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Hot Spots on Dogs: What You Need to Know

Hot spots can become itchy, inflamed and painful for your dog. Here, our Orange Park veterinary dermatologist discusses causes, diagnostic methods, treatment options, and prevention of this common skin condition.

Hot Spots on Dogs

A hot spot is a common skin condition that's characterized by a moist, ulcerated superficial skin lesion. This lesion will often be covered by matted hair that has become stuck to the underlying skin lesion. 

Medically, hot spots are categorized as a form of acute moist (exudative) dermatitis. They typically appear suddenly, often in less than 24 hours, with almost no early warning signs.

They can occur even in well-groomed pets and are not necessarily a sign of neglect, since they can occur quickly.

These skin lesions frequently go undetected in the early stages until the moist area or matted hair that's covering it is identified, or an odor develops as a result of the infection. A veterinarian can examine your dog and determine whether a hot spot or other condition is the culprit. 

What do hot spots look like on dogs?

Hot spots may be moist, red, and/or tender. You may even notice a greenish tinge or a bad odor on the coat or skin. 

What happens as hot spots progress?

Hot spot lesions can be very painful and are often associated with intense itching. While some lesions may remain relatively small, many progress rapidly and can expand to cover large areas of the body. 

The hair in the central area of the lesion will often fall out, exposing the raw tissue associated with the disease. Since hot spots can be very painful and itchy, your dog may rub, scratch, or lick them, which can unfortunately make the lesion worse. 

What causes hot spots on dogs?

You may feel concerned, even alarmed, to discover a hot spot on your dog. Many worried pet owners often wonder, "How and why do dogs get hot spots?"

While the precise cause of hot spots remains a mystery, we do know that inflammation of superficial layers of the skin (dermatitis) can lead to the development of these lesions. 

Other factors  that increase the incidence and risk of hot spots include:

  • Breed - Though hot spots can develop on any dog, they happen more frequently in certain breeds, such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, and Saint Bernards. While hot spots can also occur in cats, this is very rare. 
  • Age - Dogs younger than four years develop hot spots more often than older adult dogs. 
  • Underlying Allergies - Food allergies, allergies to parasites such as fleas, and environmental irritants. 
  • Season - Hot spots are more likely to occur in the spring and summer months than in the cooler months. 
  • Infections - Parasites (ticks and fleas) and ear infections can lead to hot spots on dogs. 
  • Poor Grooming - Ungroomed coats can sometimes lead to hot spots and other skin conditions. 
  • Excessive Coat Moisture - Improper or insufficient drying after bathing or swimming may lead to hot spots. 

What secondary conditions can hot spots cause?

Dogs with hot spots often develop secondary skin infections as a result of the moisture and trauma caused by this skin lesion. 

How a Vet Can Diagnose a Dog's Hot Spot 

Your veterinarian may refer you to our board-certified veterinary dermatologist at Animal Friends Dermatology. In most cases, a veterinary dermatologist can diagnose hot spots based on the history of the lesion and its characteristic appearance. 

If you notice any symptoms of hot spots on your dog, they should be examined by a veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist right away, since other disease processes often lead to symptoms similar to hot spots. A hot spot can also be associated with other diseases that should also be assessed by your vet. 

How to Treat Hot Spots on Dogs

When it comes to addressing hot spots on dogs, the severity of the lesion and any potential underlying factors will determine which treatment options your vet will recommend. 

The lesion will likely need to be clipped to allow access and to expose it to air. Your veterinary dermatologist will also need to clean it with antiseptic to reduce the risk of infection. If the hot spot is large and/or is causing pain for your dog, your pooch may need to be sedated so the vet can remove the hair and treat the lesion without causing fear, or further pain. 

Once the lesion has been clipped, your vet dermatologist may recommend topical therapy using an antibiotic, drying, or steroid product. Systemic medications such as antibiotics, steroids, or other medications may also be prescribed to reduce pain or inflammation. 

If your dog is likely to lick or scratch the hot spot, your vet may recommend that your pup wear an Elizabethan collar (e-collar) for a brief period to prevent further trauma and infection to the hot spot. 

For dogs with recurring lesions, your veterinarian can look into underlying factors that may be contributing to the condition. Fortunately, most hot spots respond quickly to treatment. However, some may take two to three weeks to heal. 

Preventing Hot Spots 

There are some measures you and your veterinary dermatologist can take to prevent and/or reduce the recurrence of hot spots in your dog, and to minimize their severity. 

The veterinary dermatologist may prescribe a personalized flea and tick control schedule for your pooch. This will reduce two major sources of itching that can lead to hot spots. 

You'll also want to dry your dog thoroughly after they've been swimming or bathed. If your dog is prone to recurring ear infections, perform all recommended routine cleaning and treatments (or have your vet do them). Keep any excess or matted hair trimmed from around the ears. 

It's important to examine your dog's skin and coat daily to catch any lesions in their early stages, so they can be diagnosed and treated promptly. 

Have you noticed symptoms of hot spots or other skin conditions on your dog? Ask your vet about a referral. Our veterinary dermatologist will work with your primary care vet to ensure your pet receives the best possible care. 

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