WHAT ARE HOT SPOTS ON DOGS?
A hot spot is a superficial skin infection that happens when normal skin bacteria overrun the skin’s defenses as a result of damage to its surface. This damage is most often started by the dog chewing, scratching, licking and gnawing at itself. In the first stages of the formation, the skin becomes moist, red, itchy, and infected. Pus begins to ooze from the traumatized skin as infection sets in. Then, the dried pus and damaged skin surface will work to form a tightly-adhered crust, and you will likely notice hair loss over the infection site. This can be a very painful process, and frequently, dogs will show pain when the area is touched.
Dogs are their own worst enemy when it comes to hot spots, and they are generally created by their own over-zealous self-licking and chewing. They can arise surprisingly quickly: a few minutes of “work” can create an impressive area of self-inflicted trauma. The good news is that they almost always look worse than they actually are, and infection is usually superficial—often resolving with topical treatment alone.
So, what causes our dogs to begin self-chewing and licking in the first place? Good question, with a common denominator being anything that creates irritation to the skin, causing the dog to chew or scratch at the site, can cause a hot spot. Think insect bites (fleas, flies), skin allergies, excess skin-surface moisture, dogs with heavy or dense hair coats, matted hair, saliva accumulation under the fur (think of the pet that is always licking its feet), skin scrapes, or excessive humidity in the environment can all be sources for a hot spot to develop. Another interesting cause: good old-fashioned boredom.
The location of the hot spots may help your veterinarian determine the underlying cause of the problem. For example, a hot spot over the hip area could indicate flea infestation, hip arthritis, or an anal gland infection. Similarly, a hot spot near an ear could indicate an ear problem, an allergy, or a dental/nerve irritation.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HEAL HOT SPOTS AT HOME:
If the hot spot is small, non-painful, recognized early, and is uncomplicated, it may be possible to begin treatment at home with over-the-counter products made for this use. There are an array of topical sprays, medicated shampoos, and herbal therapies available—too expansive a list to discuss here. The important thing is to ensure that it is a pet-approved/pet-safe product and it is always a good idea to call your veterinarian and ask if your choice seems reasonable. You need to be very careful not to use human topical products as these may be toxic to pets when licked and ingested. For example, zinc oxide can be toxic when ingested and it is a common carrier in many human skin ointments.
The basics of home hot spot treatment are:
- If the area is small and non painful, carefully and gently clip the fur that is covering the area—this allows air and medication to reach to wound (word of caution: use approved grooming clippers, not scissors! I see many “accidental lacerations” in the ER because of this.)
- Keep your pet from licking the area—you guessed it, get out that cone of shame.
- Apply a warm, moist compress to the area 3 times daily for 5-10 minutes to keep the area clean, to calm the tissues, and to encourage good circulation; allow the area to fully dry before applying anything topically.
- Use only pet safe, veterinary approved, over-the-counter treatments; as always, it is best to consult with your veterinarian prior to starting any home treatment.
- Do not place any bandages or wraps to cover the area—you want the area to “breathe.”
- Alleviate the itching or irritation that started the whole thing in the first place—get to the bottom of the source, otherwise you will be faced with a loosing battle.