Did your dog’s constant scratching and licking culminate in hot spots? Or did a host spot triggered excessive itchiness? If you are not sure, do not worry. In this article, we will talk about hot spots on dogs.
Hot spots, or as the fancy medical term states, Acute Moist Dermatitis (ACM), is a widespread condition, especially among certain dog breeds. Studies show that it is not a true infection but rather a superficial bacterial imbalance despite the infection-suggesting name.
Keep reading as we cover all you need to know about hot spots on dogs – causes, potential treatments, and prevention methods.
What Are Hot Spots on Dogs?
Hot spots on dogs are superficial skin sores and medically termed as Acute Moist Dermatitis (Pyotraumatic Dermatitis). Hot spots develop when there are unfavorable bacteria overgrowths on a dog‘s skin, usually due to self-inflicted trauma (excessive licking and scratching) or an underlying problem (parasites, insect bites).
The sores progress fast and can turn into large, painful, red, and oozing lesions in a matter of hours. Although not life-threatening, hot spots can be quite painful or at least annoying for your dog. Plus, unless the sores are managed and the underlying cause of the hot spots addressed, they can lead to bacterial infections and irreversible skin damage.
What do Dog Hot Spots Look Like?
Hot spots usually start as red and round sores on the dog’s skin. Plus, hot spots get their name because they are typically warm to the touch (at least warmer than the surrounding skin).
By the time you notice the hot spot (even early on), it is typically about the size of a quarter and likely to be moist, red, irritated, and oozing pus or other secretions. The surrounding skin and fur will be moist, too, as the dog will constantly lick the area.
Although hot spots can develop just about anywhere on your dog’s body, they are commonly found on the head, neck, or hip area.
What Causes Dog Hot Spots?
Basically, hot spots are caused by self-trauma or excessive licking, scratching, or biting a certain body area. There are various reasons a dog would resort to these behaviors, including:
- Food allergies and contact irritants
- External parasites and insect bites
- Unkempt (dirty and mated) coat
- Trapped moisture in the fur
- Behavioral issues (anxiety and boredom)
Hot spots are more likely to occur in dogs with chronic pain due to arthritis or hip dysplasia that make the dog constantly lick the painful area. Additionally, certain dog breeds (German Shepherds, Saint Bernards, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers) are at a higher risk of developing hot spots.
Many dog owners wonder whether hot spots are contagious, mainly if they live in a multi-pet home. As you can see, the answer is both yes and no. Namely, hot spots themselves are not contagious, but their underlying cause (fleas, ticks, other parasites) may certainly be.
Symptoms of Dog Hot Spots
Recognizing the physical signs of hot spots is the first step toward diagnosis and treatment. However, you also need to be familiar with the symptoms of hot spots in dogs.
Many symptoms of hot spots are non-specific, but when combined with the characteristic skin sores, you will be able to pinpoint the culprit. Here are the common signs and symptoms of hot spots in dogs:
- Unusual aggression and behavioral changes (due to pain and discomfort)
- Whining, wincing, or crying out in pain, particularly when touched
- Excessive itching of the skin
- Persistent chewing, biting, licking, or grooming
- Scaly skin surrounding the sore area
- Matted and wet fur with a dull appearance
- Hair Loss (from excessive licking and scratching)
- Decreased appetite
- Fever (due to possible secondary infections)
- Lethargy, depression, and disinterest in everyday activities
Treatment Options for Hot Spots on Dogs
The treatment protocol for hot spots includes several steps and some prescription medications.
Shaving or Clipping the Area. This is important as it will help the moist area to become dry, prevent hair from getting into the open sore, and allow application of the topical treatment. You can do this at home (using scissors or clippers) while waiting for the vet’s appointment.
Cleaning the Hot Spots. The vet will use antiseptic sprays (chlorhexidine) or wipes and then manually remove any debris (if this is too painful, mild sedation might be used). Keeping the hot spots clean is critical as dirt can lead to inflammation and delay the healing process.
Topical and Oral Medications. Based on the circumstances, the veterinarian will recommend the right combination of topicals (antibiotic ointments, hydrocortisone creams) and oral meds (antibiotics, pain relievers, anti-inflammatories) and give instructions on how to use them.
Use Elizabethan Collar. As much as your dog hates it, the cone or Elizabethan collar is a must-wear when managing hot spots. This is because dogs are unlikely to follow the vet’s advice and, unless prevented, will keep messing with the open sores.
Natural Remedies for Hot Spots on Dogs
Most hot spot episodes can be treated naturally at home, as long as they have not developed into a full-blown outburst. Here are some over-the-counter supplements and natural remedies for hot spots on dogs.
Dog-Friendly Antibacterial Soap. Antibacterial soaps are great in the early hot spot phases. However, if the wound is already raw or oozing, it is likely too late for a simple antibacterial wash, and you need a more potent remedy.
Apple Cider Vinegar. Many pet owners have seen great results with apple cider vinegar (ACV). Simply dilute the ACV with an equal volume of warm water and spray the mixture directly onto the dog’s hot spots between 4 and 20 times a day.
Oatmeal Baths. You can give your pup daily oatmeal baths until the hot spots go away. This is because oatmeal has amazing soothing powers. Experts recommend performing the oatmeal bathing ritual in the evening so that it can ensure overnight relief.
Vitamin E Supplements. Holistic veterinarians and field experts refer to vitamin E as “nature’s Neosporin.” You can simply cut a vitamin E capsule open and rub its oily content directly onto the skin sores and wounds.
Tea Tree Oil. Essential oils are effective against various health issues, including hot spots. Tea tree oil is a natural anti-inflammatory with potent antibacterial, antiviral, antiseptic features. Therefore, when applied topically, it can help manage hot spots.
Organic Coconut Oil. Coconut oil has powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties that make it an effective way of alleviating skin problems. All you need to do is apply a thin layer over the hot spots. And do not worry if your dog licks it as it is perfectly safe for consumption.
Witch Hazel. Witch Hazel is an all-natural astringent that pet owners can dab with a cotton ball or spray onto the hot spot. It has a soothing effect, thus providing relief. Just make sure you get a vegetable glycerin-based and alcohol-free Witch hazel product.
How to Prevent Dog Hot Spots
Here are simple yet efficient ways of preventing hot spots on dogs to keep your dog hot-spots-free.
Practice Regular Grooming Sessions. Grooming is the brick and mortar of healthy skin and coat. Since the grooming needs are not universal for all dogs, the sessions must be scheduled based on individual factors.
Never Leave your Dog Wet. A wet dog equals a hot spot waiting to happen because bacteria thrive in high-moisture environments. Always make sure your dog is well-dried after regular baths and swimming.
Invest in Parasite Preventives. Since external parasites are high on the list of potential hot spot causes, keeping your dog up-to-date on preventives against ticks, fleas, mites, and other bugs is critical.
Our Final Thoughts on Hot Spots on Dogs
At the end of the day, we understand how frustrating hot spots can be. At Honest Paws, we are also dog owners who have dealt with our fair share of hot spots on dogs.
Hot spots are among the few ailments veterinarians do not consider to be a severe threat to a dog’s overall health and well-being. However, the constant licking, scratching, and itching are a nuisance.
Luckily, now that you understand why and how hot spots develop, it will be easier to prevent them in the first place.