Hot spots, a.k.a. acute moist dermatitis or canine pyoderma are a common skin disorder in dogs. Here’s everything you need to know about hot spots from how to ‘spot’ the symptoms to advice for a smooth recovery.
What are Hot Spots?
Have you ever noticed your dog scratching or licking a certain spot, only to see a patch of hair missing and a big red, ugly sore? Those sores are hot spots; irritated patches of skin that appear fast and progress even faster. They start from a small bacterial infection and get worse with heat and moisture. It’s important to look out for hot spots and treat them fast before the infection really sets in.
What Causes Hot Spots?
Hot spots are caused by skin irritations that are exposed to bacteria. A bacterial infection ensues and factors like your dog picking at the sores or heat and moisture exacerbate them. There are many potential causes of hot spots, including (but not limited to):
Are There Certain Breeds At Risk?
Compared to other breeds, long haired dogs are more prone to hot spots. Their hair retains more heat and moisture, which contributes to bacterial infections when their skin becomes irritated. Hot spots are also more common during the summer, because heat and humidity make a perfect environment for bacteria to flourish.
How Can I Tell if My Dog Has Hot Spots?
Hot spots are typically very itchy and painful. The first sign that your dog might have one is excessive scratching, biting, or licking a specific area (usually around the head, neck, hips, and limbs). Other symptoms that could indicate a hot spot are:
- Inflammation (redness/swelling)
- Crusted scabs
- Dry and scaly skin
- Oozing sores
- Hair loss
- A bad smell coming from the sore(s)
- Uncharacteristic aggression or depression (a reaction to the pain)
- Moist and matted fur
Once infection sets in, the body’s immune response leads to more redness, pain, and inflammation. This leads to a vicious cycle where your dog may scratch more, making the hot spot worse.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, hot spots or pyoderma take on different characteristics depending on the origin and severity. For example, pyoderma can be:
Simple or Complex
Simple pyoderma is common occurs from a one-time irritation that isn’t likely to happen again. It could be caused by a flea infestation or other skin lesion that becomes infected but clears up easily when treated.
Complex pyoderma is a recurring infection caused by an underlying condition, from allergies to hypothyroidism. Until the underlying condition is diagnosed and under control, your dog will continue to get these infections.
Superficial or Deep
Superficial pyoderma refers to a hot spot that only affects the surface skin and hair follicles.
Deep pyoderma affects the deeper layers of the skin and hair follicles. These infections are worse and are where you start to see abscess, pus, and necrotic tissue.
Another way to classify different ‘types’ of pyoderma is identifying the pathogenic organism, or kind of bacteria, involved in the infection. The main one that affects dogs is Staphylococcus pseudintermedius, although other bacteria may also be present.
How Are Hot Spots Diagnosed?
The first thing to do if you think your dog has a hot spot is book a vet appointment. Since hot spots progress quickly, your dog should be assessed to determine a proper treatment method. If you can’t get in right away, there are over the counter options that can help in the meantime.
When you do get to a vet, you can expect them to follow these basic steps during assessment and diagnosis:
1. The vet takes your dog’s history and conducts a thorough physical exam to diagnose the irritant that led to the hot spot(s).
- Tell your vet when you noticed the irritation starting and any special circumstances to help them identify allergens or stressors (like an injury, or switching to a new food they may be allergic to).
2. Next, the vet shaves and cleans the area to evaluate the severity of the hot spot(s) and let them air out
3. If your vet suspects several forms of infection or pyoderma, they may take bacterial samples to be analysed for further diagnosis
Since hot spots have many different causes, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis. Knowing the root cause will help your vet treat the hot spots effectively and keep them from recurring.
How Are Hot Spots in Dogs Treated?
According to VCA Hospitals, treatment of hot spots begins with shaving and cleaning the effected area. Some sedation may be required depending on how much pain your dog is in. The next step is treating the bacterial infection with an antibiotic, which may come in an injectable, topical, or oral form.
Anti-inflammatory medications, antihistamines, and topical or oral steroids may be used to treat hot spot symptoms. Flea and tick treatments are often applied to rule out that cause of itchiness in the future. Your dog will likely need to wear an Elizabethan collar or bandage to prevent them from chewing, biting, or licking the area while it heals.
Recovery from simple, superficial pyoderma is usually fast if you follow your vet’s treatment plan. Depending on the severity, a follow up appointment may be necessary to make sure your dog is healing well.
If the pyoderma was complex, you will need to treat the underlying issue. This could mean a hypoallergenic diet for a dog with allergies, for example, or testing for hypothyroidism.
Keeping your dog’s hair short and/or regular grooming reduces the risk of more infections, as well as maintaining a quiet, stress free environment for nervous dogs.
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If you are concerned about your pet, visit or call your veterinarian – he/she is your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your dog. This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet.