As dog owners, we might not always notice when something is going wrong on our dog’s skin, especially when it’s concealed behind a leg or hidden by fur. But we are prone to noticing when our dogs will not leave a section of their bodies alone—licking, biting and scratching over and over.
This behavior is usually what clues pet parents into the presence of a hot spot. Also known as “acute moist dermatitis,” hot spots can frustrate your dog and lead to more serious complications if they are not detected and treated. Fortunately, these skin irritations are a form of dog allergies and can be treated at home and heal quickly once they are found.
What are Hot Spots?
Hot spots are small sections of raw, irritated skin on your dog’s body. They can appear almost anywhere but are particularly common on the areas of skin your dog can easily reach, like the legs and feet.
The irritation starts when your dog licks or bites a particular section of skin repeatedly over time, whether due to an irritant, allergy, bug bite or other problem. With its consistent licking, your dog can eventually break the skin and introduce moisture to the fur, which creates the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
Bacteria can thrive in this area, further irritating the skin (and potentially causing even more grooming by your dog) until a raw, infected section of skin develops. Usually, the hair on the hot spot will be gone due to constant licking, creating a patch of inflamed skin surrounded by fur. The spot may also ooze pus.
Hot spots are not only dangerous for your dog’s skin, since the infection can thrive and spread, but they can also be quite painful. Your dog is unlikely to leave the hot spot alone once it develops, consistently licking the area to soothe the skin. Unfortunately, because they can be difficult to find, hot spots can spread deep into your dog’s skin.
Hot Spot Prevention and Gut Health
Since hot spots are the result of reacting to allergic, itchy skin, your dog may be suffering from food allergies as well. One of the best ways to combat exposure to food allergens and decrease sensitivity is through a specialized diet to improve the health of your pup's gut flora.
If possible, wipe out processed food from your dog's diet all together. Processed dog food is high in starch and low quality fats and proteins. All of these ingredients are a perfect recipe for allergic reaction. Try swapping out the store-bought pet food for a raw diet rich in nutrients, herbs, and healthy fats. This can help control inflammation and the release of histamines that cause itching.
In addition, try adding a probiotic and prebiotic formula to your dog's routine. Probiotics are what are called "good" bacteria that work with the body to enhance digestion and immunity. They have the ability to reduce reaction to irritants and allergens by limiting the amount of "bad" bacteria in the body.
It's a simple formula: No allergens mean no itching. No itching means no scratching and biting. No scratching and biting means, you guessed it, no hot spots!
If you notice your dog paying close attention to a particular area of its skin or you find a hot spot on your dog by yourself, you’ll want to treat it as soon as possible to allow the skin to heal and to give your dog some relief.
Fortunately, hot spots can be treated at home relatively easily. The main things include giving the skin time to heal, halting the infection and stopping your dog from continuing to lick at the spot.
When you first discover the hot spot, you’ll want to trim away the fur surrounding the spot using clippers. Give the hot spot a semi-wide berth to allow for proper air flow and prevent further moisture from being trapped in the fur around it. Be careful and gentle during this step, since your dog may be in pain.
Then, you’ll want to clean the area as best as you can. Use mild soap or antiseptic with water to cleanse the hot spot of any crust or pus. Placing a cool compress on the hot spot after washing it may help relieve some inflammation. After washing, pat it dry gently.
With the area clean and freshly shaved or trimmed, you can apply an antibacterial or specialized treatment to the area. You may be able to get special ointment designed for hot spots, which will help stop the bacterial infection in the skin and promote healing in the tissue.
Do not place gauze or fabric on top of the hot spot. You want it to have ample air flow to prevent more moisture from being trapped there and worsening the infection. Because of this, it may be difficult to prevent your dog from licking or biting at the area. If it won’t leave it alone, a plastic cone may be necessary during the initial stages of healing.
Continue to put the hot spot ointment on the affected area as directed—usually multiple times per day. Watch the hot spot for the next few days, applying more topical treatments and preventing your dog from licking the area.
When is it Time to Visit the Vet?
If the hot spot does not show signs of improvement and/or appears to be worsening, or if your dog starts exhibiting additional signs of illness such as a fever, lethargy, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea or other symptoms, you should contact your vet as soon as you can. The infection may be more severe and might require stronger medications to fully remove and heal.
It may take a few weeks for your dog’s hot spot to fully heal, and possibly longer for hair to grow back normally. However, most hot spots heal completely with few complications, and your dog should be back to normal soon.