Dermatitis or Hot Spots
While red spots and inflammation on German Shepherds' skin may also be caused by Skin Allergies (see 19), the more severe skin problems generally develop in the form of actual infections or hot spots. The fur recedes, swelling occurs and the dog starts to show signs of an infection - such as reduced appetite, lethargy, general malaise, and possibly even fever.
Bacterial Skin Infections come in many forms. Superficial Pyoderma, also known as hot spots, is the most common and the one your dog is most likely to experience. They are caused by the overgrowth of bacteria on the surface of the dog’s skin and are avoidable and very easily treatable if caught early.
Hot spots will most commonly occur on the legs, backside, flanks, and paws – the places where a dog can lick and bite most easily, which means your dog is of high risk to ingest the bacteria too which will lead to seemingly unrelated ailments. Severe hot spots can also appear on the neck, ears and head as well.
Who Gets Skin Infections
Dogs most commonly susceptible to hot spots include those with heavy coats, histories of infections and allergies, fleas, problems with their anal sacs, grooming issues and hair tangles. Keep in mind, however, that even a perfectly healthy short haired German Shepherd can get hot spots out of nowhere, so it is not a limited issue. Humidity and warmth can increase the risk of hot spots due to trapped moisture.
There are usually no warning signs before the hot spots appear. They will show up one day and need to be treated immediately. A hot spot is usually indicated by circular patches where the hair is missing and the skin gets swollen, itchy, and exudes pus. Sometimes hair can mat over the lesion, obscuring the size and degree of the problem.
The dog will often lick the affected area and hence ingest the bacteria too, which makes the whole situation much worse. In addition, an affected dog may bite and scratch the area to the point of causing injury or even bleeding - and contracting the bacteria on the paws too.
Avoiding and Treating Skin Infections
To avoid Bacterial Skin Infections in future, target the cause of the problem and then treat it - or you will have recurrences. If it is a grooming issue, make sure you’re combing your German Shepherd - if needed, even twice a day. When you comb, use a suitable soft-ended rake, a 45 degree angle, and no pressure on the skin.
If your GSD has allergies, visit a vet and get treatment for the allergies first. This may often require flea and tick medication, a new diet, or treatment with antihistamines (read more under Skin Allergies, see 19). It should never require antibiotics - which generally don't work here anyway - they are inappropriate for both Skin Infections and Skin Allergies (see 19).
If the cause seems to be psychological (nervousness, separation anxiety, etc), you may need to get your German Shepherd more exercise and keep it busy so that it doesn’t get so bored as to cause these infections.
To treat an existing Skin Infection, several steps are needed to ensure success. First look for fleas, mites, or other external parasites, an insect sting or bite, or injury (skin wound, scrape, etc). Carefully wash away all foreign objects with this soothe cream conditioner. Afterwards apply a strong antiseptic spray to the infected area. When this has dried up (ca 20 seconds), apply Vet's Best Hot Spot Spray as the third step of treatment. Finally, where possible, you may want to hard-bandage the area of the Skin Infection if your German Shepherd does not leave the area alone to heal. Watch your dog closely to ensure it does not lick, chew, or scratch the infected area.
You may think that these three or four steps of treating the Skin Infection are "too much". However, experience shows that dog owners who do anything less or different, generally complain that they can't get rid of the Skin Infection, or that it is recurring. Conversely, the treatment outlined above works.
Note that an affected dog is usually highly agitated and will not leave the area alone. Some dogs will even growl or snap if the area is touched! So, be very careful with the infected area. Also, don't touch the infected area with your bare hands. Nonetheless wash your hands thoroughly after the treatment, and use an antiseptic lotion on your hands too.
Make sure that you never apply any ointment, lotion, powder, spray, etc close to the eyes, never in the ears, and never in the mouth or nose - unless it is specifically and clearly meant for this body opening!
If this happens nonetheless, rinse well under running water, and if serious visit a vet straight away.
Distract your dog as much as you can to stop it licking, chewing or scratching. Outdoor exercise is ideal, unless the sun is burning. Even without an acute skin infection, when the sun is burning, consider to apply a natural dog-suitable sun-block to your dog's lightly haired areas.
Don't let your German Shepherd swim anywhere for at least a week after the hot spot has disappeared completely. Don't bathe your GSD either during this time. A shower is good though because of the cleansing effect of running water and the soothe cream conditioner. Afterwards, again use the strong antiseptic wound spray and Vet's Best Hot Spot Spray. Where possible, hard-bandage the infected area, particularly during night-time.
During the day, ensure that your dog cannot lick, chew, or scratch the treated skin. If it does, you can alternate the above treatment with a flimsy coating of ClearSkin-E Cream to prevent itching (but then have at least 60 minutes between both treatments).
Some dogs have been known to self-initiate a hot spot out of boredom, pain from a previous injury, or stress-related psychological problems. Hence, consider all these factors as well.
Hot spots that are not treated promptly will often grow and make your dog very irritable and possibly sick. They can also lead to German Shepherd behavior problems. Therefore, immediate treatment as outlined above is advisable.
Note that chronic Skin Infections are often a reason for your vet to test for Hypothyroidism (see 17).