According to the website petinsurance.com, hot spots are one of the most common reasons that people take their dogs to the vet. In fact, hot spots rank fourth in the top 10 reasons to take dogs to the vet! And it’s no wonder. Hot spots (or acute moist dermatitis) are irritated, infected, hot, red, moist lesions that are painful and itchy to your dog. They often grow rapidly, and in many dogs are chronic. They cause a lot of discomfort to the dog and stress (and money, in terms of vet bills and treatments) to the owner.

According to conventional wisdom, hot spots can occur whenever something irritates a dog’s skin and leads to scratching or biting of the irritated area. Most people believe that hot spots are the result of allergies, insect bites, lack of grooming, ear or skin infections, or excessive licking and chewing. However, as in so many things, this does not truly get at the heart of what causes hot spots. And it certainly doesn’t lend to being able to address them effectively. Is it any wonder that so often they’re a seemingly chronic condition?

Conventional approaches to “treating” hot spots

For the majority of people, if their dog starts to lick or chew excessively, or if there is any indication of a hot spot, they take the dog to the vet. Common conventional approaches to dealing with the hot spot usually include:

  • Shaving the area around the hot spot
  • Prescribing antibiotics and painkillers
  • Applying or administering medication to kill fleas, ticks, and other parasites
  • Adding a dietary supplement to increase essential fatty acids
  • Prescribing corticosteroids or antihistamines to relive itching
  • Recommending a hypoallergenic food (still kibble, of course) to address any potential food allergies

Often, people are also advised to get their dog groomed regularly and get them shaved, especially in the summer. And, they’re told to maintain a regular flea and tick prevention program using over-the-counter flea and tick preventives. They’re also advised to make sure their dog gets plenty of exercise and isn’t subjected to lots of stress.

I take my dog to the vet…but the hot spots keep coming back!

What most people find—because the hot spots keep coming back—is these measures fall short. That’s because conventional treatments don’t get at the root cause of the hot spots. At best, they suppress the symptoms, and at worst, they exacerbate the problem. The hot spots keep reappearing, often even worse than before.

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Root causes (from a conventional viewpoint)

To understand why this is, let’s first take a look at the root cause of hot spots. Because when you think about it logically, saying that hot spots are caused by itching or scratching, or exposure to rain or swimming, or the dog not being clipped in the summer, doesn’t make sense.

Scratching

Dogs itch and scratch. If they’re doing so excessively, it means that something is out of balance. That imbalance is directly related to the hot spot eruption. It’s not the itching and scratching that caused the hot spot, it’s the imbalance.

Moisture

Similarly, the belief that dogs that are exposed to rain or water will develop hot spots doesn’t make sense. Many dogs spend a great deal of time in the water and never have a problem. Many dogs that don’t spend time in the water do have problems. While getting wet may seem to trigger an eruption, a healthy, balanced dog should be able to swim and get wet without any issues. Dogs in moist environments may be more prone to hot spot eruptions, but again, because not every dog in a moist environment suffers from hot spots, that is not the true root cause of the eruption.

Not shaving your dog’s coat in the summer

While we’re looking at some of the common methods of “preventing” hot spots, let’s take a look at the idea that you should shave your dog every summer to help keep hot spots from erupting. Shaving your dog removes their sun and UV protection. Plus, it eliminates the insulation their fur provides. Remember, dogs don’t cool themselves by sweating like we do; they pant. In fact, dogs can only release sweat through their foot pads, through what are called merocrine glands. While they do have sweat glands (called apocrine glands) all over their body (found with the hair follicles), these glands do not release sweat. They release pheromones that aid them in communicating with other dogs.

Understanding the root cause of hot spots

So what is actually going on when a dog presents with hot spots? In essence, when you see hot spots erupting on your dog, it means that the dog’s body is being overwhelmed by toxins that are coming in at a faster rate than the liver and kidneys can handle. The skin is the largest eliminative organ, and so the toxins start to “erupt” out of the skin, as part of the body’s frantic effort to rid itself of them. And when you add antibiotics and steroids and flea/tick preventives on top of it, the toxic overload increases while at the same time the body’s ability to stay balanced and handle the toxins, decreases.

Detoxing

Like us, our dogs are designed to detox every single moment of every day. Interestingly, as I was reading the book The Reboot with Joe Juice Diet, I realized that he conveyed this perfectly. Yes, he was talking about people, but the same holds true for our dogs: “[Your dog’s] liver, kidneys, bowels, lymphatic system, and skin all aid in the elimination of toxins and waste”[1]. Furthermore, just like with us, their systems can get “clogged, inflamed, rusty, and slow because we put too much pressure on them and don’t give them the pure fuel they need. What that means is that [their] natural detoxification processes have a much harder time of it because of [their] lifestyle. Chemicals […] in the environment—herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, petrochemicals, paints, cleaning products—all contribute to taxing [their] natural detox systems, not to mention all the prescription drugs [they are given][2].

Conventional medications

I frequently discuss antibiotics and steroids, and their overall impact on our pets, when I’m doing consultations with pet parents who want to help their pets thrive. When I’m discussing them with people, they are often shocked at the profound ramifications of giving their pets antibiotics and steroids. Both antibiotics and steroids throw the body into a state of imbalance.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics wipe out all the bacteria and gut flora, which severely inhibits the ability of the immune system to do its job, while at the same time leading to future problems because the “bad” bacteria tend to grow back more quickly than the “good” bacteria, leading to further imbalance, which often presents as ear infections, yeast infections, and other issues (which, not surprisingly, do lead to dogs itching and scratching excessively…and that excessive, out-of-balance scratching and itching can cause a flare-up of hot spots in a dog with an excess of toxins. And so the roller coaster continues…).

Steroids

Steroids actually suppress the immune system, so the dog’s body has less capability to stay healthy, ward off pathogens and viruses, and keep the dog in tip-top shape. Administering these when the system is already completely out-of-whack just makes it worse.

Parasite preventives

Furthermore, applying products topically or administering them internally to control parasites also cause a flood of toxins into the dog’s body. These products contain poison intended to kill the parasites. But what that means is that your dog’s body is exposed to poison—often directly on the skin—at the very same time that the skin is trying to shed out toxins! It’s a lose-lose situation for your dog’s immune system, and therefore, a lose-lose situation for your dog.

So what can I do?

So, if the conventional treatments don’t help—and any of you with pets that suffer from hot spots know exactly how difficult and frustrating this can be—what can be done? It’s actually relatively simple, although not necessarily easy or quick, especially if you’ve been following conventional treatments for a long time and your dog has therefore been flooded with toxins.

The first step is to make sure that your dog is on a species-appropriate diet. This diet is the best thing you can feed your dog. It ensures they receive, in a natural, wholesome, raw form, all the food and nutrients they need. Plus, it eliminates all the stuff they don’t need. It supports their entire bodies, including their immune systems, digestive systems, organs, and body processes.

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Diet

When you feed a species-appropriate raw food diet, you will be lessening the work that the liver and kidneys have to do. They won’t have to remove waste at a rate that exceeds what they are designed for. You’ll also:

  • Reduce the pancreas’ workload
  • Bring the stomach pH to an appropriate level
  • Flood your dog with the nutrients he or she needs to keep all the body systems in good working order

Flea, tick, and heartworm preventives

But, to address the toxin issue, you will need to go beyond diet. Flea and tick preventives, such as Frontline and K9 Advantix, are poison. When you apply them to your dog, the poison goes through their skin and their body must work to eliminate that poison. Similarly, when you give your dog a heartworm pill every month, you are feeding them a product that contains poison. Their system must work extra hard to rid itself of the toxins in the preventives.

So, another vital step in helping your dog come back to optimal balance, and to reduce the load on the immune system, is to stop flooding your dog’s body, internally and externally, with poisons. Similarly, the adjuvants in vaccines—aluminum and mercury are just a few—enter your dog’s body directly into their bloodstream when you vaccinate them. This is more toxins that the body must frantically work to eject. If the liver and kidneys are already overloaded, the skin may have to help. The result? Hot spots.

Herbicides, pesticides, and cleaning products

So, there’s what you put directly and deliberately into or on your dog. There’s also the effect of things like herbicides, pesticides, and toxic cleaning products. Our dogs run around outside on the grass with no protection between their feet and the ground. They brush up against foliage and sniff everything. They’re exposed to everything that you put in your yard: chemical fertilizers, weed killers, and other herbicides. If your yard or house is sprayed for bugs, they will come into contact with residual pesticides. And they’re closer to the ground and in direct contact with the floors of the house (if you let them inside), so they’re exposed to your floor cleaners too.

So, take a good look at what you are putting down in your house and yard. If you want to use better cleaners, there are lots of recipes for non-toxic cleaners of every sort on the internet. You can also go to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) website at www.ewg.org, and take a look at their ratings for various cleaning products (go to http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/content/top_products). The goal is to reduce or remove toxins in the environment as much as possible, so your dog’s kidneys and liver don’t have to deal with them and get overwhelmed.

Natural modalities

You may also want to support your dog with natural modalities when they are going through a hot spot episode. Various essential oils, such as lavender, feel soothing to the skin, and are really good at helping the body and especially the skin to rebalance. Remember, hot spots are caused by an imbalance, which the skin is trying to assist in relieving. Additionally, colloidal silver may be helpful. It can help support your dog’s immune system while providing antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory benefits.

The healing response

Keep in mind that it may take some time for the body to flush out all the toxins. You may also see the hot spots get worse as the body goes through a healing response. It’s important to remember the 8th law of health—trust—during this process. Have patience as the body seeks to heal itself. It took a long time for the imbalance to get to the point where hot spots are seen. It’s gonna take time for everything to rebalance. If you go back to conventional treatments, you’ll make it harder for the body to rebalance. You’ll probably have to start over with a more intense case. It can be very difficult, but the natural modalities may provide some relief. If your dog is experiencing hot spots and you want to make sure you are supporting them in every way that you can, you may want to set up a consultation with a certified small animal naturopath (you can find a certified practitioner on the American Council of Animal Naturopathy’s website).

You can overcome them!

Hot spots can be one of the most frustrating, distressing issues you have to deal with as a dog owner. But, when you address the true root cause, your dog will overcome chronic hot spots naturally. Remember, remove the toxins and rebalance their immune system. This allows them to flush out toxins normally rather than through skin eruptions. Your dog will return to a state of balance by healing and rebalance him or herself, just as nature intended.

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[1] Cross, Joe. The Reboot with Joe Juice Diet. 2014 Greenleaf Book Group Press, pp 15

[2] Cross, Joe. The Reboot with Joe Juice Diet. 2014 Greenleaf Book Group Press, pp 15-16