How to Detect Hot Spots on Your Dog

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Warm weather has finally arrived, and the season can bring along some unwanted issues for your dogs, including painfully itchy hot spots. Hot spots are extremely common during the hot summer months, but there are ways that you can help treat and prevent these sores to keep your dog itch-free this season.


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What is a hot spot?

Hot spots, scientifically referred to as acute moist dermatitis or "summer sores," are areas of raw, irritated skin that can spontaneously appear anywhere on your dog, but most commonly on a dog's head, chest, or within the hip area. Hot spots are more likely to occur in areas of high humidity and hot weather.


Hot spots can occur within just a few hours but are not considered dangerous to your dog's health. The irritation, however, can cause significant pain and if left unattended can lead to bacterial infections and skin damage.

Hot spots are self-inflicted irritations that develop when your dog itches, scratches or licks themselves in excess. The result is raw skin and a wet scab within the fur. The initial cause for the persistent licking and biting could be from a variety of irritants, such as a flea or mosquito bite, Demodex, dry skin, anal gland disease, food allergies, ear or skin infections, parasites, or even irritation after grooming.


Hot spots can appear similar to other skin irritations, so it is always best to consult a veterinarian. There are, however, telltale signs that can help pet owners determine a hot spot. Red, moist and inflamed lesions from repetitive itching and licking will appear on your dog. These areas will most likely be painful to touch and will often be exposed due to loss of fur. Scabs from the hot spots can produce pus or clear fluids.


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Though the initial wet scab that develops from the persistent licking is not dangerous, the red, irritated lesions can lead to significant bacterial infections. The healing process can be equally as irritating for the wound. The scabbing can magnify the pain for your dog, which leads to continued itching, leaving the wound susceptible to another infection. A dog with a pre-existing bacterial imbalance can cause a hot spot to progress at a faster rate. Diagnosing and treating the hot spot is necessary to prevent excessive infections.


Risk factors with hot spots

There are certain breeds that are more susceptible to developing hot spots. Dogs that spend more time in water or are bred for water-based tasks are at a higher risk of developing these skin irritations. German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernards and Rottweilers are some of the breeds that top the list. Dog breeds that are long-haired are more likely to develop these irritations than their shorter-haired counterparts. However, dogs of all breeds can all potentially develop a hot spot.


Hot spots themselves are not contagious, but the initial source that led to the development of the hot spot could be a danger if you live in a multi-pet household. Fleas, ticks, and parasites are just a few ways that other dogs in your home could also develop irritations.

However, there are other symptoms that pet owners should be aware of to protect themselves and their dogs. Hair loss, lethargy, fever from an infection, a decrease in appetite, crying out in pain when touched, heat rising from the skin, and unusual aggression and behavioral changes are things dog owners should be paying careful attention to and consulting a vet when they begin to occur.


Treatments and prevention of hot spots

Once a hot spot diagnosis has been made, you will want to start immediate treatment to help your dog recover. Treating a hot spot requires several steps.

First, you will want to trim the fur around the area of the hot spot. It is best to seek professional help with this task in order to safely remove the hair. Exposing the raw skin to air will help the skin dry and heal. You will want to then clean the area with a medicated shampoo or a mild antiseptic and thoroughly dry the skin. Under the guidance of your veterinarian, using a prescribed cream or spray, such as hydrocortisone, will help relieve your dog of the itching. Oral medications may also be prescribed depending on the condition of the wound. It is essential to prevent your dog from licking or biting the infected skin so restrictive measures, such as a cone, may be required in order to help the healing process begin. You will want to monitor the hot spot in order to prevent the area from worsening. The healing process can last anywhere from a few days all the way up to several weeks, so you will need to be vigilant about cleaning the area of irritation daily.


Detection and proper treatment of the irritated skin is essential in order to keep your dog healthy and pain-free.

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Understanding and diagnosing the cause of a hot spot will help with the prevention of future irritations. For example, being aware of allergies your dog may have, whether it is from food or fleas, will help you and your veterinarian be able to properly medicate and prevent future hot spot occurrences from that particular issue. Regular grooming will also help to prevent hot spots from happening. If your dog is active and enjoys the water, but is prone to hot spots, it may be best to limit the time they are in the water. Dogs who are bored or stressed are more inclined to continue to irritate their hot spots than dogs who are active. Keeping your dog active with playtime and regular exercise will help with your dog's healing process and keep them happy.

It is always best to consult your veterinarian before attempting to diagnose and treat your dog's skin condition. Veterinarians are equipped the knowledge, tools, and medication in order to give your dog the best care possible.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.