Most pet owners will tell you that their dog developed a skin infection at some point in their lives. Typically, you can recognize inflamed skin lesions, known as hot spots, by clearly defined areas of swelling, redness and hair loss.
Skin conditions tend to have similar symptoms and that makes it essential to talk to your vet to discover what could be going on. Find out more about some of the possibilities as we delve into the world of hot spots in dogs and cats.
Which Pets Tend to Get Hot Spots?
Although both dogs and cats can get hot spots, dogs with dense undercoats are more likely to develop skin problems compared to dogs or cats with smooth coats.
Some breeds like German Shepherds, Labradors, Saint Bernards, Rottweilers and Golden Retrievers have a predisposition to developing hot spots. As the weather warms up through the summer months, there tend to be more instances of skin issues.
Dogs that swim or spend a lot of time outdoors when there’s wet weather and grass are more prone to getting hot spots because of the high quantities of moisture that touch their skin.
How Do Hot Spots Happen?
What happens is that normal bacteria will overrun the skin’s defenses due to damage to the surface of the skin. This can typically happen when a dog starts chewing or scratching at this particular point on their coat and skin.
At first, the skin starts to get moist, inflamed and itchy. Pus will then ooze out of the damaged skin as the bacterial infection takes hold. A crust will form and your dog may display signs of pain if you touch the area at that point.
What Causes Hot Spots?
Anything that causes skin irritation can start an itching and scratching cycle in dogs and cats. This can then lead to a hot spot.
Both dogs and cats have a bacterium close to the mouth area called Staphylococcus intermedius. This kind of Staph is the most common infection found in hot spots. Reports of the infection in humans are rare.
Common causes of the itching and scratching include:
- Parasites and fleas bites
- Food allergies or irritants from chemicals
- Matted hair
- Ear or skin infections
- An issue with an anal sac
- Boredom or stress that leads to excessive licking
Some of these conditions can lead to hot spots coming back over and over again if they don’t get treated properly. That’s why identifying the underlying cause of your dog or cat’s hot spot is so important to mitigate the risk of skin issues in the future.
Can I Treat My Cat or Dog’s Hot Spot?
It may be possible to treat smaller hot spots at home using the correct topical product. Some of the ointments we humans use, such as Zinc oxide, can be toxic to pets when licked.
You’ll need to ensure the skin is dry and clean first. Because hair holds in moisture you’ll need to shave the infected area with grooming clippers. Once you’ve removed the hair, clean the skin with a wet cloth and a medicated shampoo.
Remember that the infected areas can be sore and tender. It’s possible that a pet might bite if you try to treat the area in this way.
What Treatments Will My Vet Recommend?
Hot spots can quickly grow in size and the best course of action is to make an appointment with the vet first. It may be tempting to wait for the hot spot to get better by itself but any delay in treatment is likely to make the problem worse.
Your veterinarian will want to find you what the underlying cause of the problem is. They’ll be able to carry out a full physical examination on your dog and cat. They may then recommend a test such as a skin scrape to check for parasites, for example.
Once they’ve made a diagnosis, they’ll decide on a course of treatment. That will typically involve some sort of combination of the following:
- Clipping the hair around the infected area
- Cleaning the hot spot using a gentle antiseptic solution
- Bathing with a specialist shampoo (usually only for dogs and not cats)
- A prescription of topical and/or oral antibiotics for a secondary bacterial infection
- Topical and/or oral anti-inflammatory medication to reduce itching
- An allergy medication
- Medicated wipes or solutions to keep the hot spot clean on a daily basis
- The use of a special collar to stop further scratching
Once treated, most dogs and cats will get better quickly. The hot spot will typically heal after anything from 3 days to a week.
How Can I Prevent My Dog or Cat From Getting Hot Spots?
The way to stop hot spots from happening in the first place is to address the typical causes of itching. This means engaging in:
- Measures related to parasite prevention
- The treatment of skin infections
- Ways to treat allergies
- Good hygiene and routine grooming of your pet
If your dog licks excessively because of stress or boredom, increase their daily exercise and playtime. You could also try puzzle toys or slow feed bowls to help keep them mentally stimulated.
Using a dietary fatty acid supplement might also help to manage skin issues. Fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory properties and promote healthy skin barriers. This can make dogs less vulnerable to allergies and infections.
Topical aloe-vera can also help to soothe damaged skin and reduce itching. It is important to ensure your dog does not ingest the aloe because that could cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Always Talk to a Vet
Early diagnosis and prevention are key to keeping your dog or cat as free as possible from developing hot spots.
Do you still have any concerns at all about a skin issue with your pet? Then schedule a video consultation with one of our qualified vets!
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