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Hot Spots and Pets

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Beagle laying on a blanket

Hot spots are one of the most common skin conditions that can affect cats and dogs. Although these small, affected areas may initially seem harmless, if left untreated, they can quickly become a much more significant (and unfortunately painful) problem for your best pal. As a pet parent that wants to keep their canine companion and feline friend happy and healthy, it’s beneficial to learn the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for this issue.

What Is a Pet Hot Spot?

Hot spots, also known as acute moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis, are infected areas of the skin that can become red, irritated, and possibly raised. They can vary in size but will continue to grow if the underlying cause is not managed and the hot spot is left untreated. It’s also not unusual for hot spots to become clammy, bleed intermittently, have discharge, and cause hair loss around the affected area. A hot spot can often be distinguished from other dermatological issues on pets since the skin will not be as dry as it usually is with many skin conditions.

Hot Spots on Dogs

Hot spots can technically occur anywhere on a dog’s body but are most commonly found on the hips, limbs, neck, and face. Depending on their location, they can also vary slightly in appearance but will typically have the same general characteristics.

What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?

Some dog breeds, such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Rottweilers, are predisposed to more skin conditions, including hot spots. These pups’ thick coats are often what’s to blame.

However, there are many other causes of this dermatological condition. The most common include:

  • Allergies*

    Like people, dogs can have allergies too. Allergens irritating your canine friend can range from environmental and food to flea and seasonal. When a dog experiences allergies, their skin becomes itchy, and they will often lick or nibble on one spot repeatedly, causing the skin to become irritated and a hot spot to form.

  • Ear infections

    All dogs can be susceptible to developing an ear infection at any point in their life, and those with floppy eats or ones that enjoy swimming may be at an even higher risk.

  • Trapped moisture

    Whether your dog just got a bath or they recently went for a swim, it’s crucial that you help get their coat completely dry. Leaving excess moisture trapped in their fur can lead to uncomfortable matting and hot spots. Not to mention, your canine pal will get that unwanted “wet dog” smell. Extra precautions should be taken for dogs with thick or double coats.

  • Anal gland disease

    This can be an irritating or painful condition for dogs, causing them to lick themselves more than usual. Unfortunately, excessive licking increases the chance of a hot spot forming on their back end or tail.

  • Poor grooming

    Besides not drying your dog’s coat completely, other poor grooming habits could also lead to the appearance of a hot spot. While it may depend on the individual pup, most dogs need to be bathed (with canine-safe products) regularly, anywhere from monthly to every few months. Your best pal will also need to be brushed routinely. Although some short-coated dogs could use a quick brushing every other week, thick-coated breeds like Collies may need to be brushed multiple times every week to keep their fur healthy.

  • Excessive licking

    There can be many reasons a dog feels the need to lick themselves excessively in one spot, but boredom can often be the cause. To help avoid this issue, walk your dog at least once every day, play with them, give them time outside, and when they’re home by themselves, try leaving them with enrichment toys that will keep their brains busy.

In addition to these causes, hot spots are also more likely to occur during the warmer months, in areas with high humidity, and in locations prone to inclement weather—you may think twice about getting your pup a rain jacket.

Are Hot Spots on Dogs Contagious?

Hot spots on dogs are not contagious to humans or other animals, but that does not mean treatment should ever be delayed. That said, the underlying cause of your dog’s hot spot can vary greatly, and depending on the causation, that condition could be contagious. For instance, if a fungal infection initially caused the hot spot, it could spread to your dog’s canine or feline siblings and possibly even people.

Curing Hot Spots on Dogs

If you notice a hot spot on your dog, it’s essential that you take them to their veterinarian right away, especially since they can quickly increase in size. One of the first steps your veterinarian will take is to prevent your dog from causing any further issues by continuing to lick or nibble at the spot. Depending on where the hot spot is located, solutions may include:

  • Having your dog temporarily wear a cone or soft collar
  • Placing a sock or bandage over the affected area
  • Using topical or oral steroids along with antihistamines to help reduce itching

After addressing the initial issue, your veterinarian will work with you to treat the underlying cause. For instance, if fleas or ticks cause the hot spot, your veterinarian will most likely recommend that your canine pal starts on a monthly parasite prevention method. Or if allergies are to blame, whether food or environmental, the first step will be identifying that allergy and learning how you can help your dog avoid it. For some pups, this may mean starting a hypoallergenic diet.

If your veterinarian deems poor grooming as the culprit, it’s best to seek help from a professional dog groomer. And in the instance that you have a breed with a unique coat, such as some wire-haired terriers, curly-coated Doodles, or double-coated mixes, finding a dog groomer with specific experience with those coat types could be even better for your pup—Komondor parents may already know this all too well.

When ear infections or arthritis cause a hot spot, your veterinarian will prescribe medication to treat those issues directly. Antibiotics usually cure ear infections, and pain medications can help reduce your dog’s arthritis symptoms.

After each of these causes are ruled out, your veterinarian may deem boredom, or another behavioral problem, as the underlying issue. In this case, it may be best to seek further help from a professional dog behaviorist. Through behavior observation, various training techniques, additional exercise, added enrichment, and possibly some prescribed medication, together, you and the behaviorist can help your pup become more content.

Preventing Hot Spots on Dogs

One of the best ways to prevent hot spots is to continue treatment for the underlying cause whenever possible. Being proactive about drying your dog’s coat anytime it rains, they go for a swim, or they have a bath is also a great way to stay a step ahead.

Brown cat laying down on a bed

Hot Spots on Cats

Like canines, your feline friend can also be affected by hot spots. When it comes to cats, this condition is also known as acute moist dermatitis and pyotraumatic dermatitis. The symptoms may present themselves in a similar fashion. Initially, a hot spot will appear itchy, inflamed, red, and moist. This is commonly followed up by some hair loss and discharge at the central location, with hair matting surrounding the hot spot. The affected area will most likely continue to worsen and grow in size, often quickly, if left untreated. Hot spots on cats can also technically appear anywhere on their body, though having them pop up on the face, chin, stomach, or tip of their tail is the most common.

What Causes Hot Spots on Cats?

There are many underlying causes of feline hot spots. For instance, though they can technically occur at any time, there is an increased risk of cats developing hot spots during the warmer months of spring and summer or whenever the humidity is high. Allergies, which can last year-round or pop up during certain seasons, can also be the culprit behind your cat’s hot spots. Allergies may go beyond just environmental and can also include food or flea allergies. Cats with thicker, longer coats are also more likely to develop hot spots due to poor grooming habits or trapped moisture in their fur.

Parasites, particularly fleas, are another common cause of hot spots. Whether the flea is causing pain or making a cat incredibly itchy, a hot spot can quickly form by them continuously scratching, biting, or licking their skin.

Behavioral issues or problems such as stress, anxiety, and boredom can also lead to the formation of hot spots. For example, when a cat’s routine becomes interrupted or they’re experiencing more stress, they may be prone to overgrooming. This, in turn, can lead to hair loss or skin infections, which can then cause hot spots.

When your pet has a hot spot, but all the causes mentioned above have been ruled out, it is safe to say that an internal issue is the cause. When pets experience pain or discomfort, either from an injury, infection, or disease, the best way they may find to comfort themselves is to continuously nibble on or scratch the area of their body that’s bothering them.

For instance, if your cat has anal gland disease, they may be more apt to chew on their back end or bite at their tail repeatedly, causing a hot spot to form. Another example would be arthritis. Typically affecting an animal’s hips, it’s not unusual for a cat to bite at their hips repeatedly in response to the discomfort or pain. Even what starts as an unsuspecting injury or wound could become more of an issue if your cat continues to disturb and irritate the skin in that area.

How Do Veterinarians Treat Hot Spots?

If you believe your cat has a hot spot, it’s crucial that you take them to their veterinarian as soon as possible so they can begin treatment immediately. Your veterinarian will most likely start treating your cat first by removing some hair surrounding the hot spot. This can help eliminate extra moisture trapped against the skin, allowing the professionals to clean the affected area better. With a clearer view of the condition of the hot spot, your veterinarian will also have a better idea of how to test and treat the area. Depending on how far the spot has progressed, your feline friend may be offered pain medication or a light sedative since hot spots can become painful.

The infected area can often be treated with topical products, such as wipes, shampoos, cleansers, oral products, or injectable antibiotics. Your cat’s exact treatment will depend on their current condition and the underlying cause of their hot spot.

As your cat receives treatment, it is very important that they are not able to reach their hot spot, no matter where it is located. To help deter them from biting or scratching further, putting a cone on them or a piece of clothing could stop them from disturbing the area.

Home Remedies for Pet Hot Spots

If your cat or dog has a hot spot, it’s best to take them to their veterinarian as soon as possible. However, home remedies could be helpful whenever this isn’t an option. You will want to start by trimming the hair around the infected area. This can be done with dog-safe clippers, but extra care should be taken that you do not nick their skin, hit the hot spot, or pull too hard on their hair. Depending on how squirmy your pal is, this may prove to be a two-person job.

After trimming their coat, you’ll want to clean the hot spot carefully. You can start by rinsing it with warm water. Then, using a dog or cat-safe product, you can apply a non-irritating solution such as antiseptic liquid soap, antiseptic spray, or shampoo. Rinse again with clean, warm water and gently pat dry. Remember never to use products that can cause stinging and irritation to your pet’s skin—just because a product is safe for people doesn’t mean it’s OK for animals.

Once the spot is clean, apply an appropriate form of treatment. This could include a pet-safe, veterinarian-approved medicated cream, spray, or more natural options such as aloe or a cool chamomile tea bag. Although it is crucial that your pet cannot reach the treated spot, it’s equally important that you don’t tightly cover the area, as it still needs to breathe in order to have a better chance of healing.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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