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Hot Spots

Hot spots are superficial skin infections that can quickly become a huge problem - but how do they happen? Here’s how hot spots form - and how to handle them:


What is a hot spot?

A “hot spot” refers to a lesion on the skin that forms when damage to the skin disrupts the normal bacteria residing on the surface of the skin, creating infection, inflammation, and itchiness. If left untreated, or if the pet continues to bother the area, a pyoderma forms, which is a moist, itchy, painful, infected wound. The pyoderma will often secrete liquid or pus that leads to hair loss in that area, and untreated pyodermas may continue to spread in size/diameter.

What does a hot spot look like?

One of the first things you may notice with a hot spot is the hair loss, which can be surprising to find as it can happen in as little as a few hours! The skin may appear dark pink or red and the area may appear moist, either from excessive licking or infection. A more advanced hot spot may appear or feel very “crusty” or scabby as the pus dries and creates this thick layer.

How does a hot spot form?

Hot spots usually form when a pet chews, rubs, licks, or scratches at the same spot on their skin over and over. Pets might continue to irritate the same spot for a number of reasons, including allergies/itchiness, a foreign body in the skin (such as a foxtail or grass sticker), a cyst or other type of mass, to ease anxiety, excessive grooming, or attempt to soothe joint pain. Pets don’t understand the consequence of continuing to bother the same spot, and may do so even if it is painful.

Hot spots can also form as a result of moisture on the skin. For example, pets who are frequent swimmers in the summer may be more likely to develop hot spots due to the combination of the moisture from the pool water, body heat, and fur trapping the moisture creating a rash on the skin. It is not uncommon for hot spots to occur under the ears or around the neck, as these areas may take longer to dry, especially if your pet is wearing a wet collar. Always try and thoroughly dry your pet off with a towel after swimming or bathing!

How do you treat a hot spot?

One of the first steps in treating a hot spot involves clipping and cleaning the area. Depending on the size and location of the hot spot, this step may require sedation to thoroughly clean the area and address the wound. Your veterinarian will shave all of the fur in the affected area to allow the area to breathe, prevent fur from holding moisture or bacteria, and allow for direct application of topical medications. Once the area has been shaved, the area is thoroughly cleaned with a special antimicrobial scrub.

At-home treatment requires physical intervention, usually done through the use of an e-collar. There are special body suits that resemble “onesie” pajamas that can also be utilized depending on the location of the hot spot. The goal is to keep your pet from being able to reach that spot and continue to cause trauma or introduce bacteria while it heals. Additionally, medications to address the itchiness, inflammation, and infection are often prescribed. Some of these medications may be given in the form of an injection to provide faster relief, and oral medications will be sent home to continue treatment. Topical medications can also be used to provide relief and help “dry up” the hot spot.

Can hot spots be treated at home?

Very small, minor hot spots may resolve on their own if your pet can be kept from continuing to bother the area. However, it is important to ensure that you are addressing the cause of the hot spot, whether it be itching due to allergies, a foreign body in the skin, pain, or other ailments to ensure your pet is comfortable. For this reason, we recommend calling your veterinarian if the hot spot is growing in size, not improving, or is becoming a more frequent issue. Under no circumstances should any kind of dressing or bandage be applied at home - this can lead to further problems if the wound is unable to breathe or a bandage is applied incorrectly.

Please do not apply or administer any topical or oral medications without the instruction of your veterinarian. Hot spots can quickly become a serious infection and treatment oversight by your veterinarian is always recommended.

How long do hot spots take to heal?

Hot spots can come on quickly, but with prompt medical treatment, can also clear up fast! Early intervention will definitely minimize your pet’s downtime. With proper medication and wound management, hot spots can clear up in as little as 5-7 days, though larger or more severe hot spots may take longer to heal. It is essential to allow the hot spot to fully heal before removing the cone or body suit, as pets may be tempted to continue to bother the area until it is fully healed. Be sure to give your pet’s medications as directed for the instructed duration and do not discontinue medications early, regardless of your pet’s symptoms. Discontinuing medications like antibiotics or steroids without completing the course or appropriately weaning your pet off can lead to other issues.

Are hot spots contagious?

No, hot spots are not contagious to humans or other pets.

If your pet gets frequent hot spots or experiences other skin issues, please reach out to your veterinarian to discuss diagnostic and preventative options.

For additional questions please contact us at 972-347-6100.

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