Causes, Prevention, and Treatment of Hot Spots

Many dog owners have heard of or have experienced hot spots on their pet. Here we take a look at what a hot spot is, what causes it, and how to treat hot spots.

What is a Hot Spot?

A hot spot is a moist skin rash, and is usually quite itchy. Also known as acute moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis, they generally occur around the head, neck, rump and occasionally on the trunk of the body. Dogs of any age or breed can develop hot spots, but certain breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and Rottweilers are more prone to developing hot spots.

What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?

Hot spots start with an itch. Constant scratching by the dog leads to raw damaged skin, which then oozes serum which causes matting of the hair. This disrupted skin surface promotes bacterial growth, which can make the hot spot even itchier. This results in more scratching and creates a destructive itch-scratch cycle where the hot spot continues to get worse.

Usually a hot spot is triggered by an underlying cause of itchiness. Some common causes are: flea infestation, ear infections, allergies (particularly food and inhalant allergies), and some underlying medical conditions. Warm humid weather also predisposes to the development of the hot spot.

How are Hot Spots typically diagnosed?

Hot spots are diagnosed by your vet based on their distinctive appearance and your dog’s symptoms. They are moist lesions with a slimy discharge and matted hair on the surface, and reported to be very itchy. Severe hot spots can develop a thick plaque-like appearance associated with a deep bacterial infection. Hot spots are usually quick to develop and can progress within a matter of hours – therefore early treatment is required as soon as they are noticed.

Treatment Options for Hot Spots

Treatment starts with clipping away the matted hair over the hot spot. This reveals the extent of the lesion and will allow the area to dry out. Cleaning with a mild antiseptic then aids in removing the discharge and surface bacteria. A topical antibiotic/anti-inflammatory cream is then applied to clean and soothe the lesion. Systemic antibiotics are often prescribed in order to best resolve infection within the deeper layers of the skin. Cortisone, a steroidal anti-inflammatory, is often prescribed to reduce the itchiness of the hot spot and break the itch-scratch cycle, giving the lesion a chance to heal.

Hot spots can be very sensitive and painful, and some dogs will not tolerate treatment. Depending on the severity we may recommend a general anaesthetic. This means the entire procedure will be painless and less traumatic for your dog, while allowing a thorough treatment of the hot spot.

How Can You Prevent Hot Spots?

Early detection is key in preventing hot spots from turning into large, painful lesions. If you notice your dog scratching excessively, be sure to examine the area. If you find a lesion developing, please do not delay in contacting us. Early intervention will lead to a quicker resolution and will keep your pet comfortable.

Investigation of the underlying cause is just as important as treatment of the hot spot, in order to prevent recurrence. Dogs should be treated monthly with a veterinarian-recommended flea treatment. Products vary widely in their efficacy, with flea collars and shampoos providing poor and inadequate control. If an ear infection is suspected, a thorough exam will be performed and treatment for the ear infection started. If lesions recur or don’t respond to treatment, further investigation is required. This can include a thorough allergy work up, cytology, or even biopsy of the affected tissue.