Brushing Battles, Hot Spots, and the Cone of Shame

Super disturbing and easily misinterpreted picture of the Fluffy Dog's tail after shaving the hot spot.

Super disturbing and easily misinterpreted picture of the Fluffy Dog’s tail after shaving the hot spot.

It’s been hot and humid in Winnipeg for what feels like ages. The Fluffy Dog and the Brindle Dog are both blowing coat out of season, trying to cool down. Old Brindle is easy to defluff; her fur is so short that I just rub her enthusiastically when we’re outside, and the plucks of undercoat peel away and float to the ground. The Fluffster, though, is a different story.

Oh, the Fluffy Dog, whose unknown foredogs (shepherd? and collie? and newfie? and leonberger? and roman emperor! and diva!) bequeathed him a beautiful long black-and-tan overcoat; a dense, soft, wavy undercoat that clings to the hairs of the overcoat; a majestic tail streaming like a banner; thick fluffy pants to catch any stray poo; a deeply-furred chest like a lion’s mane; and silky gentle curls on and around his ears that tangle at the least provocation. Freshly-brushed, he is a vision from a nature video or perhaps a shampoo commercial, his locks flowing in the wind (“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!”). Unbrushed, however, or after a swim, he is a matted, tangled, burred, and ratty mess.

Enter the Brushing Battles. Now admittedly, brushing has gotten easier over the past few years, but Mr. Fluff naturally still remembers how careless I was in the past. He prefers to be brushed slowly, gently, with lots of sweet talking and frequent pauses for kisses. He is eighty pounds of sweetheart, a skinny long-legged boy whose fur makes him look twice his size. If he is treated with care, he will put up with anything. But if I brush him when I am in a hurry, or in a bad mood, I always end up tugging too hard at a tangle, or yanking at a mat, or scraping too hard with the brush on his delicate underbelly (and those bristles can be so sharp!). Not long after my ex and I got the Fluffy Dog is when our marriage got pretty rocky, so for the first few years of his life, I was often angry or impatient or desperately sad. He didn’t get brushed as often as he needed to, and when I got around to it, I was not always as careful as he deserved.

Even now, when I brush his belly and groin very slowly, and carefully clip away tangles and mats instead of pulling on them, he keeps an eye on me. He can be stretched out full length on his side or back, relaxed, eyes closed and mouth soft, but every once in while he lifts his head and looks at the brush and then at me: Be careful, eh?

Sometimes I pull a bit too hard and he whips his head around with a catlike yowl and pokes my hand with his snout. But mostly we have figured this out. I try to brush him for a few minutes every day to keep up with his high-maintenance coat, and he agrees not to fuss about it unless I screw up. When he’s blowing coat like this, the daily brushing is not only a lovely bonding time for me and Mr. Fluff, but it helps so much to prevent any little mats or tangles from getting bigger.

…which is why I was so horrified to discover a massive hot spot on his tail last night.

We were most of the way through our brushing session. He was standing and I was bent over him, holding him lightly against my legs with one arm while I brushed his lower back and the outsides of his thighs and his pants. To finish off, I held the base of his tail and started brushing the top of it, then one side, then the other, and then, as I pulled the brush in a long smooth stroke along the underside of his tail, the Fluffy Dog yelped and twisted away from me.

My first thought was that there was yet another mat in his tail; he had been in the water at daycare the day before, and in the wading pool at home. But when I inspected his tail, I found what looked like a hot spot. Five inches of the underside of his tail had been licked bare, and was raw and red and rashy. It must have hurt so much when I dragged the brush across it! Poor little guy. And how in the world did I miss that?

First I called the vet to make an appointment. The tail is part of the spine, and I do not mess with that. An infection there is a Very Bad Thing.

Then I washed the naked part of the Fluffy Dog’s tail carefully with some mild soap, dried it gently, and put some coconut oil on it. Coconut oil is mildly antibacterial, won’t hurt him if he licks it off, and would soothe some of the itch. A vet I trust had advised me once that this was a safe thing to use temporarily and even if it doesn’t work, it has never seemed to make anything worse!

The coconut oil got on some of the remaining tail fur, though, so now there were wettish strings of fur flapping around. I got my sweet dog to lie down and started clipping the fur away from the edges of the affected area. He was pretty unhappy with that, and was twitching and squirming when I touched his tail anywhere near the hot spot. So I didn’t do too much, figuring the vet would want to shave it anyway.

By the morning, the area was less raw-looking (yay soap and water and coconut oil!) but I kept my vet appointment at 11. The vet did indeed shave that part of Fluffy’s tail (while I held him still and fed him treats), then scrubbed it clean (holding him still was a little harder for that part). She told me what cleaning agent she used but I forget what it was. They gave him oral antibiotics (cephalexin 200 mg once a day for ten days to target skin bacteria), and Topagen spray with  antibiotics (gentamicin) and steroids (betamethasone). I’m to spray the hot spot four times a day with that, and return to the vet if it worsens, or if it has not healed after the ten-day course of antibiotics.

Back home, I dug out the Cone of Shame. It was last used in February or March of 2010 when the Fluffy Dog was neutered. It was dusty but still assembled, with the strip of cloth still in the loops to be tied around his neck. He was horrified to be dressed in the cone, and struggled mightily. I gave him treats and petted him but nothing would comfort him. I was pretty concerned about going back to work and leaving him like that—partly because he can still lick his tail, albeit with great difficulty, but partly because the Brindle Dog does not take kindly to weakness, fear, or confusion in other animals. I was worried that she might attack him. Finally, I separated them into different rooms with their own bowls of water and went away, hoping for the best.

Were the dogs ever happy to see me when I got home from work! Well, they’re dogs, so that’s normal. But REALLY happy! And when I removed the Fluffster’s cone? He danced!

Here’s hoping the itch will diminish soon. I’m having to walk him around the house on a leash so he doesn’t race away and gnaw on his tail. Wish us luck!







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