Reference the term “hot spot” these days and one thinks about a point of Internet access. Not so for veterinarians who reserve the term “hot spot” for a common skin problem capable of causing canine misery, particularly in the spring and summer when allergies and fleas make a comeback from their winter dormancy.
Acute Moist Dermatitis
The more technical name for a hot spot is “acute moist dermatitis”, a localized skin eruption that appears very quickly (sometimes in a matter of hours), hence the term “acute”. “Moist” is included in the description because, invariably the sores are wet and messy. Lastly “dermatitis” refers to inflammation of the skin.
What causes them?
Technically speaking, the cause of a hot spot is whatever incites the initial skin irritation, such as a fleabite, trauma to the skin, or allergies. Truth be told, it is the dog’s incessant licking, biting and scratching in response to the irritation that actually creates the hot spot. This self-trauma begets more inflammation which begets more self-trauma- a classic vicious cycle.
For the dog, the end result of all that scratching, licking, and chewing is a cesspool of bacteria, damaged skin and pus hidden beneath a wet covering of densely matted fur. The person discovering the hot spot is invariably surprised because of the seemingly sudden onset and camouflage beneath the hair coat.
For unknown reason, Golden Retrievers and Saint Bernards are particularly predisposed to developing hot spots.
While successful treatment of most hot spots requires help from a veterinarian, milder cases can be successfully managed at home. The key is to clip the hair away from the site of inflammation. Bacteria thrive in a moist environment and, until the hair is removed, the hot spot will remain wet and actively inflamed. For some dogs, the hot spot is so painful that sedation is required for the clipping process (always surprising given that, left to his or her own devices, the dog will aggressively scratch, lick and chew at the site). Invariably, the clipping reveals a skin sore far larger and uglier than what was imagined when the site was covered by hair. If you are performing this step at home, please stick with clippers only. Attempting to get the job done with scissors on a wiggly, painful dog is an accident waiting to happen (now the vet must treat a laceration in addition to a hot spot).
Once the site is clipped it should be gently cleansed with an antibacterial product. It’s often not possible to remove all of the crusting and debris during the first go round and the cleansing must be repeated a couple of times daily. Following cleansing, the area should be gently dried with a towel or hair dryer set at a medium or cool temperature.
Clipping and cleaning are all that is necessary for very mild hot spots. More severely affected dogs should receive oral or injectable antibiotics to eliminate the bacterial infection. Antibiotic ointments applied directly to the site are usually avoided, as they tend to keep the healing site too moist.
Antihistamines and/or cortisone may be prescribed in order to “cool off” the inflammatory process and/or treat any underlying allergy.
If fleas are a factor flea control products are recommended for use on the individual with the hot spot as well as all of the other dogs and cats in the household.
Lastly, it is super-important to put an end to the self-trauma. This usually involves use of an Elizabethan collar (the “cone of shame”) and careful supervision for the first several days.
Has your dog ever had a hot spot? Were you able to treat this at home or was a veterinary visit necessary?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.