What Is A Hot Spot?
A hot spot refers to a specific area of skin that becomes infected and inflamed. The cause of the infection is usually self-inflicted by the dog excessively scratching, chewing or licking in one area.
It is similar to when a child has an itch; they scratch and they make the skin sore and they continue to scratch to try to alleviate the discomfort. It is exactly the same for the dog.
Often the dog will work relentlessly at the area, and the damage and infection will spread very rapidly.
A hot spot is sometimes known as moist dermatitis.
You can try to alleviate the problem yourself to begin with, but if you fear your dog has a major problem, then seek veterinary advice.
Common areas where hot spots are seen are around the back area, top of tail, on the paws, neck, chin or behind the ears, although in theory a hot spot can appear anywhere on a dog's body.
Signs And Symptoms That Your Dog Might Have A Hot Spot
Common signs of hot spots on dogs include:
Early stages of a hot spot are small abrasions on the skin, caused by the dog scratching the surface of the skin and damaging it.
It is not uncommon for some dogs to become quite snappy if you try to inspect the worrying area. This is due to the discomfort the dog is feeling and therefore prevention is better than cure. Check your dog over, regularly, particularly if you see them scratching; check the area where they are scratching.
Contrary to the name for this, hot spots don’t just happen in hot weather; they can happen at any time of the year.
The word spot is to do with an indicator of an area, not spot-like.
Causes Of Hot Spots
Determining what is the underlying cause of the hot spot appearing is essential to preventing them reoccurring, but it can be difficult to stop if it has become a habit for the dog.
Something very simple and trivial may have led your dog to lick or scratch an area of skin, then this has turned into a habit or routine which sees your dog compulsively licking and chewing his paws, legs, bottom or scratching his head and ears, until the habit itself becomes the real problem.
Check for parasites of any kind, eg mites, fleas, insect stings
Dogs can suffer allergic reactions from a variety of causes; one of the main contributors is diet. Make sure the diet you are feeding is right for your dog.
Often when a dog has had an injury, they lick at the area to alleviate the pain. Licking releases endorphins which causes pain blocking. This can create a problem of its own.
Some dogs have been known to cause a hot spot because they are simply bored and lick or scratch at themselves to relieve the boredom.
Some pets could be stressed and try to relieve that stress by licking at themselves. For example a dog suffering separation anxiety, noise phobias, etc. could trigger licking which may create a series of different problems.
How To Treat A Hot Spot
When you notice any kind of dog skin irritation, you should always consult your veterinarian.
Since there is a possibility of more serious skin infections, it is advisable that you seek some guidance from your vet as soon as possible.
Because hot spots can increase in size quite rapidly, you need to take action as soon as you become aware of the problem.
Here are some steps that you can follow to alleviate a hot spot problem at home, after you have consulted your vet:
Shaving coat from the area that has been affected by the hot spot is not necessarily the best option. However, it may allow you to examine the area more closely. Sometimes shaving the coat can irritate the dog and actually encourage them to scratch more. Try treating the area without shaving first and see how the skin responds to treatment.
Hot Spot Treatments
If the infection is very severe, your veterinarian will usually prescribe topical drying sprays, medicated shampoos and oral antibiotics that must be regularly administered to your dog.
Some products that dog owners have found success with include:
If the underlying cause is tangled or matted hair or trapped dead hair
Put the dog on a regular grooming schedule either at home or at a grooming salon.
Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Shih-Tzu’s, Tibetan Terriers and other breeds with long hair that tangles easily should be groomed at least twice a week so that snarls and mats do not form.
Clip mats if you cannot easily comb them out, and make an appointment for professional grooming every four to six weeks if you cannot keep the dog mat-free on your own.
In my opinion, matting or a tight coat is the most common cause of a dog developing hot spots due to the dog scratching the coat to dislodge it.
If the underlying cause is allergies
Begin an aggressive campaign to rid your home and yard of fleas and work with your veterinarian on a plan to reduce allergy triggers for your pet.
Household dust, plant pollen, lawn chemicals and diet can all cause allergies or can build to a crescendo of allergies if the dog's sensitivities cross a threshold.
Leaving shampoo in your dogs coat after bathing, ie not rinsing properly, can also cause excessive scratching.
Frequent vacuuming, supplements to keep the skin and coat healthy, air purifiers and baths in skin-soothing herbal or medicated shampoos with aloe, oatmeal, jojoba or eucalyptus can help.
Next step is over-the-counter antihistamines such as Benadryl or Atarax — with a veterinarian's approval.
If these don't work, then steroids to reduce the inflammation and the immune system reaction to the allergen and perhaps antibiotics to cure the infected hot spot are the next course of treatment.
If the underlying cause seems to be behavioural
If your pet doesn't have allergies or fleas or a more serious skin condition - but is so bored, stressed or lonely that he maims himself with constant licking or scratching, he may need more exercise, playtime and attention.
This can be the easiest or the hardest treatment to implement because there's no pill or ointment for long-term success; the requirements are time, consistency and perhaps an investment in training books, an obedience school, a dog sitter or an animal behaviourist.
You should keep in mind that hot spots are extremely painful and to be avoided at all cost. It is your job to keep up the maintenance and needs of your dog to avoid this nuisance for your dog from developing.
I hope you found this article helpful. Your feedback is always appreciated. Thank you.
Julie Hindle 2017
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