Hot spots are something I see a lot more in the warmer months and it is not uncommon to see one or two patients with hot spots on a busy summer day. When a dog has had them in the past, they are more prone to getting them again. This means their owner should be on the lookout for them, particularly as the weather warms up.
I’ve found that hot spots tend to cause dogs a lot of pain, and they can appear quite quickly. For this reason, owners may first panic when they see them, especially if it is the first one their dog has had. Thankfully, they can be easily treated and most resolve within 1-2 weeks after treatment has begun.
What are hot spots in dogs?
A ‘hot spot’ is the colloquial name for an area of acute moist dermatitis. This is a skin inflammation commonly associated with a secondary bacterial skin infection. The skin will be red and inflamed and we will see a pus discharge that can smell foul. These lesions are also sometimes referred to as ‘pyotraumatic dermatitis’ or even ‘summer eczema’ by some. The intense itch that is created causes the dog to scratch and chew intensely, and this leads to the infection.
Why you need to treat hot spots in dogs on time
The sooner a hot spot can be treated the better. This is for several reasons. Treatment ensures the lesion does not spread and that any bacterial infection does not go into the deeper layers of skin. Also, hot spots are intensely uncomfortable for the dog, and they negatively affect their quality of life.
Indeed, hot spots can be so painful that a dog who was once placid may become short-tempered and snappy. Dogs can go off their food and may be reluctant to play or exercise.
What are the best treatments to treat hot spots in dogs?
1. Clip the fur over the hot spot
From home, there are lots of initial steps we can take to help our canine companions: One of the first things we can do to help these dogs, is to clip the fur over their hot spot. This improves ventilation and decreases the moisture and humidity in the area. This goes a long way towards controlling any infection. Many dogs will be too painful to allow their owner to clip and clean their wound at home. In these cases, some sedation at the vet clinic may be best, in order to do this without causing the dog distress.
2. Use a buster collar
We want to stop any skin aggravation, which will usually mean the use of a buster collar. Most dogs tolerate the soft and inflatable ones more so than the plastic ones.
3. Address underlying issues with your vet
Importantly, any underlying issues must be addressed. So, if the dog has an ear infection, this needs to be resolved. Similarly, any fleas on the dog and in their home need to be eradicated.
4. Consider skin supplements
It can also help to strengthen our dog’s skin barriers by giving oral skin supplements that contain ingredients such as probiotics, Vitamin E and fatty acids. Most dogs with underlying skin issues (like allergies) and who are prone to hot spots, will benefit from long term skin and coat supplements. They support the skin and fur, preventing allergens from entering through the skin and preventing dryness and irritation.
I like the Zesty paws chews for my patients, as they’re highly palatable and easy to dose. I’ve found them very useful for reducing flakiness and many owners report back that they’ve helped reduce itching in their dog. Several studies have shown the positive effect that omega 3 fatty acids can have on reducing skin inflammation and improving coat appearance.
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5. Bathe the affected area
Finally, it also helps to bathe the area with a medicated wash such as Chlorhexidine, which reduces the amount of yeast and bacteria on the skin.
I’m a huge Chlorhexidine fan, as it is very effective and quite inexpensive. It is also something owners can easily pick up online, without a prescription. It can be applied using cotton wool or with impregnated wipes. It should be used on clipped skin and we apply it once or twice daily for a period of about 5 days. After applying, it is left on for 5 minutes, and is then rinsed off. For most vets, it is the medicated wash of choice when it comes to hot spots, and it is recommended by the AKC.
Alternatively, you can use an anti-inflammatory spray such as Vetricyn Hot Spot Spray, which includes potent anti-inflammatories to decrease the itch and soothe the angry skin to break the cycle of your dog’s scratching:
- DOG HOT SPOT CARE: Spray a few times daily to relieve irritated skin that cause excessive scratching, chewing, and licking.
6. Veterinary Care
As well as the above measures, your dog will need to see a vet so they can be prescribed medicine such as steroids, to reduce the itch and inflammation. These can be systemic (given orally) or may be applied topically, depending on the extent of the hot spot. When secondary infections are present, antibiotics will be issued. However, this is not always required.
When is it ok to try home remedies?
It is important to understand that, while home remedies play a role in treatment, dogs with hot spots require prescription medicine. For this reason, they do need to see a vet in person.
This is also key so we can ensure the diagnosis is correct and so any underlying issues can be identified and managed.
Finally, it is not uncommon for dogs to need some sedation to allow us to clip, clean and examine their painful lesions.
What are the causes of hot spots in dogs?
Dogs can be allergic to things in their environment (like grass and pollen) or in their diet (like chicken or beef). When exposed to their allergen, this can lead to dermatitis and itchiness. Secondary infections such as hot spots frequently occur.
Allergies are incredibly common and they tend to present before the age of five. Any dog can be affected but certain Pedigrees are most at risk, including Labradors, Shih Tzus, Frenchies, Pugs, Bulldogs and Westies.
Avoidance of the allergen is key, when we know what it is. Allergies can also be managed with long-term anti itch medicine as well as medicated washes.
2. Flea hypersensitivity
This is probably the most common underlying cause of hot spots and the rump is often affected. When a dog is allergic to fleas, they over-react to their saliva and an intense itch develops.
Fleas are not always seen as the dog can quickly lick and chew them off. However, if we use a fine tooth comb, we may find some gritty flea dirt.
We can prevent a flea reaction by keeping our pooch up to date with an effective flea prevention. Importantly, any other cats and dogs in the home need to be routinely treated too, otherwise they can act as a source of the fleas.
3. An underlying source of discomfort such as an ear infection or blocked anal glands
When your dog has a source of discomfort, their instinct is to rub, chew or lick at it, to try and ease the pain. However, doing so will break the skin and bacteria can then enter. This can lead to painful skin infections and hot spots.
Owners should try and treat any medical issues ASAP, before they create more problems. The sooner an ear infection is addressed, the quicker it responds to treatment. Similarly, emptying blocked anal glands before they develop abscesses, is a no brainer.
4. Behavioral disorders
Some dogs develop an obsession with compulsive licking or chewing. When this compulsion is focused on a certain part of their body, hot spots can develop here.
It can help to use tools like buster collars and pet t-shirts, but this is just a temporary fix. This sort of behavior is not easily resolved and often involves the input of a behaviorist, as well as a vet who can prescribe the appropriate medication.
Owners should also make a real effort to ensure that all of their dogs physical, emotional and mental needs are being met and that they’re not bored or being left alone for too long.
Frequently Asked Questions
• How can I prevent my dog from getting hot spots?
Prevention can be achieved by managing any underlying skin issues (like allergies) and by keeping our pets up to date with their parasite prevention. For dogs prone to hot spots, it is sensible to keep their coat short in the summer and to bathe them with medicated washes routinely.
• Can hot spots lead to death in dogs?
While hot spots can cause intense pain and discomfort, they won’t cause a dog to die. They can spread to other places though, and cause quite significant and deep skin infections. For this reason, the sooner we can address them the better.
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