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Hotspots in Dogs

Hotspots in dogs are itchy and painful.

Hotspots in dogs are skin conditions that are especially common in the summertime or moist, warm climates.


What are Hotspots in Dogs?

A hotspot, also known as acute moist dermatitis, is a red, oozing, itchy, quickly-expanding skin rash that can develop on your dog, usually with little to no warning. Hotspots can appear anywhere on the body but most commonly occur on the cheeks, neck, or flanks.

During the development of a hotspot, the dog begins licking or scratching at an area of skin, causing it to become irritated. This, in turn, leads to more licking and scratching. A vicious cycle ensues. Bacteria and yeast that normally live on the dog's skin can surge because of the break in the immune defenses in that area. The result is an infection, odor, gooey discharge, and more misery. Hotspots grow quickly. A dime-sized hotspot may become a large, oozing, infected mess in a matter of hours.

Breeds, Age, and Sex Most Commonly Affected by Hotspots in Dogs

Dogs with long hair or dense undercoats, such as collies, German shepherds, and golden retrievers, are particularly prone to hotspots and may have several occurrences over their lifetime. There is no age or sex predilection to developing a hotspot.

Causes of Hotspots in Dogs

Hotspots can be triggered by anything that causes an itch, tingle, pain, or irritation in the skin such as:

  • Unkempt or matted fur.
  • A scratch or wound.
  • An insect bite.
  • Mites, ringworm, or other skin parasites.
  • Allergic skin reactions.
  • An ear infection.
  • Anal sac inflammation, irritation, or infection.
  • Swimming.

Identifying and addressing the underlying cause of the hotspot is essential to proper long-term management.

First Aid for Hostpots

If your dog has a hotspot and there will be a delay before you can visit the veterinarian, home care may help mitigate further skin damage. Use extreme caution because hotspots can be quite tender to dogs. Even the gentlest dog can snap or bite when he is in pain.

  1. Gently cleanse the area with mild antibacterial hand soap, and rinse well.
  2. Prevent further self-trauma by having your dog wear a sock, kerchief, or t-shirt over the affected area.
  3. Cool compresses can ease the pain and itch.
  4. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend a safe dose of an over-the-counter antihistamine to calm any itchiness that your dog is experiencing, but never give any medications to your dog without talking with your veterinarian first. Some medications are toxic to dogs.

Treatment of Hotspots in Dogs

Hotspots escalate quickly, so if you suspect that one is starting on your dog's skin, contact your veterinarian right away. Once at the office, the doctor will:

  • Shave any matted hair in or around the lesion (sedation may be required for this if the hotspot is especially painful to the dog).
  • Cleanse the hotspot with a disinfecting cleaner.
  • Apply a topical drying or numbing agent.
  • Prescribe antibiotics, antihistamines, and/or corticosteroids to treat the infection and itch.
  • Provide an Elizabethan collar to prevent further itching and scratching.
  • Treat the underlying cause, if it can be identified.

Addressing the underlying cause of your dog's hotspot may require additional tests and treatments. Your veterinarian may want to test the skin for bacteria, yeast, fungus, or mange mites using a culture, cytology, or skin scrape. Flea treatments, ear medication, or a hypoallergenic diet may be prescribed.

Prevention of Hotspots in Dogs

Hotspots are easier to prevent once the underlying cause is identified and treated.

  • Hotspot-prone dogs may need their hair clipped short in warm months.
  • Regular bathing with medicated shampoos can also help.
  • Flea and insect control is extremely important, so be sure to consult your veterinarian for the best recommendations for your dog.
  • Dogs that swim should be rinsed with clean water when they come out of the pool or lake, then dried well, paying special attention to the areas behind the ears, on the rump, and under the legs. Your dog's ears should also be cleaned with a product containing a drying agent after swimming, to decrease the likelihood of the development of an ear infection that could trigger a hotspot.

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