Hot spots, or Pyotraumatic Dermatitis, in dogs occurs when the dog’s natural bacteria overpopulates parts of the epidermis. Dog hot spots appear as inflamed and infected red spots on the dog’s skin. Veterinarians usually relate hot spots to an immune system that isn’t functioning at its optimum level.
Identifying Hot Spots
Hot spots appear very quickly. Your dog may go from non-symptomatic, to fully engulfed in red spots, in a matter of hours. The dog will be extremely sensitive to physical contact and appear generally uncomfortable. Although hot spots may appear in all dogs, they are more common in dogs known to have immune disorders, such as allergies. Dogs that are not kept clean and dogs with thick coats also tend to show hot spots more commonly. The perfect environment to allow the bacteria to fester is typically a dark, damp, and dirty dog.
Once the hot spots are diagnosed, you must address two main issues. That is; clean the wound, and address what may be the root cause of the skin problems.
Treatment and Cleaning of a Hot Spot
It is necessary that the hair around the wound be removed to prepare the area for cleaning. Shave away as much hair as necessary to expose the hot spot and prevent discharge from sticking and stagnating in the dog’s hair.
Tip: Mark the edges of the wound with a sharpie so you will have a visual representation of the effectiveness of the treatment. If the skin problem continues to grow after a home treatment program is established, please see your veterinarian.
Disinfect the area once the hair is removed. Use watered-down Povidone Iodine as a cleaning disinfectant (we recommend 1 part mineral water to 1 part iodine). You can buy PI from your local pharmacy or pick it up for cheap here.
Apply the solution gently with a soft wash cloth or a piece of gauze. Reapply whenever puss is discharged from the wound. If the infection is extreme, iodine should be applied every couple of hours until the oozing slows down. I cannot emphasize how important it is to keep the wound clean and dry. Clean and dry skin conditions will effectively kill off the bacteria.
Once the wound is disinfected, a topical solution may be applied. Do not use anything that may sting or irritate your dog. A cool chamomile teabag applied directly to the wound has therapeutic effects. Raw aloe is also effective.
Your dog will, more than likely, attempt to chew or lick at the wounded area. This cannot be allowed to happen. Use an E-collar around the dog’s head to allow the wound to heal. If you do not feel comfortable putting an E-collar around your dog, you may dress your dog in a t-shirt, although this is not as effective. (Use this link to order a cheap E-Collar from Amazon.com)
Addressing Root Causes of Hot Spots
Allergy Induced Hot Spots
Flea allergen dermatitis (Flea Allergies) is a direct immune response to the saliva of a flea. Even if you do not suspect fleas, keep in mind that it only takes one flea to cause an extreme case of hot spots on your dog. Ensure that your dog is clear of fleas with your choice of commercial flee medications. We do not recommend using monthly doses of flea medication in normal circumstances. However, if your dog suffers from flea allergies, the benefits of flea meds far outweigh their potential side effects. We stock some flea medications in our Pet Shop. Allergies from dog food are also attributed to hot spots. See our article on Dog Food Allergies for more information.
Physically Induced Hot Spots
Dogs that suffer from underlying nerve damage, muscle pain, or bone disorders such as arthritis tend to chew at the skin in an attempt to massage the pain away. The impulsive chewing and licking eventually leads to skin breakage and infection. Hot spots caused by physical reasons are relatively hard to treat at home so you should seek the help of a veterinarian or a specialized canine physical therapist.
Behaviorally Induced Hot Spots
There are dogs that suffer from mental disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder and separation anxiety. Behavioral problems in dogs are the hardest aspect of Hot Spots to treat. Dogs with these disorders may need to undergo behavioral modification therapy. Please talk to your veterinarian for more information.