Health & Care
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What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?

Hot spots can develop on any dog, especially in warm, moist conditions. Act fast to prevent their spread!

 |  Feb 11th 2014  |   1 Contribution


Balance is an important thing in any ecosystem. It may seem unusual to think of your dog as an ecosystem, but any living organism, humans included, plays host to any number of smaller creatures. When our dogs are healthy, getting adequate nutrition and practicing good hygiene, they live in harmony with the microscopic world. When things fall out of balance, though, troubles like hot spots on dogs can present themselves.

Mange in dogs occurs when mites, naturally living on dogs skin or in their hair follicles, grow too numerous for a dog's immune system to manage them. Hot spots on dogs are very similar, and when a dog hot spot appears, it is generally because conditions are right for bacteria already present to flourish. Let's look at hot spots on dogs and how to treat them before they get out of hand.

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Biting incessantly at a single area can be a sign of hot spots on dogs. Puppy Scratching by Shutterstock.

What is a hot spot on a dog?

To put it simply, "hot spot" is a colloquial term for an area of dog's skin where an open wound has become infected. Moisture, heat, and bacteria cause the wound to itch and fester. Within hours, a dog's incessant scratching, licking, and biting can lead a dog hot spot to become an oozing, bleeding morass of pus and matted hair. Warm to the touch and increasingly foul-smelling as lesions develop, hot spots on dogs should be dealt with quickly and decisively. Further interference from a dog's bites and scratches can lead to the spread of hot spots, hair loss, and secondary infections.

Unlike mange in dogs, which is initiated primarily by two kinds of mite, hot spots in dogs can arise from any number of potential sources. The technical term for the condition, acute moist pyotraumatic dermatitis (AMPD), perfectly describes the rapidly-developing, wet, pus-dripping skin inflammation. Hot spots on dogs are also known as "summer sores," because they occur more frequently, though not exclusively, in the warmer months.

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Heat, moisture, and bacteria are generally needed to create hot spots on dogs. Dog skin dermatitis, Infective by Shutterstock.

What causes hot spots on dogs?

Though poor hygiene, malnutrition, or a weakened immune system increase the risk of hot spots on dogs, there is no single cause. Dog hot spots can start from something as small as a flea or tick bite. They can result from allergies that cause a dog to scratch or bite at herself. Even a cut, scratch, or skin that is irritated, but unbroken, given the proper conditions of temperature, moisture, and infectious agents, can turn into a dog hot spot.

Because AMPD is a skin disorder that springs up rapidly with heat and moisture, longer, thicker coats can be a risk factor for hot spots on dogs. Under a thicker coat or larger, floppier ears, a dog hot spot might go unnoticed at a glance if a dog is not actively engaging with it. While any breed or mix can develop dog hot spots, longer hair and thicker coats of Collies, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Komondors, Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Norwegian Elkhounds, Old English Sheepdogs, Otterhounds, and Saint Bernards may put those breeds at increased risk.

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Keeping your dog clean, groomed, and pest-free will minimize her risk for hot spots. care for dog hair by Shutterstock.

Hygiene and cleanliness are important factors. Not only should dogs be bathed regularly, but their environment, whether that is the dog house or your house, should be cleaned and maintained. A dog's bed or favored nesting spots can be homes for opportunistic bacteria, just looking for a way into your dog. Fleas and ticks can provide just the right chance for bacteria, like staphylococcus intermedius, to start causing mischief.

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Flea bites or flea allergies can provoke furious scratching, creating the conditions for a hot spot. Tibetan Mastiff Dog Scratching Flea by Shutterstock.

Treating hot spots on dogs

Treating hot spots on dogs takes some effort, but if you can identify a dog hot spot quickly enough, you can avoid a trip to the veterinarian. Noticing a dog that is repeatedly or excessively scratching, biting, licking, or rubbing a specific area of its body, make an examination of that area, particularly if that dog has a thick coat. A reddened, irritated patch of skin will be an early sign. With enough time, the area might be bleeding, with pus leaking from the area. If there is only one such lesion, and early in development, it is possible to treat dog hot spots at home.

The presence of hair in and around hot spots on dogs can lead to further infections, so it's important to remove it before proceeding. With a clean pair of scissors, clear the area of a dog's hot spot, and just beyond it. You may need to shave around the area with care.

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If you notice a hot spot developing early, you can treat it at home. Stray Dog Scratching by Shutterstock.

Keep the hot spot cool, dry, and clean

Cleaning and disinfection is the next step once you have a clear view of the hot spot. Povidone-iodine, available at any pharmacy, either under its own name or as Betadine, should be applied to the hot spot and the area be kept as dry as possible. A topical antibiotic and a gauze pad over the hot spot will complete the initial treatment, which should be repeated as needed until the hot spot clears and heals.

Should there be more than one hot spot present, or if clipping the hair reveals an advanced lesion, the veterinarian is your dog's best bet for a rapid recovery. The vet may prescribe an oral or topical antibiotic, and a cone collar may be necessary to keep the dog from biting at or licking treated hot spots.

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An advanced hot spot or multiple hot spots should send you packing for the vet. professional veterinarian checking dog's skin under examining light by Shutterstock.

Hot spots on dogs cannot be prevented completely, but a dog that is regularly groomed, its bed kept clean, and is armed against fleas and ticks has the best advantages you can give her! Have you and your dog dealt with hot spots? How did you handle them? Share your experiences in the comments!

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