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Canine Hot Spots

Hot spots (acute moist dermatitis) can be a painful skin problem for dogs. Hot spots cause dogs to constantly lick, scratch, and bite the areas, resulting in secondary bacterial infections. This page looks at the symptoms, causes, and treatment of hot spots in dogs.

Long Haired Dog

A hot spot, medically known as "Acute Moist Dermatitis", is a warm, moist, swollen, and often painful circular lesion that is about one to four inches across. When it is seriously inflamed, pus will form and the spot will give off a bad odor.

A dog with hot spots will lick, bite, and scratch the affected areas, causing loss of hair in the areas and further inflammation.

Canine hot spots usually occur in dogs with long hair or thick undercoats, just before shedding when dead moist hair gets trapped next to the skin. Although they can occur on any part of the body, they are usually found on the head (e.g. under the ear flaps), over the hip and along the side of the chest. They often occur in more than one place.

Hot spots in dogs can appear suddenly and grow large rapidly, often within just a matter of hours.

Symptoms of Canine Hot Spots

Hot spots cause sudden intense itchiness, making the dog scratch, bite, chew, and lick incessantly. Hot spots are also extremely painful, making the dog agitated and more likely to be snappy and aggressive.

The lesions are red, moist and oozing, and there is likely to be hair loss.

Causes of Canine Hot Spots

Hot spots in dogs are often the result of a local allergic reaction to a specific irritant, such as flea or other insect bites.

Other possible causes include:
  • Skin allergies (e.g. contact allergic dermatitis, atopy)
  • Mites
  • Ear infections (especially if the lesion is below the ear)
  • Anal gland infections (especially if the lesion is near the hip)
  • Other irritant skin diseases
  • Grooming problems (e.g. matted, tangled hair)
In some cases, hot spots in dogs can also be the result of some form of psychological problems, such as anxiety and boredom.

Treatment of Canine Hot Spots

As mentioned above, hot spots are very painful. Therefore, for the initial treatment or for conditions that are serious, sedating or anesthetizing the dog the dog may be necessary.

Conventional treatment involves treating the lesions to stop them from worsening, and identifying and addressing the underlying cause.

To treat the hot spots, the vet will clip off the hair around the affected area(s) so that the hot spots are exposed. He will then clean the areas with a non-irritating solution, such as a shampoo containing diluted povidone-iodine (Betadine) or a chorhexidine shampoo (Nolvasan). The skin will then be allowed to dry.

An antibiotic steroid cream or powder (e.g. Panolog) will be prescribed. This is to be applied to the hot spots twice daily for about 2 weeks.

In more severe cases, the dog may also be given some oral antibiotics. In addition, painkillers and/or oral corticosteroids may also be prescribed to ease the pain and relieve itchiness.

To prevent the dog from biting and scratching the lesion, an Elizabethan collar may be used if the lesion is on the top of the head.

Prevention of Canine Hot Spots

We can greatly reduce the occurence of dog hot spots by doing the following:

  • Regular Grooming

    Regular grooming such as daily brushing can help the skin breathe, and prevent the formation of matted hair. This will make it harder for bacterial infections to start.
  • Flea Control

    As flea bites can easily result in hot spots, a strict flea control program is needed to ensure that fleas are kept at bay.
  • Keep the Coat Dry

    In hot humid weather, drying the coat of your dog thoroughly immediately after a bath or a swim is important to prevent hot spots from developing.
  • Eliminate Other Underlying Causes

    If your dog's hot spots are regularly caused by a specific cause (e.g. ear infection), then it is important to eliminate that cause if possible. Regular ear cleaning (if ear infection is the underlying cause), or anal gland expression (if anal gland infection is the cause) can be most helpful.
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