Hot Spots: What Are They and How Are They Treated?

Hot spots, also known as acute moist dermatitis, are a superficial skin infection caused by damage to the skin surface, usually from chewing, licking or scratching. They can occur in both dogs and cats; however, dogs are more likely to develop them. Hot spots are most commonly seen in thick-coated, long-haired dog breeds — dogs who are not groomed regularly and have dirty, matted coats. Dogs who swim or are exposed to rain and dogs with hip dysplasia or anal gland problems are often prone to hotspots. They are also more common during hot, humid weather, but they can occur year-round.

The first stage of a hot spot causes the skin to be red, moist and itchy. As the infection sets in, you may see pus oozing from the area. As it continues to get worse, you may see dried pus and a damaged skin surface. Thus creating a crust and they will likely start losing fur on the infected area. At this stage, the hot spots are often quite painful when touched. They can have one solitary hot spot or multiple lesions, and they can range in size, enlarging quickly if left untreated. Some pets may only get one or two hot spots and never get another one again, while some may have recurring hot spots.

Causes
Hot spots are caused by chewing and scratching, so any underlying issue that causes irritation to the skin could potentially lead to a hot spot. It includes insect bites (fleas, ticks, flies, etc.), allergies (food or environmental), excessive skin surface moisture (swimming, rain), matted hair, and skin scrapes. Sometimes our pets may lick and chew at themselves out of boredom or stress as well, and this could be a contributing factor.

When our pets are chewing at their skin, saliva accumulates under the hair coat. Dogs and cats normally have a bacteria around their mouths called Staphylococcus intermedius, which is natural to them and is not contagious in people (so don’t worry about all the doggy kisses you get!). It is an accumulation of moisture and bacteria is what kickstarts the skin infection, creating a hot spot.

The location of the hot spot may help the veterinarian determine what the underlying cause for the chewing or scratching is. For example, a hot spot over a dog’s hip may indicate arthritis in the hips, and a hot spot near the ear could be from a painful ear infection. Approximately 30% of pets presenting with hot spots have some other kind of skin disease, like a deeper skin infection or a bite wound. Hot spots can arise very quickly as well. It can only take ten minutes of chewing to create a decently large sized hot spot.

Treatment
The best thing to do when you find a hot spot on your pet is to get the pet examined by a veterinarian. While some people will try to treat it themselves, if the pet’s hot spot is painful, they could bite you, and some human topical products you may decide to put on the hot spot could be toxic. You also can’t identify or treat the potential underlying issue leading to the chewing and scratching of the skin, but your veterinarian can. As soon as you notice ANY abnormality in your pet’s skin or if your pet begins excessively scratching, licking or chewing on their skin — make an appointment to get your pet seen.

Your veterinarian will most likely shave the infected or inflamed area so that air can get to it and dry it out and to see how large the hot spot is. It will also need to be cleaned thoroughly. They will likely want to use antibiotics, either in a topical or systemic form. Depending on the severity, they may also want to use anti-inflammatories or steroids to reduce itchiness, pain and swelling. The veterinarian may need to take a swab of the skin to send away for testing to determine the best antibiotic to use in severe cases. The pet will likely need an e-collar or a cone to prevent them from bothering the area.

The final step of treatment is treating any underlying causes. If the pet has fleas, they will need proper parasite treatment and prevention in the future. If the pet has a food allergy, they will need to switch to a hypoallergenic diet.

Prevention
To prevent hot spots from occurring on your pet, it is best to have dogs groomed on a regular basis if needed. Their fur should be clipped shorter during the warmer summer months. You should also have all pets in the home following a strict parasite prevention program. It will also help if you promote a stress-free environment for your pet at home. Make sure they have adequate exercise and play to prevent any licking or chewing out of boredom.

Written by: Waterview Animal Hospital

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