Hot spots on dogs are very painful, not only for the dog, but for the owner as well. Seeing your dog’s skin all red and oozing, sometimes with patches of hair torn out, from the constant licking, biting, and scratching, is enough to send any pet owner over the edge. And what started out as a quarter-size spot can turn into an infection as large as your hand within a day’s time. Your dog has a ‘hot spot’ and you need to act fast.
What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs
Common causes of hot spots can be just about anything that causes any irritation to the skin and fur, such as insect bites, allergies, anal gland problems, and matted fur. Some dogs even cause their own hot spots from psychological problems, such as boredom or stress. What starts out as a small problem, an irritation, can quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria when combined with the saliva from licks and bites.
Why Do Dogs Lick at Hot Spots
So if your dog’s licking is actually making it worse, why do they do it? Because dogs actually have a natural germicide in their saliva which helps to clean out wounds and help the skin heal faster. It is in their nature to lick a wound to clean it, but sometimes the licking can go too far. So the problem actually is, why isn’t your dog’s saliva doing what nature intended it to do? This is usually because your dog’s immune system is somehow compromised. Their body is not strong or resilient enough to cope with the extra stress, so the licking and scratching in turn, actually make the condition worse.
Are Hot Spots Bacterial Infections
Dog hot spots, also known as acute moist dermatitis, moist dermatitis, and pyotraumatic dermatitis (to vets) are bacterial infections on the surface of your dog’s skin. The bacteria breed in areas moistened by the dog’s saliva or wet areas that the fur traps in. Typically the normal resistance to this bacteria is taken care of by the immune system. But if the immune system is compromised in some way (be it temporary or something long term), it may not be able to deal with the rapid bacteria growth, and the hot spot will spread, causing intense pain and itchiness for your dog.
Are Any Dog Breeds More Susceptible Than Others
Dogs with heavy coats or undercoats, such as Labs, Collies, German Shepards, and St. Bernards, are susceptible to hot spots because their thick coat can trap in moisture – the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Keeping these breeds properly groomed helps immensely in reducing hot spots. Some owners in hot and humid climates even shave these breeds during the summer to help alleviate hot spot problems, as well as keep them cooler.
But other than the genetics of thick coats/undercoats, any breed can get hot spots. Like stated above, any skin irritation that constantly licked or scratched, has the ability to turn into a severe dog hot spot. Even bored or stressed dogs can lick at their skin or paws until a problem is started.
What Are the Common Areas To Develop Hot Spots
Areas that your dog is able to bite or lick are the most common areas – such as the rear, paws, legs, and stomach. But hot spots can also develop where there is constant scratching – such as the neck, chest, and ears, especially if these areas have thick hair to keep the moisture in.
Is a Dog Necessarily Unhealthy if They Keep Getting Hot Spots (is it a nutritional problem)
It may, or may not, necessarily be a nutritional problem. While a malnourished dog will probably have immune system problems, allergies certainly can take their toll on our furry friends as well, compromising their immune system. This may be linked to their dog food, or it may be environmental allergies. If you do not believe insects (fleas, mites, ticks, mosquitoes) or emotional issues (boredom, stress) have caused the initial problem, and especially if they get recurring hot spots, then nutrition or allergies should definitely be looked at.
How to Care for Hot Spots
If this is the first time your dog has ever had a hot spot, then you are lucky, and hopefully it will be an isolated incident. However, if your dog struggles with hot spots, than while you definitely need prompt action to keep it from spreading, you also need to determine the underlying cause – otherwise, you will just keep fighting infection after infection.
First, treat the infection to prevent spreading and promote healing (relatively easy).
- You should really take your dog to your vet for hot spots, since the infection spreads so fast. Your dog may even need antibiotics if the infection is severe enough. Just like with acral lick dermatitis (where dogs obsessively lick one area of a leg), there are many reasons for this obsessive licking/biting/scratching, and your vet is qualified to run tests to help determine the cause. But if you cannot get to a vet right away, you can follow the steps below at home to help ease your dog’s discomfort, until you can get to a vet.
- When treating the infection, remember this is a very sensitive, painful, and itchy area on your dog. Even a very even tempered dog may not like you touching the lesion, or any area around it. You should muzzle your dog so you can proceed without worrying.
- Basically, what you want to do is remove as much hair around the sore as possible. The hair traps the moisture which helps the bacteria breed. Then you want to gently cleanse the area. Finally, you want to treat the area, to promote healing. Treatments usually need to be done several times a day. When treating the area, the use of creams and lotions are NOT recommended, as these tend to not let air get to the skin.
- Clip the surrounding hair with scissors, as close to the skin as you can. Some people recommend shaving, although with the skin being so sensitive, that is probably best left to professionals, like your vet.
- Gently clean the lesion with a mild water-based astringent or antiseptic shampoo, such as betadine. Wash the cleanser thoroughly off and let dry completely.
- Treat the lesion with compresses, several times a day, to promote drying and healing. Compresses can be made from moistened black or green tea bags, or Domeboro’s (over-the-counter product found at pharmacies) solution as a compress or spray.
- You will also need to keep your dog from messing with the affected area – this is usually done with an Elizabethan collar.
Second, figure out what caused the hot spot and if there is anything you can do to prevent this from happening again (much more difficult).
Now that your dog’s hot spot is cleared up, the real work begins. What caused the problem? The major reasons are:
- Grooming: thick coat, thick undercoat, matted hair – rather easy to fix – consistent grooming, possibly even shaving in summer months (when shaving, always keep in mind that their hair helps prevent burning – never shave so no hair is left)
- Insect bites: fleas, ticks, mites, mosquitoes – apply appropriate measures for getting rid of fleas naturally, dog mange, ticks, and even mosquitoes. Always try to go natural as these are not as harsh on your dog’s body as toxic chemicals and pesticides.
- Nutrition: malnourishment can lead to a weakened immune system – try to feed a better dog food, or give dog supplements, especially coat supplements and immune system boosters.
- Allergies: food, insect, environmental – allergies stress the immune system and body – if at all possible, eliminate the allergy source (usually very difficult). Also providing nutritional supplements and premium dog foods can do wonders to deal with allergies in dogs. If the allergies are bad enough, you may need your vet to provide cortisone as well.