DIY Veterinary: The dog-proof hot-spot bandage

Come the warm weather, dog-shedding season is upon us. Whenever Cassie blows her coat, she starts licking her favorite hot-spot site on her foreleg. After various veterinary consultations for various licking dogs, I’ve learned that the best way to deal with this problem is to cover the irritated spot until whatever it is that compels the dog to lick—whether it’s habit, instinct, or itch—passes.

If you’ve ever tried to bandage a dog, you know it’s easier said than done. No creature on this earth can unwrap a wound dressing faster than a dog can. This is a challenge that requires great persistence and ingenuity on the part of the human.

Recently I made a little discovery: the stretchy stick-to-itself bandaging, sold at Walgreen’s as Tender Tape and available online in various permutations, will hold a Bandaid or a piece of gauze in place without sticking to the dog’s hair. You’ll still  need to secure it with a little sticky tape, but with this strategy, you can minimize the amount of hard-to-remove, hair-pulling gummed tape needed to keep the dog from pulling off the bandage.

The scheme proceeds along these lines…

Dog-Bandaging

You need:

a roll of gauze (a gauze patch or even a Bandaid can be substituted)
a roll of stretchy tape
a roll of waterproof bandage tape
a gentle cleanser to clean the hot spot
optional: antibiotic ointment or cortisone cream

To start out, here are a few important caveats:

1. Until  you know for sure that the dog can’t get this off, do not apply topical cortisone or antibiotics. Your dog should not be eating that stuff! Try the bandaging scheme first; when you confirm that the pooch can’t remove it for a day or more, then you can try a little medical goop.

2. Be very careful not to get the bandage on too tight! Apply the stretch bandage gently so that it lays on the dog’s leg about like a smooth-fitting cotton sock. Do not pull it tight! If it’s too tight, this stuff can cut off circulation, and since the animal can’t tell you how it feels, you must take care not to wrap the limb tightly.

3. Remove and replace the bandage every 24 to 36 hours.

4. Remove it immediately and replace if it gets wet.

Okay. First step is to wrestle the dog into position, on the ground or, if the critter is small enough, on a bed or table. If you have the dog up on a piece of furniture, you should have someone help to hold the animal so it does not fall off.

Saturate a cotton ball with a wound cleanser and gently wipe the inflamed area. I’ve been using Band-Aid Hurt-Free Antiseptic Wash. I’ve also tried hot spot itch relief spray but found it less than satisfactory: it doesn’t seem to ease the dog’s discomfort, and when you’re squirting it on a foreleg, it’s way too easy to accidentally get it in the dog’s face. That’s highly undesirable.

Remember: it’s not clear that hot spots actually itch. No one knows why dogs lick themselves raw—it may be a nervous tic or just a bad habit. For that reason, the fewer meds applied, the better.

Now that you’ve given the spot a token cleansing, apply some topical antibiotic or cortisone if you’re sure the dog can’t get the bandage off for a number of hours. Then cover this with a length of gauze bandage, gently and neatly wrapped around the dog’s leg. Hold onto the dog so it can’t squirm away while you grab the stretch bandage.

Wrap a length of stretch bandage neatly over the gauze, so that no gauze is sticking out. A two-inch wide bandage works easiest for this purpose, unless your dog is tiny. Remember not to wrap stretch bandaging too tight!

Take a small strip of waterproof tape and secure the seam closed. Now take another strip of waterproof tape and wrap it around your bandage along the top edge, so that a narrow strip of it attaches to the dog’s fur. This does not have to be very wide—for most dogs a fairly modest band will hold the bandage down. Depending on your dog’s determination, you may or may not have to run another strip around the bottom edge. For a really dogged dog, you may have to apply a sturdier glue-on strip by circling the leg several times with the waterproof tape.

Once I had a German shepherd who enjoyed licking holes in the pads of her feet. She was very skilled at removing barriers to this activity. In her case, I would build a little bootie out of waterproof first-aid tape over a gauze layer, wrapping and wrapping and WRAPPING until she couldn’t get through it and she couldn’t pull it off her foot. This worked pretty well—but sometimes it takes some real persistence to win out over a stubborn pooch.

Cassie gives up easily, thank goodness. So she doesn’t need to have some sort of iron maiden applied to her leg. I’ve found that if you can keep a hot spot covered for a week or so, it usually will heal up enough that the dog will quit licking it. For a while.

While you’re waiting for recovery, give the dog some salmon. It’s full of omega-3 fatty acids, said to ease hot spots.

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frugalscholar May 29, 2010 at 7:28 am

Oh, I remember your German Shepherd! That’s when I started reading your blog–when she was so sick. We’re bringing my mother a little dog this summer, so I will now keep track of your vet advice. Any advice on doing dog nails at home? Little Sadie has very long nails.

funny May 29, 2010 at 7:38 am

@ Frugal Scholar: LOL! That was a different Ger-shep. Actually, over the course of altogether too many years, I’ve had four shepherds.

It’s possible to use a Dremel on a dog’s claws. Supposedly if this is done right, it’s less traumatic to the dog than a nail clipper. Check out this illustrated step-by-step: http://homepages.udayton.edu/~merensjp/doberdawn/index.html

kerryann June 3, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Have you tried something called Vet Wrap? Not sure of the name but it is the same thing they put around your arm when you give blood at the Red Cross. My DB’dH used to use it on horses. And it Was invented for animals, not humans. It comes in various widths and colors and is very stretchy, good for joints because it does stretch…..clings to itself on humans, tho with a determined dog you might need that last extra closure. Safety pin too risky?

funny June 3, 2010 at 5:01 pm

@ kerryann: I’ll look for it! There’s a tack store a few miles up the road…bet they have it. Wouldn’t want to risk a safety pin on the dog.

Sheree landreth April 19, 2012 at 6:18 am

My dog, a yellow lab, has grown a lump under one of his claws and has been licking it like crazy. Now we have a hot spot between his toes. Could that lump be something to worry about? He isn’t limping and doesn’t appear to be in any pain.

funny April 19, 2012 at 11:01 am

I’m not a vet. If it seems to be bothering him (which appears to be the case, if he’s licking a lot), you should take him to a veterinarian. Sometimes hot spots start (so I’m told) with insect bites that itch or hurt and kick off the licking habit. A vet should be able to tell if there’s an infection and recommend something that could help.

Gilda August 12, 2012 at 9:06 am

I just put some ‘Gold Bond’ body powder (basically talc, acacia, menthol, methyl salicylate, salycylic acid) and bang she stopped licking it. Next day I did the same thing. Three days in a row and shazam she quit licking

Chris March 17, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Thank you for the info. I have a 17 year old Peke. He licks and licks and licks. I have spent nearly $400 in vet bills trying to find out what was wrong. Max(my dog) is now on shots and he still licks. Some of his spots became open wounds. I bandaged and bandage the wounds and you guessed it, he had the bandaged chewed off. I’m going to try your way of bandaging. I have been putting a triple anti-biotic cream on the open wounds and it does seem to work. That is if Max will leave the bandage on over nite. I feel very sorry for Max and all the dogs that have the ‘licking’ problem. And also for all of us owners that try so hard to help our pets but to no avail.

Marybeth shelton June 26, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I have a 6yr old beagle and she has this hotspot on her left side of her body and it’s spreading. Should I put a wrap on the spot? And if so do I need anything extra for her? I’m just so worried.

funny June 26, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Take the dog to the vet. If you can’t afford a trip to the vet, then find a home for the animal with someone who can afford it. ;-)

anonimouse June 27, 2013 at 5:58 am

That was NOT a funny response at all! I wish I had answers to help you, Mary, but I am researching as well. I have a little dog with a hot spot on her arm & it is not within my means to take her to a vet, but I certainly would NOT give her away! I hope you find help for your dog.

funny June 27, 2013 at 6:11 am

It was not intended to be funny.

If you can’t afford veterinary care, you can’t afford a pet. Pets, like children, occasionally need medical care. Trying to do DIY medicine on a sick child reaches a point where it becomes irresponsible — when nothing you try works or when it becomes evident that the child may be suffering a serious illness and is not getting appropriate care. This is true of dogs, cats, birds, and whatnot, too. The difference between a pet and a child is that you can’t rehome a child — not unless Child Protective Services or an angry spouse gets a judge to arrange it.

The beagle in question has a skin infection that needs to be treated. The owner needs to take it to a vet. If that is not affordable, then she should call the local beagle rescue and ask them to try to find an adoptive human who is in a position to provide veterinary care.

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