For many dogs, summer is considered to be the ‘hot spot’ season.
Hot spots cause irritations on your dog’s skin that can become itchy and painful. If left untreated, they can turn into infections that require veterinary intervention. That’s why proactively avoiding hot spots is the best way to help your pooch ward off this troublesome skin condition.
What Are Hot Spots?
Hot spots are created when a dog’s natural bacteria overpopulates an area of skin. This can be caused by insect bites, small abrasions or cuts, or any other skin irritation that causes your dog to lick, chew, or scratch to alleviate the itchy sensation.
Water trapped under your dog’s fur, especially in thick areas like the armpits or under a matted coat, can also lead to serious irritation. Dogs with thick undercoats are most at risk from hot spots, notably after bathing, swimming, or any activity involving water.
Hot spots, also known as acute moist dermatitis, are painful red areas of infected skin that appear to be irritated and are sometimes raised. They can occur on the torso, but most commonly are found on the face, neck, chest, limbs, and hips. The size and appearance of the lesions can vary slightly, but most will look similar regardless of where they are located.
Hot spots can appear quickly, usually with some degree of hair loss around the affected area, and become much larger in a matter of days if left untreated. If treated quickly and properly, hot spots can be minor and heal quickly. Untreated hot spots have the potential to cause more serious infections or deeper skin ulcerations. They are usually red, inflamed, and raw, and many bleed intermittently. Hot spots are exacerbated by moisture and typically worsen due to licking, chewing, and scratching.
Dogs with long and/or dense coats are much more prone to hot spots as water trapped underneath the coat cannot adequately dry out. Pre-existing skin irritations due to allergies or other factors can also speed up the formation of hot spots.
How To Avoid Hot Spot Formation
There are many ways to prevent your dog from getting hot spots. It’s important to first identify areas of the body best suited for hot spot development, and take steps to avoid them:
- Routine Grooming – As mentioned, long, dense fur can be a breeding ground for hot spots, especially if your dog is prone to matting or gets wet without proper drying. Matted fur traps moisture and parasites, creating the ideal environment for hot spots to flourish. For dogs with recurring hot spots issues, many are shaved down to allow for better air circulation. Be sure to discuss this with your groomer to determine the best preventative approach.
- Food Allergies – Dogs can develop skin issues from a number of different allergens. This can include food allergies, but also extends to environmental factors. Allergies can cause skin irritation, which can quickly turn into hot spots if your dog licks or scratches. If you suspect your dog has allergies, consider an elimination diet as the first step towards determining what those allergies may be.
- Parasite Prevention – Hot spots can occur from insect bites that become itchy and irritated. Make sure to keep your dog up to date on flea and parasite treatments, and avoid spending too much time outdoors when black flies and mosquitoes are most prevalent.
- Treatment of Skin Infections – If your dog has a specific skin infection that cannot be treated with a shampoo or medicated spray, be sure to visit your veterinarian before the infection worsens.
- Reduce Exposure to Irritants – Environmental factors can contribute to skin irritations, too. This can include laundry detergents, household cleaners, poison ivy, and more.
- Good Hygiene – This ties in with point #1. Keep your dog clean and well groomed. For long-haired dogs especially, it is wise to maintain a regular grooming regimen. Dog groomers are experts at identifying skin irritations, and can keep you informed about your dog’s coat condition, too. Short-haired dogs can oftentimes be easy to bathe at home. Be sure to dry your dog thoroughly after bathing. Keeping your dog well groomed will help prevent skin irritations due to dirt, excess oils, and matting.
- Stress and Boredom – Many dogs will start biting and gnawing at certain parts of their body when they are experiencing stress or boredom. If this happens, increase their daily exercise and active play or provide enrichment activities like puzzle toys, slow feeders, frozen stuffed Kongs, and more. When a dog is engaged in positive, constructive activities, they are far less likely to excessively chew at themselves.
- Supplements – Immune–boosting supplements can help dogs better fight off infection. Fish oil supplements are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and have beneficial anti-inflammatory properties, promoting a healthy, protective skin barrier.
- Topical – If your dog develops dry skin and scratching tendencies, consider using a topical gel like aloe vera to help sooth damaged skin and decrease itching. It’s important to treat right away before the affected area manifests into a hot spot. Commercial hot spot sprays are ideal for reducing itching, killing bacteria, and keeping the area dry.
Hot spots can be a big problem for many dogs, especially throughout the summer months. Thankfully, with the right preventative measures they can be easily avoided, or treated early in their development. Be sure to check over your dog’s skin and fur regularly, and keep an eye out for any unusual scratching or licking.
Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon is certified in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years’ experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit www.CanadianPetConnection.ca.