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Hot Spots on Dogs

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It’s one in the morning and you wake up to the sound of your dog incessantly licking at the base of his tail- over and over and over. You turn on the light to discover the area he is licking is now red, raw, and sensitive to the touch. This is a familiar scenario for many dog owners, but the first incident is often, understandably, filled with panic. The culprit is called a “hot spot” and here’s what dog owners need to know:

1. What are hot spots?

Hot spots, also known as acute moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis, are a skin condition that causes the skin to become inflamed, red, and often bare. The hot spot may be moist or ooze. They can affect dogs of all sizes and breeds, but they are more common in dogs with thick coats and dogs that tend to develop matted hair.

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2. What causes hot spots?

Hot spots occur when an area of the skin becomes inflamed from an underlying cause. They are very itchy! Dogs will scratch, lick, or bite the affected areas to relieve the itchiness. In turn, this continues to cause trauma to the skin, which creates more itchiness. This is called the “scratch-itch cycle”.

There are a number of possible underlying causes for hot spots. While hot spots are more common during the summer months, they can be an issue any time of the year based on the underlying cause. Possible causes include:

  • Flea bite allergies
  • Food allergies
  • Insect Bites
  • Hypersensitivity to various things in the environment
  • Excessive matting of the hair
  • Ear infections
  • Behavioral problems

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3. How are hot spots treated?

As soon as you notice a hot spot, it’s best to contact your family veterinarian. Since a hot spot results in the scratch-itch cycle, it’s important to stop further self-traumatization (licking, scratching, and biting). Depending on the location of the hot spot, an Elizabethan collar will most likely be recommended. Your family veterinarian can also clip the hair surrounding the spot to keep it dry, clean the wound, and administer topical pain medications and steroids.  With prompt treatment, most dogs heal well and recover in less than a week!

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4. How can hot spots be prevented?

Depending on the cause of the hot spot, pet owners can take the following steps to prevent future hot spots:

  • Use year-round flea and tick treatments
  • Regularly groom your dog if they tend to get matted hair
  • Discuss allergies in pets and treatment options with your family veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary dermatologist

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Hot spots can be a huge nuisance to both you and your fur baby, but the sooner you speak with your family veterinarian, the better your dog will feel- and the better sleep everyone will get!

Written by Megan Johnson, DVM, MS.

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