermatitis that “just won’t go away” especially in young dogs. At the top of my list would be Demodicosis, a parasite of dogs that lives in the hair follicles of all dogs. Most of the time it exists unnoticed, but occasionally, in young dogs or older dogs with health problems, it will cause a dermatitis. Other things that I would consider would be allergies, both food and contact. One thing I would recommend is examining the housing situation and make sure it was not causing the problem (i.e. spending most of the day in a plastic kennel with no bedding, on a concrete run, etc.).

If indeed the only explanation is a result of contact in the field, then I would recommend running your pup with a skid plate or chest protector. These seem to prevent a lot of the chaffing and abrasion problems that we see in sporting dogs. I would strongly recommend using one with Velcro closures as they are, in my experience, easiest to adjust and the most form fitting.

Submitted 10/13/04:
My one-year old black lab male spent three months at a professional trainer. After having him back for a couple of days I noticed a sore spot on the underside of his neck that was oozing. I assume it is from the prongs of the electronic collar used by the trainer (not sure if the irritation would be from the prongs themselves or from the shock?). It remained irritated and open for a couple of days but has now dried up. In the process the hair in the area has fallen out. The skin currently looks red and has darker red spots. I think I am ok with letting the healing process continue. Any thoughts/concerns that it may be more than something caused by the collar and that it may not heal on its own?

He also had two spots on his scrotum. These were never open but rather were quarter to half-dollar sized scabs. These also seem to be clearing. I assume this is from spending time on cement at the trainer’s kennel?

The only other thing I’ve noticed is that he seems constipated quite a fair amount of the time. Today the feces were half dark and half very light.

I know the Q&A is no replacement for a trip to the vet, but I would be curious if you have any thoughts?

The sores you describe on the neck are a fairly common (though not often) problem we see in association with electronic collars, or more correctly a problem we see from the improper use of collars. To answer the source question, it is from the prong area of the collar and not from shocking the dog too much. I’ve seen these occur in two situations; one is pressure from the prongs over too long of period of wear. We’ll see this when bark collars are left on for extended periods, or dogs trained for long periods several days in a row. It is also possible to see it with loose fitted collars where the prongs rub back and forth over the same area. Both of these situations can be made worse if the dog was wet while wearing the collar. This isn’t necessarily a sign of trainer neglect, though after it happened he should have been aware of the problem and addressed it with you. I’m of the opinion that training collars are one of the most humane training tools we’ve ever had in dog training…when they are used correctly. This case illustrates two things, one is that you need to know how to properly fit/position the collar on the dog and two: after each training/hunting session you need to go over your dog to look for these types of injuries (see Tailgate Exams in the library section).

As far as treating the problem; the condition your dog has is a moist dermatitis (hotspot), and he likely will need to be on oral antibiotics. My standard treatment is to shave the hair away from the sores, scrub the scabs away and start them on antibiotics. If the irritation is severe enough, I will also send home a topical spray that helps with the itch the first couple of days. The most important point in treatment is keeping the sores clean and dry while they heal.

Your assessment of the sores on the scrotum being caused by the concrete may be correct. The other source of irritation could be the cleaning solution they use when spraying down the kennels. This is just another one of those unfortunate detriments of being an intact male dog.

I would watch your dog’s stools and make sure he is actually constipated. With your description and his recent training, I would wager he actually may have loose stools and when you see him straining it is from irritation (colitis) and not from constipation. We will often see dogs develop diarrhea after being away, either from the stress of the situation or from the food change. I would also recommend having your dogs stools checked for parasites, which is always a possibility when you get a group of dogs together. This is no fault of the trainer, it’s just like having a group of kids at daycare…if there’s something to pass around, most kids will come down with it. All of these conditions are treatable, though an annoyance.

Submitted 10/11/04:
My daughter was tested for allergies and scored four out of six for dogs. The doctor says her score is not so bad that we have to think about finding a new home for our dog, but said we have to find ways to keep the dog dander down. Are there shampoos that could help? We have a German Shorthair.

Unfortunately there are no magic bullets when it comes to dogs, dander and shedding, but that being said, I’ll give you all I know on trying to control shedding in dogs.

I had always been a dog owner that thought dog grooming was for fluffy little housedogs, and that hunting dogs, and especially short-coated hunting dogs, had no need for a professional grooming. That all changed when I was practicing in Brainerd, MN at Lakeland Veterinary Hospital and had the pleasure of working with groomers Diana and Julie. These two were exceptional groomers and could really groom dogs; the key is to find a GOOD groomer, as there is an incredible variety out there. Groomers are able to blow out a coat, both in the bathing and drying process, better than you ever would be able to bathing your dog at home everyday for a week. You could also have them use an oatmeal-based or similar shampoo that will help with overall coat and skin health. Some groomers use hot oil treatments, which may also help improve the coat quality. My hook is to at least try it once before you knock it, as I was one of the biggest skeptics out there and am now amazed. For most labs, shorthairs, etc. I usually recommend twice a year grooming (spring and fall), but in your situation it may be more beneficial to increase the frequency. If the allergies flare up immediately after the grooming, I would be suspicious of a perfumed shampoo or after-groom perfume and would ask them to refrain in the future.

The most important thing you can do on a day-to-day basis is feed a high-quality food, and one that contains a good balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. The food we feed our dogs affects every aspect of their existence, and this includes their coats.

Good Luck!!

Submitted 8/25/04:
My almost 5-month old PP pup was just diagnosed with Demodectic Mange. I am new to all of this but it seems localized to her head with two spots of hair loss. No other spots on her body and I have checked her all over.

My vet gave her a shot of something (he said it was a systemic something or other) last night and advised me to scrub her down with generic Mitaban three times over the next six weeks. My thought going in was Goodwinol on the affected parts of her head and let it run it’s course. Is my vet going too far with these treatments? I questioned him about the side effects of the dips and his belief is to nip it in the bud now. Just want to make sure we are doing the right thing before I subject my pup to a dip.

On a side note how worried should I be about this becoming a generalized case, how common is Demodectic Mange in pups? I am worried I will be fighting this for the rest of the dog’s life, are my fears rational?

A little background on Demodex, they are a very small mite that when looked at under a microscope looks roughly like little alligators (or cigars) and live in the hair follicles of mammals. They are present in virtually all dogs, and likely every puppy gets them from the dam. However, in most cases they live in harmony in the body and do not cause hair loss or other skin problems. The two times that we see an actual problem with these mites is when animals are young and do not likely have a fully developed immune system, and later in life, often associated with some other problem that causes immune suppression.

Now for the treatment. I hate being asked to second-guess a treatment plan, especially when I haven’t seen the dog. That being said, I usually take a conservative approach to Demodex cases, especially small and localized areas. Most localized cases (~80%) will resolve without any treatment. If I’m suspicious about a particular case, or if the owner wants some type treatment, I will usually use a follicular flushing shampoo and/or ointment like Pyoben. I have no experience with Godwinol. My thoughts are that you can always get more aggressive with treatment and save the “big guns” for only when you need them. Now, that being said, your vet might have had more localized cases that have turned in to generalized cases and wants to stop any progression before it starts. If you elect to go more conservative, I would definitely keep a very close eye on the areas, and at the first sign of them getting larger, or if there is more skin irritation, I would get more aggressive with the treatment.

As far as battling the condition for the rest of the dog’s life, I wouldn’t get too worried there, especially if the areas are as small as you describe. In fact, even if this was a generalized case in a puppy, I wouldn’t be too worried about it. As I stated, most of the time the only treatment needed is time.

Submitted 8/9/04:
My male yellow lab at about six months old got hot spots. My vet prescribed an antibiotic and spray for the areas. He healed up well but now at nine months old he got them again. We shaved the areas and are on a 21-day antibiotic and spray again. Are hot spots common in labs? Are they hereditary? Is it a type of allergy? Is there any way of completely preventing them?

Yes, this is a very common problem that we see this time of year, and they can have a multitude of causes from allergies and insects (fleas, ticks, etc.) to moisture from swimming. Below is the handout that I send home with Hotspot Dogs:

Acute Moist Dermatitis: Hot Spots

General Conditions: Acute Moist Dermatitis (hot spots, pyotraumatic dermatitis, moist eczema) is produced by self-inflicted trauma as the patient attempts to alleviate some pain or itch. Hot spots can be caused by flea allergy dermatitis,allergic skin diseases, skin parasites, anal sac problems, ear infections, and on occasion musculo-skeletal disorders. Once the skin is irritated, an itch-scratch cycle is initiated, and the intense trauma produces severe lesions in a few hours. Dogs with heavy hair coats, such as Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Collies, German Shepherds, and St. Bernards are particularly predisposed to this problem. The condition is much more common in hot/humid weather, and may have something to do with the lack of ventilation in the coat.
Therapy: The lesion is very painful and will progress rapidly if appropriate therapy is not started at once. Therapy is effective if applied promptly and vigorously. Sedation or anesthesia is usually needed to allow thorough cleaning of the area. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory agents may also be required for treatment.
Important Points in Treatment: Clean infected area 2-3 times per day with mild soap and water or hydrogen peroxide to remove or prevent crusting.
Exercise: No exercise restriction is necessary. However, avoid swimming, brush, or periods or heavy insect activity until the lesion is completely healed.
Prevention: Unfortunately, there is no simple method of prevention and some dogs may have repeated problems. Constant attention to grooming, hygiene, baths, parasite control, and periodic cleaning of the ears and anal sacs will help prevent problems. You should be especially vigilant during periods of hot, humid weather. Be sure to complete all prescribed medications. If antibiotics are stopped too soon, the infection can reoccur.

Submitted 5/15/04:
My lab has a hair loss problem that occurs in the spring on his sides, I see no rash on his skin only a small spot of hair loss on both sides almost like he scratched his side or maybe rubbing himself on his kennel cyclone fence. He spends more time out running and playing then locked up in his kennel. I am just concerned with his hair loss. My dog is 4 years old, this problem started last spring. Diet the same living environment the same? Vet looked at this problem and said it was a rash and gave me some pills to correct the rash but no luck in the fall before the winter coat grew back in complete. What do you think may be causing this problem?

When I see hair loss cases like this, I usually like to work the case up completely as there are a large number of potential causes. Often I’ll start by taking several samples from the skin and hair to determine if there are bacteria, yeast, or parasites present. You may be interested in taking a look at the Itchy Dog article on the library portion of the site as it deals with dogs and allergies. It sounds like from your description, though, that your dog is not very itchy, and the skin does not appear irritated, so this leads us to two other possibilities.

The first, and probably least likely, would be a metabolic problem...something like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease. Both of these can result in hair loss similar to what you describe and can be ruled out with a complete blood workup by your regular veterinarian.

The most likely cause for your problem is a condition referred to as seasonal flank alopecia. Basically hair loss along the sides that occurs at certain times of the year. We see this regularly in the Midwest and in other parts of the country where we have less daylight during the winter months. This daylight change affects a gland in the brain (pineal gland) and although the exact mechanism is not understood, it results in hair loss in some breeds of dogs. As I stated above, the diagnosis is often reached after ruling out other causes for the hair loss and by usually performing skin biopsies.

If the condition does not appear to bother the dog and the hair comes back in a timely manner treatment may not be needed. One way to treat the dog would be to attempt to get it more sunlight during the winter months, though that is not always an acceptable solution for those of us who leave for work and arrive home when its dark in the winter months. Under direction of your veterinarian you could also try some different medications that helps regulate the activity of the gland in response to daylight.