Care and Treatment of Hot Spots on Dog Skin

"Hot Spots on dog skin (acute moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis) is a swollen skin area that gives off a bad smell . Canine hot spots appear suddenly with the hair in the area quickly disappearing. Large breeds often get hot spots on the ears, although on all dogs they can appear on any part of the body. There are many reasons for the formation of dog hot spots including allergy, fleas, matted hair, parasites, mange, poor grooming, mites, and anal gland infection. Often a dog will make the problem worse by licking the skin after an insect bite. Spots can start small and grow to be 6 to 7 inches wide, all within a day. Symptoms appear more often during warm months and beside hair loss includes skin itch, red skin, oozing areas and painful sores. Treatment involves cutting hair that surrounds the affected area, followed by skin cleaning. Antibiotics are used to treat any infection and cortiscosteroids for itch. Once treatment begins, healing is quick, although scabs can take weeks to fully heal. The underlying cause for the dog skin problem needs to be identified and treated as well.  Once a hot spot is discovered, it's best to visit the veterinarian as soon as possible to prevent the spots from growing larger."

Hot spots on dog skin (acute moist dermatitis or pyrotraumatic dermatitis) occur most often on dogs with long, dense coats. They are more likely to occur during hot weather and appear to happen overnight.

There are a number of possible causes, including insect bites (particularly fleas), mites, allergies, poor grooming, ear infections, and anal gland disease. Flea allergy is the most common cause.  The spots grow in size from self trauma such as a dog licking the problem area, which also can introduce bacteria causing infection into the skin.

Picture of Hot Spots on Dog back. The hair was clipped on the perimeter of the hot spot to aid healing

Source: Washington State University

Breeds that are Predisposed to Hot Spots

Hot spots are more prevalent in long haired dogs such as:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Newfoundlands
  • German Shepherds
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs

Symptoms of Hot Spots on Dog Skin

Hot spots on dog skin are round, raw lesions, usually found on the head, hips, and sides of the chest. They are moist and inflamed, and the hair will fall out in that area. They are quite painful. Your dog will usually scratch, like or bite the area, irritating the skin even more. Hot spots are sometimes called “pyotraumatic dermatitis” (meaning self-caused skin inflammation) because the self-trauma is a major factor in the development of the sores. The sores can grow larger very rapidly.

Diagnosis of Hot Spots on Dog Skin

Hot spots can mimic other skin problems, so your vet will need to examine them carefully to determine that is what they are. They may appear similar to some fungal infections, but your vet can rule those out with blood tests or by taking a swab of the affected area and examining it under a microscope.

Your vet will also look for possible causes of the hot spots. For instance, if the hot spots are on the ears, then ear infection is a likely cause. A homeopathic approach to ear hot spots such as Ear Dr. can help to promote healing in addition to the specific treatment recommended by your veterinarian.

If the hot spots are on the hips, an anal gland infection is a likely cause. Fleas are also a common cause of hot spots on dog skin. Identifying the cause of the canine skin hot spot will direct the course of treatment.

Dog Hot Spots Treatment

Treatment of hot spots must be aimed at healing the hot spots as well as eliminating the cause. The canine skin hot spot is treated by first clipping the hair around the lesion. This allows air to get to the inflamed skin and makes it easier to treat the wound. The spot is then cleaned and a topical treatment is applied such as Betadine or chlorhyexidine. If the wound is infected, oral antibiotics are prescribed. Oral anti-inflammatory medication may also be prescribed in severe cases.

Glucocorticoids (GCC) are frequently suggested.  Hydrocortisone treatment is administered with a spray such as Dermagard Hydrocortisone Spray. These treatments prevent the activation of many cells involved in inflammation. According to a paper presented at the 2006 North American Veterinary Conference "Topical Glucocorticoids can be beneficial in the management of various inflammatory dermatoses, especially atopic dermatitis."

The underlying cause of the hot spot must be identified and treated, or the problem will just keep coming back. Any infections will be treated with antibiotics. Fleas and mites are usually treated with topical solutions or medicated shampoos. If poor grooming is an issue, your vet can instruct you on the best way to groom your pet.

An Elizabethan collar or foot bandage may be used to keep your dog from scratching the treated area. A more comfortable alternative collar is the ProCollar Protective Collar.  Clipping a dog's nails can also help to prevent scratching.

Spots will heal quickly, although skin scabs may take a few weeks to completely disappear. If a dog has a heavy undercoat, it can be helpful to arrange for summer hair clipping.

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