Hot Spots

Reference the term “hot spot” these days and one thinks about a point of Internet access. Not so for veterinarians who reserve the term “hot spot” for a common skin problem capable of causing canine misery, particularly in the spring and summer when allergies and fleas make a comeback from their winter dormancy.


The more technical name for a hot spot is “acute moist dermatitis”, a localized skin eruption that appears very quickly (sometimes in a matter of hours), hence …

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Common causes for hair loss in cats include allergies, poor nutrition, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, ringworm and stress. Discover why fleas may be causing a cat to lose its hair with help from aveterinarian in this free video on cat health. Expert: James Talbott Bio: Dr. James R. Talbott is a staff veterinarian at Belle Forest Animal Hospital and Kennel in Nashville, Tenn. Filmmaker: Dimitri LaBarge

Allergic Reactions in Pets

Pets,  just like humans, can have allergic reactions to just about anything. The reactions can range from mild itching, to hives and whelps, or even life-threatening anaphylaxis. Allergies occur when a substance the pet is exposed to triggers an overactive response from the immune system. Allergies can develop slowly over time, or can develop suddenly.

The most common allergic reaction in pets is that to fleas. The flea saliva has a protein component that causes the pet to itch every time they are bitten. Sometimes, you never see the flea because the pet grooms themselves and can ingest the flea. The most common area for the dog to itch is just above the base of the tail. Once the skin is broken, and the dog licks and chews at the area, secondary skin infections set in. Here in Houston, the hot bed of all things allergic and the perfect storm of warm temperatures and humidity, is ideal for growing parasites and pollen. We recommend giving the heartworm and flea control medications all year round to control the fleas.

Allergies can also develop to injections, such as antibiotics or vaccines. Every effort has been made to improve the quality of vaccines and reduce the episodes of reactions, but every dog is different and so is their immune system. The majority of these reactions can occur rather quickly, so waiting around the hospital to check out after an injection is sometimes a good thing because the reaction can be treated quickly.

The other common allergen is food allergies, such as wheat, corn, beef and others. Dogs with food allergies can have intestinal problems and can have itching and swelling around the face and eyes. Food trials or blood tests can help to identify the culprit and then you have to avoid that ingredient in the diet. Special foods that have novel proteins, such as salmon and potato are often fed for a 6-8 week trial to see if the allergies improve. Once the dog is not itching, a protein is re-introduced to the dog one at a time to identify the allergen. Sometimes, the dog needs to stay on the special diet.

The next common allergen is inhaled allergens, such as pollen, dander, dust mites, etc. Yes, I have even had a Bichon that was allergic to human dander. The majority of these dogs present with anything from licking and chewing at their feet, to generalized itching, hair loss and secondary infections. Ear infections are also a common secondary development because the skin is inflamed from the allergy and the warm, dark, moist environment of the ear sets up the perfect growth media for yeast and bacteria.  Cortisone and anti-histamines will help relieve the symptoms for a short time but for real control, the allergen needs to be identified with either skin tests or blood panels. Once the specific allergens are identified, a special “vaccine’ of the allergy causing culprits are mixed up and desensitization injections are given to help reduce the symptoms over time.  Secondary infections are controlled with antibiotics and/or  medicated shampoos. Newer spot-ons have been developed to help heal the integrity of the skin barrier to help it fight off the secondary infections better and omega-3 fatty acid supplements can also help by reducing the allergic response and improving the health of the skin.

Another allergic causing culprit is insect or spider bites. In this scenario, the dog is outside playing, and then comes back in with usually a swollen nose and muzzle. Snake bites can also present with the same signs. If the swelling continues to worsen, a call or visit to your veterinarian is warranted.

The next allergic reaction that can occur is a contact allergy. The reason I am writing this post is because one of my patients had a possible allergic reaction to a common carpet freshener that was applied to freshen the carpet before the holidays. Because we are investigating this product with the company, I am not going to identify the product specifically, but give general recommendations on how to test products before applying them to your carpets.

The story goes as follows, the owners applied the carpet freshener as directed. Later they noticed the dog’ s skin was bright red and the pet had vomited. They bathed the pet in cool water to calm the skin, not knowing what had caused the reaction and the skin improved. The next morning the dog walked across the carpet and broke out in hives and big whelps. The pet was then presented to my hospital where we administered benadryl and some cortisone to relieve the allergic reactions. The owner then recalled that the pet may have had a slight reaction the last time they applied the product.  Now the owners are going to have to steam clean the carpets to remove the product.

Because pets have a lot more skin area exposed to the carpets, they may be at a greater risk for contact allergies or simply irritation. Since their noses are closer to the ground, they can also inhale the products, which may result in allergic reactions.

So, what can you do to see if your pet could have a problem? Just like when ladies have to test the hair dye before applying it to their hair, you may want to test a small amount of the product on the belly of your pet. If a red whelp or a red irritation develops, you may wish to skip that product and stick with steam cleaning.  If you suspect your pet may have had a reaction to a product, take your pet and the product to your veterinarian. Your pet should be bathed to remove any product from the skin and then treated with antihistamines. The product should then be reported to the company for further testing. You should also write down the UPC code and the product batch code. Most of these products have usually been tested rigorously, but a super sensitive pet may still have a reaction to just about anything.

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Tips To Protect Your Dog From Ticks

A tick is a small parasite related to spiders. They are most normally found in wooded areas and those fields of high grass and like mosquitoes and fleas pose a health hazard to your dog and to people as well as they carry the Lyme disease, Rocky mountain spotted fever and other illnesses that can affect your dogs health and even his life. While many people know that ticks can be detrimental to their dogs health they simply aren’t sure what to do to protect their dog from these parasites. Here are a few tips that may help you to protect your dogs from ticks and keep him healthy.

Since ticks are found in wooded areas and high grass and especially prevalent during the spring and summer it is a good idea to keep the grass in your yard mowed and short. Ticks are far less likely to inhabit areas where there is no tall grass.

You will also want to keep your yard free of spilled bird seed and other things which might attract mice and squirrels because ticks often use these animals as a host and food source.

Don’t allow your dog to roam. The best way to protect him from ticks is to limit his access to areas where there is not a high concentrations of these parasites.

If you take your dog camping with you check him/her every three hours for signs of ticks. Make sure you check him thoroughly including the inside of his ears and around the genital area. Ticks do not attach immediately to a new host and usually don’t start feeding until after they are on the host for about 4 hours. (It is also wise to thoroughly check all humans who are camping in wooded areas for ticks as well.)

If you find a tick use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the body as possible and pull the tick straight out. Never remove a tick with your bare hands. Ticks have teeth designed to latch onto a host and remain fixed and twisting and turning the tick may result in leaving the head with the disease carrying fluids attached.

Once the tick is removed then clean the area with soap and water and apply antiseptic.\

Using protectants such as Advantix and Frontline Plus and Vectra 3D may prevent ticks from using your dog as a host. Ask your Veterinarian about these and other products that may help to protect your dogs from ticks.

If your dog has had access to any area where ticks may live and suddenly appears lame, feverish and has a loss of appetite and appears lethargic then take him to your Veterinarian immediately for treatment. Be sure to tell your Vet of the places your dog has been so that he can be tested for tick spreading diseases.

Your dog is your trusted companion and your friend. You want to be able to share those outside adventures, picnics, hiking and camping trips with him but, you also want to keep him safe. Following these few tips will help protect your dog from ticks and the associated health problems they cause while still enabling him to enjoy all those out of door adventures.

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What are “Hot Spots” in Dogs?

The dog’s skin is the largest organ of the body, yet there is a very restricted number of ways in which it responds to trauma. “Hot Spots” or acute moist dermatitis are locations on the dog’s skin due to your dog’s itching, biting and scratching and may often arise quite suddenly. These places may become very large and may develop just about anywhere on the dog. I see it sometimes in the spring time once the temperatures are warmer as well as the humidity is high. The dogs with the thick undercoat, such as Labs, golden retrievers and rottweilers are susceptible to getting these spots on their face and neck. Typically, spots located at the base of the tail are very likely resulting from fleas simply because fleas choose to congregate in these areas. Quite a few dogs happen to be so hypersensitive to fleas, the bite of one flea is sufficient to induce the dog to itch all over. Almost any injury can begin the process which the dog then exacerbates by continual chewing and licking which in turn results in a vicious cycle and will cause the hot spot to spread.

The dog normally has bacteria that lives on their skin and so long as the skin is healthy, the microorganisms almost never result in any issues. However when something occurs, such as a fleabite, cut or allergies, the dog begins to lick, bite, chew and scratch which in turn disrupts the defensive layer of the skin. As soon as that takes place, the bacteria on the skin, as well as the germs in the mouth, set up housekeeping in the skin. This creates a swiftly spreading infection which may be quite painful. The area on the skin is red, raw and seems moist because the wound oozes serum and pus. The hair then mats down over the wound and the infection then spreads beneath the hair.

A visit to the veterinarian is usually called for. In many cases the fur must be clipped off to stop the spread of the infection. Sometimes, these hot spots are so painful, the dog may need to be sedated in order to have the region cleansed and shaved. Antibiotics are prescribed to take care of the infection and follow-up antibiotics are sent home. Sprays, ointments and medicated shampoos can also be prescribed to continue treatment at home.. For some dogs, a special collar may be used that can help deter the dog from chewing at the places.

The particular underlying reason for the insult should likewise be tackled. If fleas can be found, then year round flea control may be prescribed.(over-the-counter flea control is not recommended) Pollen, food, and other allergens can also precipitate an attack. Sometimes specific diets with essential fatty acids and a novel protein source for example salmon, lamb or venison may be recommended to help heal the skin. Blood and skin tests can be preformed to help discover what the dog is allergic to and special allergy injections or prescription diets is often given.

Check your dog daily for itchy spots and use flea control suggested by your veterinarian year round to help avert hot spots as a result of flea allergies. Daily grooming and brushing can keep mats from developing. If your dog is itching continuously, take him to the veterinarian to handle the itching before the infection can progress.

Allergies in Dogs

From springtime through the late fall, many people are subject to seasonal allergies. But people are not the only ones suffering. For our dogs and cats, these same seasons can bring intense itching and discomfort. Yes, it seems our pets can get their own “hay fever”.

It’s a very frustrating and somewhat common situation. Pet owners by the millions flock to their veterinarians in the hope of relieving their pet’s itchiness. For many people, the constant chewing, licking, and scratching can test their love for their pets.

Current estimates show that about 20 million pets suffer from some sort of skin condition and many of these are allergies. Allergies are an over-reaction of the body’s immune system to a foreign substance, such as pollen or flea saliva. For people with allergies, we sneeze and sniffle as our bodies respond to histamine released by immune cells. These symptoms are due to the reaction of histamine with receptors in our nose and upper airways.

Our pets, however, react somewhat differently. Dogs and cats have many more histamine receptors in the skin and fewer in the nose. As histamine is released, the receptors cause an itchy feeling and the pet reacts by scratching at that site. Scratching can generate more histamine release, thereby causing more scratching. The constant assault on the skin by the pet’s claws can actually damage the skin, leading to bacterial infections. Areas of hair loss and oozing sores known as “hot spots” are very common with allergies.

Fleas are often found to be the reason for a pet’s itchiness. However, the pet who is truly allergic to fleas will often appear to have no fleas at all! Why? Because these pets are the ultimate flea catchers, doing everything in their power to bite or scratch the discomfort of the flea away. The flea’s saliva sets off an allergic reaction leading to a flurry of chewing and digging at the skin.

Allergies to airborne substances, such as pollen and mold spores, are another reason for itchiness in pets. This is known as atopy and affects many pets from springtime straight through until fall. This condition can be inherited in certain breeds.

If your pet has signs of allergies year round and you see little or no improvement with certain medications, you may have a pet that has food allergies. Contrary to popular belief, food allergies take time to develop and are not due to recent diet changes. Most pets who develop food allergies have been eating the offending food with little problem for years. Common food allergens can include any major protein or carbohydrate source in the pet’s food.

In some mild cases, the itchiness can be treated with anti-histamines or even steroids for a short period of time. However, pet owners need to be aware that allergies are not a condition that can be cured. The good news though, is that they can be well-managed with a team effort from the pet owner and the veterinary team.

Utilizing diagnostic tests such as blood testing and even skin allergy tests, veterinarians can often find ways to reduce the pet’s discomfort level. In some cases, your family veterinarian may refer you and your pet to a veterinary dermatologist. This specialist has many more diagnostic and treatment resources available to bring relief to your pet. In all cases, you, the pet owner, are a vital part of the team. It will be up to you to make sure that all pets in the household are treated for fleas or that your pet stays on the recommended hypo-allergenic diet and doesn’t sneak other treats!

Allergies are not only one of the most frequent reasons for a trip to the veterinarian, but are also a big reason for pet owners becoming frustrated with their pet. Working with your veterinary team to identify what is causing your pet’s symptoms will help keep your four-legged family member right where he needs to be…with you!

Parasites on Your Cat

ParasitesParasites are organisms that live in or on your cat, causing harm. Minimizing parasites is an important part of keeping your pet healthy. Some pet parasites can cause problems for people too, so keeping them out of your home is also good for you and your family.

External parasites are insects or arachnids that live on the skin or in the ears, feeding on blood or cell fluids. Most are large enough to be visible, but its easy to miss them on a furry pet. Your veterinarian can tell you about parasite control products that are safe, convenient, and effective.

Fleas are about twice the size of the head of a pin and are brown in color. They scurry rapidly through your cats hair coat and can jump several feet. Fleas can be detected by combing your pet with a fine-toothed flea comb. The presence of flea droppings is another sign. Flea droppings look like black sand. A good trick for differentiating flea droppings from dirt is to add a drop or two of water. Flea droppings contain partially digested blood, and will produce a red color when wet.

Fleas cause severe skin irritation and allergies. Your cat may scratch so much that he creates raw spots, which can become infected. Severe infestations can cause anemia. Fleas are also the carriers of tapeworms. Although fleas prefer furry creatures, they can cause itchy bites on people.

There are many products available for flea control. The newest, safest, and most effective are available from your veterinarian. These products are also very convenient, requiring only a few drops of liquid applied once a month. You may still notice a few fleas occasionally. Sprays for the home and garden can minimize this problem. Make sure to read and follow label directions on all flea products. Some products can be dangerous to you or your cat if they are used improperly.

Lice are whitish insects that are smaller than fleas. Their eggs, or nits, can be detected on the hair shafts. In cats, lice are much less common than fleas. Lice can cause skin irritation and anemia. Insecticidal shampoos and other products can be used to treat lice, but it is very important to treat the bedding as well. Although people get lice, they are a different type, so you dont have to worry about getting lice from your pet.ticks

Ticks are arachnids, relatives of spiders. Their size varies tremendously, depending on the type, age, sex, and whether the tick has fed on blood. Larval ticks may be smaller than the head of a pin, whereas some adult ticks are larger than a corn kernel. Ticks are detected by careful examination of your pets skin and ears.

Ticks can cause anemia and are carriers of many serious diseases, including Lyme disease and Ehrlichia. They can also bite people.

Some of the topical flea products available from your veterinarian for flea control are also effective for ticks. In addition, powerful tick-specific products may be recommended. Many tick control products are safe for dogs only, so read all labels carefully before using a product on your cat.Microspcopic view of earmites

Mites, like ticks, are arachnids, but they are much smaller. Many mites are difficult or impossible to see without magnification. Ear mites can be detected by your veterinarian during a physical examination. Skin mites usually require a skin scraping test. Symptoms vary depending on the type of mite, but can include itching, irritation, and hair loss. Skin mites are the cause of mange. Effective mite treatments are available by prescription. The treatment often takes several weeks.

Debra Garrison, DVM

Worms and Parasites in Dogs

ParasitesThe Parasite Problem
Parasites are organisms that live in or on your dog, causing harm. Minimizing parasites is an important part of keeping your pet healthy. Some pet parasites can cause problems for people too, so keeping them out of your home is also good for you and your family.

The most common internal parasites of dogs live in the gastrointestinal tract. You may see some of these organisms in your pets feces, but a fecal analysis by your veterinarian is more reliable. Some parasites live in the bloodstream or other parts of the body. Blood tests may be required to detect these. Most internal parasites can be treated with medication available from your veterinarian.

Roundworms Almost all puppies acquire roundworms from their mothers. The worms look like curly pieces of spaghetti and may be several inches long. Heavy infestation with roundworms may cause a dull hair coat and pot-bellied appearance. Roundworms can also cause disease in children, so all puppies should be routinely tested and treated. The treatment is a simple oral medication, but it must be repeated two or more times. It is important to follow label directions exactly. You can help prevent the spread of roundworms by cleaning up animal feces as soon as possible, especially in your yard.

Tapeworms Tapeworms are one type of worm you may very likely see in your pets stool. The worms are long and flat (like a narrow piece of tape), but you will rarely see the entire worm. Small segments, resembling grains of rice or sesame seeds, break off periodically and appear in the feces or on the hair around your pets anus. Tapeworms are spread when your pet swallows an infected flea while grooming himself, or when he eats an infected animal, such as a mouse. Tapeworms may cause anal irritation, and some types can cause problems in children. You can prevent your pet from being exposed to tapeworms by controlling fleas and discouraging hunting. Your dog can be treated for tapeworms with an oral or injectable medication.

Hookworms Hookworms look similar to roundworms, but are smaller. Hookworms live in the small intestine where they feed on blood. They can cause severe anemia and even death in puppies. Hookworm larvae live in the soil, especially in warm, humid areas. They can cause skin infections in humans. Hookworms can be treated with an oral medication. Picking up animal feces immediately can also help with prevention.

Whipworms Whipworms get their name because part of the worm is short and thick, like the handle of a whip, while the rest is long and slender, like the lash. They are common in dogs. Whipworms can cause diarrhea and colitis. Treatment and prevention are similar to that for roundworms and hookworms.

Protozoa Protozoan parasites of the intestine include Giardia and Coccidia. All are microscopic. Giardia and Coccidia often cause diarrhea in puppies. Giardia can be spread to humans as well. Oral medications are available to treat for these organisms.

Heartworm Heartworms are worms that look very similar Heartworms in dogsto roundworms, but live in the heart. Their microscopic larvae circulate in the blood and are spread by mosquitoes. Heartworms are common in dogs. Without treatment, heartworm infection causes damage to the heart and lungs and is often fatal. Therefore, prevention is crucial. A variety of convenient preventive medications are available from your veterinarian. Routine blood tests are recommended annually or more often if preventive treatment has been interrupted. Once infected, dogs can be successfully treated for heartworms, but the treatment is much more involved than that for intestinal worms.