Have you ever felt that your dog suddenly has what looks like a welt on their skin? Maybe they just won’t stop scratching or licking a certain area. Dogs can sometimes get hot spots, also known as acute moist dermatitis. These are typically well-demarcated lesions on the skin that appear very red and inflamed. While they can be found almost anywhere on the body, they are commonly found on the neck. They are often very painful and itchy for dogs and will become infected if left untreated.
Most owners who have long haired dogs or dogs with lots of skin folds (and swimmers!), are very familiar with this issue. Whether it be from something as simple as the dog's hygiene or even an underlying medical condition, they can be easily treated.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the signs, causes and treatment of hot spots!
Is it a hot spot?
You may feel that an area of inflamed skin appeared out of nowhere and is progressively getting larger. Sometimes the fur may be matted over the area, so it is not the most obvious thing. But is this a hot spot or something else?
So you know exactly what to look for, here are the most common signs:
- Red, inflamed skin: The affected area of skin is usually red and inflamed, and it may be warm to the touch. This will most likely be proof of an infection as well.
- Matted fur: Fur may get matted if your dog is licking the area or if there is excessive discharge. This can make it more difficult to notice the red, inflamed skin.
- Hair loss: As the hot spot worsens, the hair around it may fall out. Remember that underlying health condition can also cause this.
- Licking or scratching: Hot spots will cause dogs to frequently scratch or lick the infected area. This is your dog letting you know that are uncomfortable and possibly in pain.
- Foul odor: Hot spots can produce a foul smell due to the infection. This can cause oozing and pus-filled sores, which are very painful.
- Change in behavior: You pup may have lower energy or may be more reactive to the area being touched if it is painful or infected.
What causes hot spots?
Hot spots are often caused by a combination of factors:
- Skin irritations: Anything that causes your dog to constantly lick and scratch can lead to a hot spot developing. For example, flea bites, matted fur, or even a scratch, can cause hot spots in dogs. Make sure you are using regular flea and tick prevention even if you think it might be too cold for bugs. It usually isn't!
- Allergies: Food, pollen, or other environmental factors can trigger hot spots in dogs. It is a good idea to wipe your dogs paws with a soft cleansing wipe after coming in from outside. For those dogs who are "low-riders", it would be a good idea to wipe their undersides too as well as their private areas. We can even see hot spots in relation to chronic ear infections if they are constantly scratching the area around their ears!
- Moisture: Especially in breeds with long, thick fur that doesn't dry as fast as short hair. Swimming dogs need to be thoroughly dried off after every dip in the pool or especially at beach. Brachycephalic breeds or breeds with lots of skin folds are also more prone to hot spots. We see you Frenchie owners!
- Boredom: Dogs that get bored or anxious may lick or scratch themselves, leading to hot spots. If this does lead to a hot spot, make sure you use something like a cone to prevent the area from worsening until you can get to the vet. You could even use a t-shirt as long as your dog does not try and eat the shirt! (Labradors, we are looking at you!)
- Underlying medical conditions: Some common ones are Cushing's Disease and hyperthyroidism. These conditions can weaken the dog's immune system and make them more prone to skin infections. It is important for regular lab testing like bloodwork to make sure your dogs organs and immune system is working properly.
Hot Spot Prevention
Preventing hot spots goes hand-in-hand with basic dog ownership and care. This requires a combination of measures that address potential triggers. Some of the most effective ways to prevent hot spots in dogs include:
- Regular grooming: One of the primary causes of hot spots in dogs is matted or dirty fur. Regular grooming sessions keep your dog's coat clean and healthy and reduce the risk of hot spots. Also brush your long haired dogs at least once a week between grooming appointments. If you have a dog with skin folds, also make sure you clean these regularly- at least once a day. Proper drying of fur and ears after bathing and swimming is key as well. Make sure to dry them well under their collar or remove the collar while they are drying. Leaving the collar on can lead to wet skin and pressure around their neck that may lead to hot spots.
- Flea and tick control: Fleas and ticks can irritate your dog's skin, leading to hot spots. Regular flea and tick prevention can help to keep these pests at bay. Ask your veterinarian for more information about the different brands and types of prevention and which one would work best for your dog.
- Proper nutrition: A well-balanced diet can help to keep your dog's skin and coat healthy. Feed your dog high-quality dog food that contains all the necessary nutrients. It’s important to discuss diet with your dog's veterinarian due to lifestyle and medical needs. Do not change diets without a slow transition or discussing with the doctor. Avoid online opinions that are not verified by veterinary experts. Your vet knows more than Facebook!
- Avoiding allergens: Allergens can cause hot spots in dogs. If you notice that your dog is allergic to certain foods or environmental allergens, try avoiding them as much as possible. Dogs can even be allergic to human dander! So regularly take care of your living space.
If your dog develops a hot spot, it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Your veterinarian may recommend different topical treatment options and/or oral medications, based on whats right for your pet. Not every treatment is going to work for every dog and situation. Taking photos and keeping track of your dogs improvement is also both very helpful for you and your veterinarian.
The first step for treatment is usually to do a deep cleaning of the area. The veterinarian will shave and clean the affected area with a mild antiseptic solution apply a topical cream or spray. This procedure may need sedation depending on the severity of pain.
Your veterinarian may also prescribe oral antibiotics to treat any underlying bacterial infections. Steroids or anti-inflammatories be prescribed to reduce inflammation and to reduce pain. Your veterinarian may recommend using a cone or a t-shirt, depending on location. This prevents your dog from accessing the hot spot. Further irritation of the area will prevent proper healing. Keep your dog's environment clean and dry to prevent further irritation or infection.
Hot spots can be a painful and uncomfortable condition for dogs. With early prevention and treatment, most dogs can recover quickly and avoid complications. Take proactive steps to prevent hot spots and provide prompt treatment. If they do occur, you can help to ensure that your dog stays healthy, happy, and comfortable!
Wondering if your pup has a hot spot? Use the DIG Labs Health Check to assess your dog’s skin! The rapid skin scan will help you monitor your dog’s baseline skin health, while also helping you to determine if and when to take action for your dog’s skin health.