First off: if your pet does have hot spots, you can use over-the-counter or other non-prescribed medication to help alleviate the affected area. However, unless you can just diagnose causes and whip up batches of antibiotics by yourself, a visit to the vet may be necessary.
But, before you start a plan, here’s everything you need to know about hot spots:
- What is a hot spot?
What is a hot spot?
Also known as “acute moist dermatitis,” a hot spot is characterized by red, moist, irritated skin. The location matters: hot spots usually appear nearby the head, hip, and or chest areas of the pet’s body. The “stickiness” or moisture of the lesion is usually due to some kind of oozing and discharge from the infection. They’re also supposed to be hot to the touch. Note that this type of skin lesion is typically found on dogs and cats.
It’s easy to confuse the redness with other rashes and infections, but keep an eye out for the red, moist, and hot characteristics of the lesion. Hot spots usually also have a sudden onset.
Warning: hot spots worsen fast! What could be the size of a quarter could dramatically increase by inches within a couple hours. If fur is still covering the hot spot, the size of the infection might be difficult to gauge accurately until the fur is removed.
Because heat and humidity aggravate the irritation, hot spots more commonly appear in the summer. Long-haired pet breeds are especially prone because of the little ventilation their coats provide. However, summer weather and long hair are not causes for hot spots. They’re more “aggravators” than causes. A few typical causes are listed below.
Yes, pets can have allergies too! But, they typically react differently than people do to allergies. Rather than a runny nose or difficulty breathing, they’re more likely to have itchy skin. Common pet allergies include pollen, certain plants, fungus, and dust mites. Some pets may even be allergic to fleas, which makes your flea control methods even more important.
More specifically, any bug that feeds off the host or its blood--in this case, your pet’s body--is the most concerning kind. Fleas are the most common pest that can cause hot spots, but other bugs that may cause hot spots include ticks, spiders, or even ants. Any bug that may cling to your pet or leave a ripe, itchy mark can cause hot spots because of the discomfort their bites cause.
Grooming generally refers to anything that you would do to keep your pet clean. Signs of poor grooming include not bathing your pet, not cutting their nails, and neglecting to care for them in a way that ensures they are healthily sanitized. Poor grooming may also heighten the chance of foreign irritants sticking to your pet’s skin.
Foreign irritants are anything that your pet could touch that may aggravate its skin. Many of these irritants could be from the outdoors. Watch for burs and awns from spiky trees and plants. Splinters from wooden floors and jaggedly chopped logs are also possible irritants.
Ear or Anal Sac Infections
When a part of your pet’s body is already infected, it’s easy for that infection to worsen and spread when they scratch at it. It could turn into a hot spot if the area isn’t medicated or kept clean.
Musculoskeletal diseases refer to any type of muscle or bone problem your pet may have. Examples of common kinds of musculoskeletal diseases include hip dysplasia, arthritis, and degenerative joint disease. These diseases do not directly cause hot spots, but because of the pain associated with them, your pet may have the urge to lick at their areas of ailment.
Sometimes, there’s not even an underlying skin irritant or disease. Some pets cause hot spots by chewing or licking just because they’re stressed or bored! Either way, hot spots are often worsened by “self-trauma” because pets will have the urge to continuously scratch at their hot spots.
Cleaning the affected area
The hair in the affected area will need to be removed to cleanse the hot spot as thoroughly as possible. This means not only removing hair from the most affected (read: grossest) part of the hot spot, but also from the entire surface of the hot spot and a little bit of the surrounding area. And just wait--the hot spot could be much bigger than expected once you remove the hair from what you thought was the size of the hot spot.
Sure, you could try to do it yourself, but unless you have nimble fingers and an amazingly zen pet, you will likely need professional help. Carefulness is a must. Your pet may even need to be sedated to ensure that the affected area is cleaned without further irritation. It might seem harsh, but keep in mind that your pet will already probably be very itchy and uncomfortable, and they might not take lightly to being shaven in an irritated area.
Afterwards, the hot spot will need to be sterilized by some kind of antiseptic or washed with antibacterial soap to clean away the bacteria or other infectants. Typically, right after the hot spot is cleaned, a topical treatment, cortisone, or some other alleviating medication should be given to soothe your pet and fight the infection.
Finding the Cause
Finding the cause of the hot spots in the first place are necessary to prevent them from happening again in the future. Diagnosis may require skin scrapings and blood samples, depending on how obvious the cause is. For example, fleas speak for themselves--but it’s always good to have extra information on hand, in case what seems obvious isn’t actually the true cause. Though causes are sometimes unidentifiable, caution is recommended.
Depending on the cause and other factors, your vet will likely prescribe a type of medicine to heal the hot spot, soothe your pet, and prevent further infection. They may prescribe one or a mix of the following, depending on the case:
Topical treatments like sprays, creams, and ointments are often prescribed to kill bacteria and to alleviate itching and pain. Plus, because topical treatments are applied directly to the source, they may provide more immediate relief than oral antibiotics. Milder cases of hot spots may only need topical treatment.
Oral antibiotics are often prescribed with topical treatments, usually for a course of 4 or more weeks. Instead of just disinfecting a particular area, oral antibiotics affect your pet’s entire body for a more thorough cleansing. It doesn’t matter if the hot spot looks like it’s gone before your pet’s prescription runs out--looks can be deceiving!
You may have heard or seen the word “corticosteroids” in relation to hot spots. They’re cortisone (a type of anti-inflammatory drug) steroid shots. Because of the strength and lasting effect of this type of medication, they may or may not be necessary for hot spot treatment. Steroid shots help alleviate pain, inflammation, and general discomfort in addition to topical and oral treatments.
What treatment your pet receives and how quickly the hot spot will heal will be determined by the cause and severity of their infection. Sometimes, results take weeks to be visible.
In case you’re not already familiar with them, Elizabethan collars are the “cone collars” that pets often need to wear around their necks to prevent them from worsening their infections with biting or scratching. These collars are typically made of plastic or soft fabric. Whether or not the collar will be helpful depends on where the hot spot is located. Obviously, it won’t be helpful if your pet could still itch at their hot spot, but it does help in many cases.
Though ultimate prevention isn’t guaranteed, there are a few steps you can take to lessen the chance of hot spots.
If allergies are to blame, getting regular doses of cortisone or other medicines to combat your pets allergies should reduce the chance of hot spots. Keep in mind that you should have your vet confirm which allergies your pet has so they could administer the proper medicines. The kind of medicine and dosage will differ depending on your pet.
Bug control means keeping those parasites out of your home and away from your pets. This may mean spraying the inside of your home and yard, thoroughly examining your pets for bugs and removing them, and or giving your pets medicated baths every so often.
Regularly grooming your pet’s fur with brushing and bathing will reduce the possible irritants that can cause hot spots. The logic is, if you brush out the burs in your pet’s fur, then it can’t bother it anymore. You also untangle and clean the unkempt fur your pet may have. For long-haired pets, cutting fur short in the summer will also better ventilate their skin.
It may sound silly, but because your pet may cause a hot spot out of its own boredom, you should make sure it has toys! Providing entertainment and stress relieving toys for your pet will reduce the chance of it scratching or biting itself out of boredom or stress.
Now that you know everything you need to know about hot spots, you can gauge what you can do for your pet. At the very least, if they’re suffering now, you can use something like Fauna Care’s Silver Spray to soothe their pain while you schedule a visit to your vet. If you need more information about your pet’s particular case, we suggest contacting your vet for further guidance.