Ask The Vet: Why Do Dogs Get Hot Spots?

Dogs get hot spots because their skin can be vulnerable to bacteria ready to invade at a moment's notice, given the right circumstances. Of course, this is just the short answer. To better understand why do dogs get hot spots, you will need to go more in depth into what exactly hot spots are and what predisposes dogs to getting them.

Why do dogs get hot spots? What can dog owners do to prevent them? What treatment is required, and is there any thing dog owners can do at home to treat their dog's annoying hot spots?

If your dog has hot spots, your best bet is to see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment. Hot spots may be triggered by several underlying causes and sometimes, what may look like a hot spot may turn out being something else. So please play it safe and see your vet if you suspect your dog has one. 

In this article, veterinarian Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic discusses hot spots in dogs, what triggers them and what dog owners should do should they notice them. 

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Bacteria thrive in moisture

Thriving in Moisture

Hot spots are also called acute moist dermatitis, and dermatitis is a condition in which the skin becomes inflamed. Hot spots usually appear suddenly, and if they are left untreated, they can spread fast and cause serious problems.

 Hot spots are an immune-mediated response of the skin to irritation, and they appear as red, moist or even oozy looking skin lesions that can appear anywhere on the dog’s body.

No matter the cause, anything that irritates or breaks the skin can create the proper environment for bacterial growth and contamination on the skin, but it is necessary that the surfaces of the skin have a little bit of moisture on it. 

Hot spots appear usually after a recent bath, walk in the rain, after a swim or playtime in water. Also, hot spots can appear if the dog scratches or licks himself obsessively, forming a wet scab on the body. 

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Hot spots in dogs often start from a laceration due to scratching

Causes of Hot Spots in Dogs 

All skin conditions, including hot spots, are never just a simple skin problem. They always have an underlying cause and usually are just a symptom of some other problem or disorder. This is why is important to treat not only the hot spots but to also address the real cause of the hot spot.

Moist dermatitis can be caused by poor grooming, disease, allergic reaction or a bug bite. Also, boredom, stress or changed behavior can lead to hot spots. Long-haired breeds with thick fur are most often affected, with collies, German shepherds, Golden retrievers, and Labrador retrievers being the most predisposed.

Hot spots start as a simple laceration, or an area of matted fur, or perhaps a mosquito bite and that triggers skin irritation and some dogs will also lick at that spot which will create more inflammation and a larger skin lesion. 

The progression of this lesion is seen in bacteria infecting this wound. Timeline of this condition is from a few minutes to a few hours. 

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See your vet if you suspect hot spots in your dog

Treatment of Hot Spots in Dogs 

Treatment of hot spots requires understanding the underlying cause; was the dog bitten by an insect? Could this be an allergic reaction to food or environment? Are there any matted areas of the fur where skin can’t breathe? Does he (or she) have fleas or ticks or some other form of parasites (mites)?

 Ear or skin infections, as well as anal sac disease, can lead to hot spots forming as well. Sore or painful spots can also cause hot spots because the dog will lick or chew that particular spot.

Also, boredom or changed emotional response (being home alone or changes in a home situation) or stress can lead to obsessive self-licking and self-biting.

The goals of hot spots treatment are to clean the area and prevent further bacterial infection, relieve the pain and itching and if possible identify and address the underlying problems.

The course of action requires trimming the surrounding area with hair clippers, but hot spots are painful so trimming must be done carefully.

Next step is cleaning of the area with water based antiseptic sprays or specialized shampoo that will not irritate the skin and then pat dry the area.

Apply creams or sprays that will stop the itching sensation and/or promote healing. This includes hydrocortisone products (prescription is necessary) but also natural remedies like oath creams or coconut oil creams. Sometimes the condition requires stronger anti-inflammatory medications in the forms of injectable or oral drugs.

You should prevent your dog from licking or biting the affected area. If necessary, place an Elizabethan collar.

Antibiotics are usually not indicated but are sometimes needed to combat secondary bacterial infections. This treatment should last up to two weeks except in cases of recurring hot spots. 

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Regular grooming is helpful to prevent hot spots in dogs.

Now That You Know... 

When it comes to hot spots prevention, regular grooming is the key. Keeping the dog's hair nice, clean and dry is essential. If the dog has a dense and thick coat, checking for foreign bodies matted in fur is also a must. 

Avoiding allergens and administering medications if your animal suffers from seasonal allergies is also a way of preventing this condition. On top of all that, flea and tick prevention is necessary.

The skin itself is the largest organ of the body, and almost 40 percent of all daily nutritive energy in dogs goes to maintaining skin and coat. Skin immunity plays a distinctive role in fighting hot spots and other possible problems. 

If your dog is prone to skin conditions, or you just want to protect him from possible scenarios, there are natural immune-boosting substances suitable for skin immunity. Most common are spirulina, cod liver oil, salmon oil or coconut oil products.

The Bottom Line 

Hot spots are a common problem in dogs and are not a life-threatening condition, but they are painful and uncomfortable. 

This condition will not resolve on its own, so if you are not sure you can treat hot spots by yourself, you should call your veterinarian because sometimes there is an underlying issue your veterinarian needs to diagnose and address.

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