January 6, 2020

Medical Issues

Hot Spots Can Occur Any Time of Year

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

Throughout the year, we examine a lot of pets for skin problems ranging from itchy skin to fur loss and scabbing. One of the more frequent skin problems we see can be very irritating for your pet, can smell bad, and can spread quickly. You may have heard them called “hot spots,” but the official medical term for this condition is “moist dermatitis.” (In this article, I will use these two terms interchangeably.)

What is moist dermatitis?

If you breakdown the medical term, it simply means an area of skin infection and inflammation that is moist or wet. This area can be as small as a pea or it may spread to affect almost your entire pet. Because the skin is infected, it can often be itchy and irritating for your pet.

Hot spots often look like areas of wet fur that are matted down, and they sometimes have some yellow or brown debris stuck in the fur. If you look more closely at the skin, you will see it is typically very moist and very red and angry looking.

What causes hot spots in pets?

Unfortunately, there is no one single cause of moist dermatitis. That would be too easy right? Hot spots are typically thought to be caused one of two ways.

  1. Your pet gets a skin infection that causes some pustular-type debris. If the debris gets stuck into the deeper fur coat, it can trap bacteria and moisture which then allows the infection to spread and keeps the skin wet and irritated.
  2. Your pet gets moisture in the undercoat of his fur that doesn’t completely dry. This moisture then serves as an excellent place for bacteria to grow and cause problems and infections.

Some people think that hot spots only occur during the summer months. However, this is untrue. Hot spots seem to know no particular season and can occur at any time of the year. Typically, we tend to see the most hot spots during warmer weather. When dogs swimming, moisture can get trapped in the deeper fur coat predisposing the skin to infection. Also in the summer, we tend to see pets with more outdoor allergies that can cause skin infections.

Living in Wisconsin, we are also lucky enough to have winters full of snow! I honestly do love the snow and so do many of our dog friends. For us, winter means dogs jumping into snow banks and making snow dogs in the yard. This, too, allows moisture to get into their undercoats and may lead to skin infections as well. In addition to the snow, there are many pets (just like humans) that have worsening of allergy symptoms during the winter months when we are a little more stuck indoors, and that can lead to skin infections and irritations.

What can I do to try to prevent this from happening?

There is no surefire way to prevent your pet from getting a hot spot. However, there are some things that you can do to reduce her chances of getting moist dermatitis, including:

  • In summer months: After swimming in lakes, pools, or ponds, make sure to rinse your dog completely and/or use a gentle maintenance shampoo. This will help remove any bacteria, algae, or debris from your pet. It is then also extremely important that you really get in and dry off your pet as much as possible. Remember moisture can cause skin infections!
  • In winter months: After your pet has been outside enjoying the winter wonderland, make sure to wipe off any snow from his coat. Then, be sure to dry him off as completely as you can, especially in his undercoat.
  • If your pet gets hot spots frequently, this may be a sign of some underlying allergies. Allergy testing and treatment may help reduce the risk of chronic hot spots for your pet.

Does my pet need to go to the vet for hot spots?

Yes! Typically, the sooner the better. With moist dermatitis, infection can spread quite quickly and can be very irritating for your pet. Keep in mind, larger areas of infection may require a long course of medications and may mean a longer healing time for your pet.

What will my vet do to help my pet?

Treatment will really depend on where the hot spot is, how big it is, and how irritated the skin may be. Sometimes, we veterinarians may want to trim the fur in the area to allow the skin to dry out. For some pets, the irritated skin is so uncomfortable that we may need to sedate them so we can clean and examine the area thoroughly.

Often times, we may use special medicated cleaners or wipes to clean the area of dermatitis. Typically, your pet will also need antibiotics (either oral medications or topical sprays) to help get the area to heal. Please keep in mind that for severe skin infections, we may need to prescribe antibiotics for 2-4 weeks or longer.

In some situations, we may recommended laser therapy treatment. Laser therapy helps to decrease skin inflammation (the irritation and redness), helps to dry the area to allow for a speedier healing, and helps to provide the skin with increased comfort during the healing process. Your pet may need multiple laser treatments in order to heal. In addition, we may also recommend other diagnostics such as blood work or allergy testing we believe that your pet’s skin problem is a sign of a different, underlying problem.

If you are concerned that your pet may have a hot spot or may have a skin problem, please schedule a vet appointment as soon as possible. It is always easier on your pet (and less expensive for you) if we can address any medical problems quickly before things worsen or spread.

Dr. Aili V. Heintz, countrycare animal complexDr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.