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 and treated right.
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, mites, 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 - thus spreading the bacteria to the paws and then all over the body!
Avoiding and Treating Skin Infections
To avoid Bacterial Skin Infections in future, target the CAUSE of the problem and address that CAUSE - or you will have frequent recurrences:
- If it's a grooming issue, make sure you're brushing your German Shepherd regularly - when needed even twice a day. For coat care best are this soft-ended rubber brush, the Furminator, and the Love glove. We now only use the Furminator and Love glove, as we find these tools are totally sufficient and very convenient: pressing a button or blowing to get all the hair off.
- If your dog has allergies then they usually also promote bacterial skin infections, because the underlying CAUSE is the same: a weak immune system! Thus you MUST address this, or you will be facing ever more costly health problems with your dog! The only solution to strengthen the immune system and overall health(!) is: 1) Only feed fresh homemade natural foods, not commercial crap from rendering plants! 2) Avoid vaccination "boosters" - they do only harm, they have no benefit! 3) Avoid antibiotics - they too do only harm! 4) Avoid Steroids and NSAIDs - they too do only harm!
- If the cause seems to be psychological (nervousness, separation anxiety, etc), you may need to get your German Shepherd more exercise and keep the dog busy so that (s)he doesn’t get so bored as to cause these infections through intense scratching/grooming.
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, if needed, you may want to hard-bandage the area of the Skin Infection so that your German Shepherd leaves the area alone to heal. Watch your dog closely to ensure (s)he does not lick, chew, or scratch the infected area.
You may be thinking that these three or four steps of avoiding and 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. It always works. Only the longer you have already destroyed your dog's immune system with commercial crap (sometimes called "dog food"), with over-vaccination, with antibiotics, and/or with steroids, the longer it will take to heal. Should be obvious. So better avoid all that crap from the start!
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 the right veterinarian straight away.
Distract your dog as much as you can to stop 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. If needed, again 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 (s)he does, you must find ways to prevent boredom! An active dog will not lick, chew, or scratch the treated skin. 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).