Coffee heat rising

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…


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.