In the warmer summer months, our pets often enjoy lying in the shade, a dip in a lake or stream, or a cool early morning walk. But the warmer months also bring seasonal allergies and the hot spots that can result. Since August is designated Itchy Pet Awareness Month, we thought it the perfect time to discuss how to recognize and treat hot spots.

What Are Hot Spots?

Hot spots are patches of intensely itchy skin that appear quickly, are weepy and moist, and may be filled with pus. Hot spots occur most often in dogs, but cats are also susceptible.

A hot spot, formally known as pyotraumatic dermatiti or acute moist dermatitis, begins as an irritation on the surface of the skin. Almost anything that causes irritation can set off a hot spot, including an insect bite, excess moisture trapped in skin folds, or allergies. Once the pet itches the skin, irritation triggers more intense itchiness, and more licking, scratching, or biting at the area. An open wound results, and bacteria that normally live on the skin can overgrow, take hold and cause infection. The area becomes warm to the touch and intensely itchy. Hot spots start small, but may grow to be quite large.

Hot spots can appear anywhere on a pet’s body. Under a dog’s collar is one common place we see hot spots, as is around any area of matted or thick fur. Some breeds are more susceptible if their anatomy includes skin folds or beards, since moisture is more likely to become trapped there.

Treatment and Prevention of Hot Spots

If your pet has a hot spot, they need to visit their veterinarian. The area will be shaved with clippers to allow the skin to dry out and breathe, and then cleaned and treated with topical medication. If your pet has developed an infection, topical or oral antibiotics may also be prescribed. Pets will also need to be prevented from continuing to lick while the hot spot heals, generally with an e-collar or by covering the area with a sock or bandage.

When allergies are the cause of the irritation, your veterinarian will recommend diagnostics to determine the cause of the allergies and then recommend a treatment plan to alleviate itching, which should in turn decrease the chances of a hot spot returning.

At home, you can help prevent hot spots by:

  • Bathing your pet with a hypoallergenic pet shampoo regularly
  • Drying areas that tend to naturally trap moisture
  • Maintaining good grooming and grooming appointments
  • Feeding a high-quality diet
  • Giving an Omega-3 fatty acid recommended by your veterinarian

If your pet is intensely itchy, or you notice sores with a bad odor or moist appearance, it’s time to make an appointment to see us. It may be tempting to treat hot spots on your own, but systemic medications and prescription topical treatments are often necessary to keep infection, inflammation, and itch under control.