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Hot Spots on Dogs

Dogs can get hot spots which can look painful and red. In this post, our Fort Worth vets explain how you can identify hot spots and the available treatment offered by vets.

What is a dog hot spot?

Canine hot spots, alternatively referred to as pyotraumatic dermatitis or acute moist dermatitis, manifest as swiftly developing, inflamed skin lesions characterized by redness, oozing, and possibly containing pus. Hot spots can be found anywhere on a dog’s body, but the most common sites are the head, legs, and hips. These painful, itchy, smelly sores may be very obvious or may be hidden beneath matted fur.

What do hot spots look like on dogs?

Hot spots can range in size but are usually red, inflamed, or raw, and they may bleed intermittently.

The area will become moist and painful. It typically spreads due to licking, chewing, and/or scratching.

Hot spots on dogs typically have a distinct appearance from other skin conditions like ringworm or mange. They stand out due to their moist and inflamed nature. For instance, while ringworm often involves hair loss, it usually presents with a drier appearance compared to the moist and inflamed appearance of hot spots.

How do dogs get hot spots?

Our vets can tell what causes hot spots on dogs. Hot spots commonly result from self-trauma, occurring when a dog scratches an itch so intensely that it leads to an open wound. Various factors can trigger the initial itch in dogs, including:

  • Allergies 
  • Reactions to insect bites
  • Ear infections
  • Pyoderma
  • Poor grooming
  • Boredom
  • Orthopedic problems
  • Anal gland inflammation

When a dog licks the sore spot, it irritates superficial nerve endings in the skin which stimulates more itching followed by more licking, biting, and scratching. This lick-itch-lick cycle is the basis for the self-trauma that causes hot spots.

Hot spots can dramatically increase in size in a very short period. Pet owners may go to work after noticing a pinpoint area of redness and come home at the end of the day to find a raw lesion the size of a pancake.

How to Treat Hot Spots on Dogs

Hot spot treatment for dogs aims to halt the self-inflicted trauma and ward off the onset of a severe skin infection. Therefore, the initial step in addressing hot spots is to prevent further self-mutilation. There are a few options to prevent your dog from doing this. One method is to place an Elizabethan collar that stops the dog from chewing at the hot spot. Another method iscovering the hot spot with a sock or bandage to act as a barrier. You can also use topical or oral steroids and antihistamines to reduce the itching.

Consult your veterinarian before using any medications intended for humans as they are often toxic to dogs.

It often takes a combination of all options to stop the trauma. In the meantime, the underlying cause of the hot spot must be addressed. If the hot spot formed as a result of impacted anal glands, they will need to be expressed.

If the cause is a flea allergy, a flea control protocol monthly (e.g., Frontline® Plus, Advantage® or Advantix®, Revolution®, Nexgard®, Simparica®, Bravecto®) to control the entire flea life cycle will be needed. If arthritis is the culprit, your veterinarian may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as meloxicam (Metacam®), carprofen (Rimadyl®, Vetprofen®), deracoxib, or other pain medications such as gabapentin (Neurontin®).

In cases of inhalant or food allergies, your veterinarian can assist you in initiating avoidance or desensitization therapy and might suggest a hypoallergenic diet. Regarding ear infections, treatment will address the underlying yeast or bacterial issues.

If boredom or behavioral issues are the reason your dog traumatizes himself, training and behavior modification, additional exercise and enrichment, and/or medications, such as antidepressants like fluoxetine (Reconcile®), clomipramine (Clomicalm®), or amitriptyline (Elavil®) may be the solution. If poor grooming is the cause, seek a professional who knows how to handle a pair of clippers.

Clipping the hair away from the hot spot and the surrounding area is crucial to a successful treatment plan. The hot spot will heal more quickly if the hair is removed so that the lesion can dry properly.

Grooming may be painful so your dog may need to be sedated beforehand. After clipping, the lesion should be disinfected with a chlorhexidine solution that kills bacteria. Topical antibiotics, desiccating sprays, and soothing reagents will be more effective when applied to a clipped, clean skin surface. Oral antibiotics and steroids/antihistamines may also be for serious hot spots.

Home Remedies for Hot Spots

If immediate veterinary care isn't accessible, there are several actions you can take at home to aid in the healing of hot spots before your appointment.

Human medications such as Neosporin, hydrocortisone, and Vaseline should NOT be used. Topical creams and ointments tend to cause dogs to lick the area even more, so they should be avoided if possible.

Follow these steps to promote the healing of the hot spot:

  • Trim the area around the hot spot with dog hair clippers.
  • Clean the skin with a mild, water-based antiseptic spray or wipe.
  • Apply a veterinary-recommended hot spot treatment spray that is safe if ingested. 
  • Place a recovery cone on your dog to help keep them from biting, licking, or scratching the hot spot.
  • Monitor the area for improvement and signs of healing (decreased redness, less moisture, smaller lesion size).
  • Contact your veterinarian for an exam to treat the underlying issue, and notify them if the area is not healing or is getting worse.

Preventing hot Spots

Consistent monitoring and addressing the root cause should deter the recurrence of hot spots. Additionally, some dogs find relief through seasonal grooming, along with routine brushing and bathing.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you are worried about your dog's hot spots contact our Fort Worth vets and schedule an appointment today.

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