HOT SPOTS – also known as acute moist dermatitis – are a common skin problem in dogs that can affect all breeds and at every life stage. These raw and unpleasant sores can appear unexpectedly and spread rapidly, if left untreated. As a pet parent, it’s important to understand what hot spots are, what causes them, and how to prevent and treat them.
In this post, we’ll provide a complete overview of hot spots in dogs, including the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available. We’ll also offer advice on how to prevent hot spots from occurring in the first place. By the end of this post, we hope that you will have a stronger grasp of how to care for your furry family member and help keep them happy and healthy over their lifetime.
II. What Causes Hot Spots in Dogs?
Acute moist dermatitis or hot spots are a common skin disorder in dogs. Hot spots can appear suddenly and become large red, irritated lesions in a short period of time.
Hot spots are self-inflicted often triggered by chewing, scratching, and/or licking the affected area. The resulting distress to the skin causes irritation, swelling and secondary bacterial infections. Constant licking (or over-grooming) keeps the area moist, making it an ideal environment for bacteria to flourish. A dog’s coat can also become matted over the skin, trapping in moisture and further promoting infection.
This compounds the self-harm by making the skin even itchier, which causes the cycle to continue unabated. Any circumstance that causes your dog to feel inflamed has the potential to result in a hot spot.
The most common underlying health issues that lead to hot spots include:
- Allergies (flea allergy, food allergy, or seasonal allergies)
- External Parasites: Reactions to insect bites from small pests such as mites, bees, mosquitos or fleas – especially fleas!
- Behavioural Issues: Stress, anxiety, fear or OCD can cause excessive licking and scratching.
- Ear Infections. Disruption in the ear can be debilitating enough that your dog scratches at that location, creating hot spots behind the ear, on the neck or even on the ear flap.
- Dogs develop bad habits just like their human counterparts. You might chew your fingernails, but your dog may lick easily reachable areas out of sheer boredom.
- Canine Atopic Dermatitis.
- Anal Sac Disease/Gland Inflammation: Unsurprisingly, infected (aka. impacted) anal glands are truly irritating – and painful. Dogs will lick the area around their rectum (if reachable!) causing hot spots, either below or on top of the tail.
- Poor Grooming: Unkempt coats can cause dogs to chew at matted hair, creating open lesions. Also, matted fur prevents air from reaching the skin. If a dog with matted hair retains water after swimming or after a bath, the skin may maintain moisture – this is almost always bad, creating a perfect environment for bacteria to proliferate and a hot spot to emerge.
- Orthopedic Concerns: Dogs – usually mature – with arthritis or back problems tend to lie down much of the time, creating irritations over pressure points – we know them as bed sores in the human world. Dogs instinctively lick or scratch these points, causing a hot spot.
- Injuries: Damage to skin, joints, bone, or soft tissue can cause dogs to engage in itching or scratching behaviours.
Due to their thicker coats, some breeds – Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers come to mind – are susceptible to developing hot spots. Dogs that are often wet either from swimming, bathing, or rainy weather are more vulnerable to emerging hot spots due to the additional moisture held against the skin by their thicker coats.
Seasonality also contributes to hot spots. They are much more likely to occur during warm weather and periods of high humidity.
III. Symptoms of Hot Spots
Hot spots can occur anywhere – and anytime – but are most commonly seen on the head, legs, and hips.
The affected area is generally moist and may discharge fluid (pus…ew!) due to a bacterial or fungal infection, which can lead to matting of the neighbouring hair. Hot spots will grow in size as scratching continues to injure the area.
6 Common Symptoms of Hot Spots include:
- Red, swollen, and inflamed skin
- Hair loss surrounding the affected area
- Excessive licking or biting
- Intense itching and scratching
- Hot to the touch
- Oozing or crusting of infected fluids
Because different types of skin conditions can have similar symptoms, it is important discuss the condition with one of our veterinarians to determine the underlying cause.
IV. Prevention and Treatment of Hot Spots
Although it is difficult to completely prevent hot spots, the following tips can help significantly reduce the risk of recurrent skin problems in dogs.
3 Pro Tips to Help Prevent Hot Spots in Dogs:
- Keeping your dog’s skin healthy is the first step towards keeping hot spots at bay. Make sure flea and tick treatments are kept current and continue to manage any allergies they may have. Excellent parasite prevention, treatment of skin infections, and management of allergies are crucial to stop scratching and preventing trauma to the skin.
- Good hygiene and routine grooming play an important prevention function when it comes to dog hot spots. For dogs that swim or bathe frequently, it is also important to ensure their coats are thoroughly dried after these events. Trimming long coats – especially in hot and humid weather – will stop moisture from getting trapped close to the skin and discourage bacteria from breeding.
- If your dog has developed a bad itching habit because of boredom or anxiety, there are a few simple things pet parents can do to combat this issue. Increasing daily exercise, providing more toys and engaging in active play time can help alleviate this problem. Of course, there may be more serious underlying issues, but this is a great starting point.
Although it’s nearly impossible to eliminate the possibility of canine hot spots, some easy upfront planning can reduce the risk.
How are hot spots treated?
Once you’ve identified a hot spot on your dog’s skin, we recommend that you book an appointment with one of our veterinarians. By getting veterinary care as soon as possible, you can prevent further infection and any permanent damage.
Depending on the severity, our veterinarians may use the following treatments:
- Flea and tick preventives.
- Topical ointments – sprays or creams to relieve itching and cleanse the affected area.
- Anti-inflammatory medications and antibiotics. (oral or injected)
- Oral Antipruritic or abirritants. (anti-itch medications)
- An Elizabethan collar (e-collar) to prevent further damage to the affected area.
Upon arrival for your appointment, our veterinary team will conduct the following:
- Hair from the affected area is shaved with clippers to allow easier access to the wound.
- The area is cleansed with sterile saline and a mild antiseptic; the wound is patted dry and left uncovered to air dry.
- Prescribed medications, such as topical sprays may be applied to help the hot spot mend. Our vets might recommend antibiotics to help fight the infection or steroids for combating inflammation, depending on the severity.
- An E-collar (“the cone of shame”) is standard protocol to prevent the dog from further harming the site while in recovery.
- Provide a home care regimen and arrange a follow-up appointment, if necessary.
The majority of hot spots will start to heal within a week after the beginning the treatment. We highly recommend that you follow our veterinarian’s advice regarding care at home and follow-up.
And, most importantly, contact us if the wound is not healing or your dog continues to shows signs of infection.
V. Frequently Asked Questions
There are many possible explanations. However, the simplest ones tend to be due to allergic reactions (food, seasonal or flea) and skin infections.
It’s best to contact our vet clinic immediately if you notice a hot spot on your dog. Without treatment, they can get much worse leading to a more progressive and damaging infection. While there are OTC medications for these types of lesions, they generally can’t address any secondary bacterial infections that are common with hot spots.
The short answer is yes. Dogs susceptible to hot spots are likely to experience recurrences. If your dog suffers from chronic hot spots, they should receive testing for hypothyroidism, skin and food allergies, joint problems, or behavioral issues. In general, flea and tick control, as well as proper bathing and grooming are your best defense against future hot spots.
If you aren’t able to get to the vet right away, there are a few things you can do at home to help heal hot spots. Assuming the spot isn’t already infected, you can administer the following pre-appointment care at home:
- Trim the area around the hot spot with clippers, not scissors. This allows the affected area to get some air and prevent excess moisture from slowing down the healing process.
- Gently wash the area with water and apply a cool compress to help reduce inflammation down*.
- If you have access to an e-collar, put it on to prevent your dog from licking or biting the hot spots.
- Monitor the area for improvement, such as decreased redness and reduction in lesion size.
* OTC medications such as hydrocortisone, Vaseline and Neosporin, are NOT recommended. These topicals tend to cause dogs to lick the area even more causing additional injury.
Acute moist dermatitis – also known as a hot spot – is a common and very treatable dog skin problem that affects canines of all ages and breeds. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options, pet parents can easily take the proper precautions to prevent and manage any emerging hot spots. Also, with any persistent dog skin issue we encourage you to speak with one of our veterinarians to rule out any underlying health issues.
Good hygiene and regular grooming can help prevent hot spots, and early detection and treatment can help prevent them from escalating into a more serious medical condition. With the information contained in this guide, you can ensure that your canine furry family member stays happy, healthy – and feel comfortable – in their own skin.