Common Conditions: Hot Spots

Have you suddenly noticed your pet scratching or licking more than usual? Can you see a red, wet patch of skin? Your pet may be experiencing a common skin complaint known as a hot spot. In this post we’ll discuss what exactly these are, and what to do about them.

So, what exactly ARE hot spots?

Officially known as acute moist dermatitis, hot spots are areas of inflammation and bacterial infection on the skin. Moist dermatitis can be spotted as hot, red, moist, angry areas of skin which can be haired or not. They can occur anywhere on the skin. These hotspots are usually itchy and can be extremely sore. They can even bleed if they get excessively traumatised or form a sticky dry crust over the surface if they are producing enough discharge. 

Hot spots start small (and are often mistaken for an insect or flea bite) but progress quickly and can range in size from only a few millimetres across to huge sores taking up large areas. They can get larger very quickly, especially as pets tend to lick and chew at them as the skin is irritated and sore. 

What causes hot spots?

Moist dermatitis can affect any dog, although long haired and dense coated breeds tend to be more affected. They can also be seen more in summer, due to the higher temperatures and humidity encouraging bacteria to flourish.

There are a few usual causes, although anything which damages the skin and allows bacteria to cultivate alongside moisture can cause a hot spot. They are often triggered by an event which causes excessive licking, chewing and any form of self-trauma to the skin. Many of the causes are chronic medical conditions which can lead to recurrent, multiple hotspots. 

Some of the most common causes include:

  1. Injuries and grazes which do not heal properly, sometimes due to licking and chewing by the pet
  2. Insect bites, fleas and other parasites
  3. Contact irritants
  4. Stress or boredom licking
  5. Anal sac impactions or infections
  6. Underlying pain e.g. from arthritic joints
  7. Allergies which cause damage to the skin barrier; excessive licking by the pet also lead to the perfect conditions for moist dermatitis to develop

Hot spots are itchy and sore, and so pets are highly motivated to lick and chew at them in an attempt to soothe the area. This actually just increases the irritation and inflammation, and so the area of dermatitis gets larger and more irritated. This cycle keeps circling as the hotspot gets larger and more severe.

Fundamentally, in most cases the underlying cause needs to be treated as well as the hot spot itself.

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