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Hot Spots in Dogs

What are they? How to cool them down!

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Hot Spot on the neck an English Bulldog - Uwe Gille/Wikimedia

Hot Spot on the neck an English Bulldog

Uwe Gille/Wikimedia
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What is a "hot spot"?
A hot spot is a localized area of skin inflammation and infection. The infection can be superficial or deep. Other common names for this condition include: moist dermatitis, and acute moist dermatitis.

What is the medical name for this condition?
Also known as "pyotraumatic dermatitis", these common skin lesions are usually caused (and made worse) by biting, licking, or scratching. Broken down, "pyo-" refers to "pus", "-traumatic" refers to self-inflicted trauma of biting, licking, scratching, and so on, and "dermatitis" means inflammation of the skin.

What are the signs of a hot spot?
Redness, oozing, pain, and itchiness are hallmark signs. Hair loss is commonly present. Sometimes hair can mat over the lesion, obscuring the size and degree of the problem. These lesions can appear suddenly, and grow rapidly (hours).

It is common for an owner to notice a small area of inflamed skin in the morning (perhaps an inch or couple centimeters in diameter) and come home from work to be met with a large area the size of the palm of a hand. The dog is usually highly agitated, and will not leave the area alone. Some dogs will even growl or snap if the area is touched.

What causes a hot spot?
There is usually an inciting factor to initiate the extreme licking and scratching behavior. Look for fleas, mites, or other external parasites, an insect sting or bite, allergies (food, inhalant, contact), or injury (skin wound, scrape, etc.). Some animals have been known to "start" a hot spot out of boredom or stress-related psychological problems.

What can I do to treat a hot spot?
The first thing to do is speak with your veterinarian. Due to the rapidity of spread and possibility of deeper skin infection, it is wise to start treatment with your vet.

Here are some steps to take at home. Caution is advised: hot spots are often very painful. Use a muzzle if need be, for your protection.

  1. Shave the area. The first treatment for hot spots is to dry them out and get air to the area. Hair loss is a feature of hot spots, but hair can also mat over the inflamed area, covering up a potentially much more severe and large problem.
  2. Cleanse the area with cool water and a gentle skin cleanser.
  3. Cool compress the area 2-4 times a day with a cool wet washcloth.
  4. Medications - Depending on the severity and size of the hot spot, your veterinarian may prescribe oral antibiotics, topical drying sprays or medications, and/or special shampoos.
  5. Prevention of licking, biting, scratching -i.e. Elizabethan collar (E-Collar) or similar.
  6. Additional home remedies that can be used until you can see your vet:
    • Topical Sprays I like Vetericyn because it promotes quick healing, does not sting, and is completely safe if ingested (if the animal can lick the area).
    • tea bag compresses (black or green tea) to help dry the area out. Tea can be used as a wash or as a compress.
    • Domeboro's (Burow's) solution (aluminum acetate) - available over-the-counter at pharmacies to help dry the skin out. Can be used as a compress or as a spray.
    • Hydrocortisone creams - Some people advocate using a thin film of an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. I would recommend talking to your vet first. In general, creams and ointments only serve to "gunk up" the area and prevent proper drying if used incorrectly. Also, if the pet licks it, you want to make sure that it isn't toxic.

Text: Copyright © Janet Tobiassen Crosby. All rights reserved

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