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Hot Spots on Cats: Causes & Treatment

Similar to dogs, cats can get hot spots triggered by a skin infection or other potential causes. Here, our Orange Park veterinary dermatologist explains what causes hot spots on cats, lists symptoms of the condition, and describes treatment options.

What are hot spots on cats? 

You might see many articles about hot spots on dogs and wonder, 'Can cats get hot spots?'. The answer is 'yes' - they are not uncommon for felines. Acute moist dermatitis (also referred to as pyoderma or "hot spots") is one of the most common skin infections in cats.

What are the symptoms of hot spots on cats?

Hot spots are often found on a cat's face, chin, belly, or base of the tail, though they can appear on any part of the body. 

A hot spot-induced skin infection is initially itchy, moist, and inflamed, and typically causes the infected skin to turn red with or without hair loss. The infection then causes a pus to form, leading to the wound becoming more wet. Moisture can get trapped in the remaining hair, which results in mats developing on top of the wound. 

Once the pus dries or scabs over, the damaged skin will stick to this infection site, resulting in a crusty, moist bed of infection that is likely very uncomfortable and even painful for your cat. The skin may also be warm to the touch.

Matted fur can often disguise how severely the underlying skin is affected. Your cat's biting, chewing, or scratching makes the hot spot worse and more uncomfortable, so the sooner you can bring your cat to a veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist for an exam and treatment, the better. 

Why do cats get hot spots?

The answer to the question of why cats get hot spots is a nuanced one, often determined by numerous factors. 

These superficial skin lesions are caused by a cat licking, scratching, biting, or chewing on the surface of the skin. Though cats have a normal amount of fungus, yeast, and bacteria on the skin, a cat's actions can cause skin irritation or disturbance, which in turn causes bacteria to overpopulate, creating this skin infection. 

Hot spots are more common during the summer months when the weather is hot and humid. However, the skin condition can occur year-round depending on the inciting cause. Allergies or bugs can trigger itchiness year-round, thus leading to hot spots. 

Long-haired cats and those with thicker, heavier coats may be more likely to develop hot spots since their saliva becomes trapped under the fur and may infect the skin, causing an itch. Many species of Staphylococcus bacteria commonly live in a cat's skin and are a common cause of bacterial skin infection for cats. Staph infections are not usually contagious in cats.

Hot spots in cats can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions, including:  

  • Parasites or insects such as fleas, ear mites, ants, mosquitoes, or skin mange 
  • Fungal infections such as ringworm
  • Bacterial infections 
  • Allergies to fleas, pollen, or environmental triggers
  • Stress, anxiety, or behavioral issues that cause overgrooming
  • Pain from injury, disease or trauma that cause your cat to bite or chew at the area

Generally, an injury or wound anywhere on the body can lead to hot spots, since your cat only needs to bite, chew, or scratch at the skin for a few minutes for normal bacteria to overpopulate and a skin infection to develop

How can a vet diagnose hot spots on my cat?

Your veterinary dermatologist can perform a physical examination and may run diagnostic tests. They will likely review your cat's medical history for any previous hot spots and potential causes. Your cat's breed, age, sex, known allergies, and the location of the hot spot(s) may also factor into the diagnosis your vet will provide. 

What are treatment options for cats with hot spots?

Treatment for cats with hot spots is a multi-step process and options may vary depending on the condition's underlying cause. To treat the hot spot itself, your veterinary dermatologist will shave or cut the hair around the hot spot before cleaning the area thoroughly. 

Treatment may include topical treatments, shampoos, injections, or oral medications. Your cat may also be fitted with an Elizabethan collar to prevent them from continuing to lick, scratch, bite or chew the area. 

While hot spots can be distressing for you and your cat, they are usually easy to treat but should be addressed as soon as possible to alleviate discomfort and prevent risk of more serious infection and health complications. 

How can I prevent my cat from developing hot spots?

The best way to prevent hot spots from developing on your cat's skin is to avoid exposing them to potential triggers, such as infections and allergic reactions.

At Animal Friends Dermatology, we understand that spotting hot spots or other acute skin conditions on your cat can be very concerning. We are here to help treat, manage, and prevent flare-ups of these conditions. 

Our veterinary dermatologist provides specialized care for pets suffering from uncomfortable skin issues like hot spots, which require proper diagnosis, treatment, and management to prevent allergic reactions or recurrences.

We can conduct a preliminary exam of your pet (which may include asking you questions about your pup's current health status and history, including their exposure to allergens), then develop an individualized treatment plan to treat your pet's condition. 

The veterinary dermatologist may recommend these or other methods of managing your feline friend's condition depending on the cause of the hot spots: 

  • Allergy testing to confirm environmental or other allergens 
  • Prompt treatment of ear mites and/or ear infections
  • Taking appropriate measures to reduce your cat's stress 
  • Hypoallergenic shampoo and/or hydrating leave-in conditioner specially designed for cats
  • Immunotherapy treatment to desensitize your cat to specific allergens 
  • Antihistamines or other prescription-strength allergy medications
  • Taking your cat to your primary vet annually to detect any problems early

We accept both requests for appointments and referrals from primary care veterinarians. You'll also receive a written copy of your pet's individualized treatment plan, and we are always available to answer any questions and concerns you may have about treatment or at-home care. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Have you noticed symptoms of hot spots or other skin conditions on your cat? 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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Animal Friends Dermatology is accepting new patients! Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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