Hot spots are an irritating skin condition that affects countless dogs every year. Without proper care, hot spots will continue to grow, causing increased pain levels and itchiness for dogs. Fortunately, with both time and care, hot spots on dogs can be treated for and prevented. Here, Dr. Henry Cerny, DVM, MS of Yankee Hill Veterinary Hospital, answers some common questions about hot spots on dogs and how to treat these painful sores.
What are Hot Spots on Dogs?
A hotspot (also known as Pyotraumatic dermatitis or moist dermatitis) is a condition that involves an area of skin that has become inflamed and infected. The affected skin often appears as a moist, oozing, reddened area that is painful and very itchy to the dog. Dogs with hot spots may also suffer from hair loss in the infected area.
Unlike insect bites, hot spots on dogs continue to spread over time. Hot spots on dogs can appear suddenly, often developing into large inflamed sores in only a few hours. Dogs that constantly chew and lick at the area may worsen the condition dramatically, as itching the skin can cause the hot spot to spread. Because hot spots do not get better on their own, it’s important to begin treatment as soon as you notice signs of hot spots on your dog’s skin.
Common places for hot spots to occur on dogs include the head, legs and hips. While hot spots can affect any dog, they are especially common in long-hair dog breeds. Additionally, hot and humid weather may cause hot spots to occur, as will excess moisture in the coat caused by swimming or bathing. Because hot spots commonly occur in the summer, they are often referred to as “summer sores” in dogs.
What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?
There are a number of reasons hot spots appear on dogs. Most often, anything that causes itchiness of the skin can lead to the development of hot spots on dogs. Some common triggers are atopy (allergies to things in the environment such as grasses, trees, weeds, dust mites, etc), food allergies, fleas, mites, insect bites and skin wounds.
As the dog licks and chews the area, a bacterial infection of the skin (typically caused by staph) develops by taking advantage of the damaged, inflamed skin. The infection is often deep in the dog’s skin, causing pain and itchiness for the dog. In addition to the moist oozing appearance of the hot spot, an odor may be present.
Certain causes for hot spots on dogs are chronic issues and thus result in recurring hot spots. Because your dog’s health condition impacts the frequency of hot spots recurring, it’s important to identify and address any underlying causes of your dog’s hot spots.
How Can I Prevent Hot Spots on Dogs?
The first step to preventing hot spots on dogs is properly caring for your dog’s skin. Because hot spots are a skin condition, regular grooming and bathing can decrease the chance of hot spots appearing on your dog. Long-haired dog breeds may also benefit from hair clippings during the summer months, as long coats create a breeding ground for bacteria when moisture gets trapped inside the dense hair.
If your dog swims or bathes often, it’s important to dry your dog to prevent hot spots from occurring. Dogs who spend time in the water are at greater risk of developing hot spots, as a dog’s coat will trap moisture and consequently cause hot spots to appear.
Giving your dogs adequate exercise is another way to prevent hot spots on dogs and help your canine friend thrive. Because many dogs tend to lick and scratch themselves when they are bored, exercise can keep them mentally and physically stimulated, preventing your pup from itching areas that are inflamed by allergies or parasites.
Certain diets can also aid in preventing Pyotraumatic dermatitis in dogs. Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA found in fish oils are two of the many supplements that not only provide anti-inflammatory properties to fight skin irritations but also encourage a healthy skin barrier to prevent recurrence of hot spots. You may also try switching your dog’s diet if your dog is having allergic reactions to his food.
How to Treat Hot Spots on Dogs
Once you have identified hot spots on your dog, the next step is to provide proper treatment. The goal of hot spot treatment is to clear the bacterial infection, relieve the itching and pain, and remove the underlying triggers if possible.
The hair in and around the dog’s hot spot is usually clipped to allow initial cleaning of the area and the application of topical medications. Common topical treatments used on pets include sprays, creams and ointments that kill bacteria and help reduce inflammation. Additionally, oral antibiotics are usually prescribed for a course of three to four weeks. In some cases, they may be prescribed for a longer period of time. Often a short course of corticosteroids (i.e. prednisone) is given to relieve the itching and pain due to the inflammation. Antihistamines may also be used to help with itchiness.
Although it is possible to treat hot spots with home remedies, it is best to allow your vet to provide treatment for your pup. While you’re waiting for an appointment, however, you may gently wash the area with cool water. Remember that hot spots on dogs can be extremely painful, so be gentle when cleansing the area.
When treating Pyotraumatic dermatitis, it’s important that your dog doesn’t excessively lick or chew the inflamed area. Constant licking and itching will not only cause the sore to open up, but it may cause hot spots to recur. Keeping your dog well exercised and stimulated during the following weeks after treatment allows hot spots on dogs to heal properly, as well as prevent recurrence of hot spots in the future.
While hot spots are likely every dog owner’s nightmare, they can easily be cured and prevented through proper care and treatment. If you think your dog may have hot spots on his skin, it is best to consult your veterinarian to begin treatment right away.