My pet lost a patch of fur and developed a massive sore overnight. It looks like a burn wound.

HotSpot dog

Acute moist dermatitis is a skin ailment in pets that’s caused by a trigger like an itch or pain, and exacerbated by the pet’s scratching and licking until it becomes a large bare patch of painful skin lesion. Since the lesion is an open painful wound, it’s referred to more commonly as a hotspot.

What is a hotspot?

No, we’re not talking about public wireless internet. A hotspot is a skin condition seen far more often in dogs than in cats. It is an area of very itchy, wet, unhappy, infected skin that your dog keeps licking or nibbling at. It usually develops overnight; in a matter of hours, your dog’s healthy skin can develop a massive, sore, red or yellowish bald patch. It is constantly wet and raw as some dogs tend to lick this wound almost obsessively. These spots may have started out as something small and insignificant like a bump from an insect bite, but quickly grow larger in a short time. Usually only one spot is affected rather than several around the body, but there are exceptions to this rule.

Which breeds are more likely to develop hotspots?

Retrievers and German shepherds with longer, thicker coats tend to have this problem more often than dogs with short coats. Hotspots are also more often seen in dogs who love to swim and are always in the water. This is because skin that is always wet tends to get more easily infected with bacteria and fungi that thrive in a warm, moist environment. Something triggers the itch, so when the dog begins to scratch, the bacteria is spread and the hotspot quickly develops. People with water-loving dogs often have their dogs clipped in the warm summer months to prevent this problem.

How do hotspots start?

The initial cause will vary from one pet to another. This condition often occurs as a result of the constant scratching at an itch, such as pets with fleas, allergies or even an ear infection. They can occur anywhere on the body, but usually on a spot they can reach with their paws or mouth to scratch and nibble. The typical places for hotspots to develop are the side of the face below the ears or on the upper part of the back leg. Some spots get a little more attention than others and these get infected, leading to an itchy and sore wound that your pet won’t leave alone.

Why do hotspots grow in size?

Irrespective of the cause, hotspots tend to become infected because they are always wet and the skin is licked raw. As you can imagine, your dog’s mouth is far from the most hygienic means to clean a wound. This infection then leads to swelling and pain on top of the initial itch or discomfort. In trying to alleviate the discomfort, your dog will constantly lick the area, but the more they lick, the more widespread the irritation and infection of the skin becomes.

What can I do if my dog has a hotspot?

The most important first step is to establish the underlying cause of the problem. Was your pet itchy to start with; were they shaking their head from an ear infection? Has your pet had persistent flea infestations? Take your dog to the vet, who will help to determine where the problem may have started. It’s important to not only treat the symptoms and the hotspot itself, but to find the cause in order to prevent the condition from deteriorating or returning.

How is a hotspot treated?

A hotspot involves infected skin, so it would be wise to have it treated and to get the infection under control. The vet will examine the area and determine the extent of the infection. The area around the hotspot will be shaved to make it easier to clean and treat. The area will then be cleaned and the vet will most likely treat it with antiseptic creams or even antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. Depending on the severity of the lesion, the vet may also prescribe systemic antibiotics. In severe cases this treatment may have to be continued over a number of weeks. In some instances this condition can be excruciatingly painful and may require sedation or even a full general anaesthetic to be treated properly.

While the hotspot is healing, your most important task will be to convince your dog to leave it alone. This is not always an easy task because he is probably used to licking or scratching to try to relieve the itch and pain. The most helpful tool is the Elizabethan collar (the ‘cone of shame’), which limits the access your pooch has to that spot. The cone needs to be big enough to stop your pet from reaching the hotspot, so the edge of the cone must be longer than his nose.

Most hotspots respond well to treatment, especially if the underlying cause is treated successfully, but finding the cause is usually the tricky part.

Will a hotspot getter better by itself?

The answer is no. In most cases, the condition keeps on spreading like wildfire and, if not treated sooner rather than later, your pet may end up with significant hair loss and infected skin over large areas of his body. If this happens, the treatment becomes a lot more complex and expensive. If you suspect your dog has a hotspot, the sooner you get him to the vet, the better. 

Why is my dog prone to recurring hotspots?

If the underlying condition leading to a hotspot is not successfully addressed or treated, it will most certainly lead to a recurrence of the condition. Ear infections are a common reason for dogs to scratch the side of their face. It may seem obvious that one should treat the ear condition, but an ear infection in a dog may often be a symptom of another underlying condition. Atopic dermatitis, which is skin irritation caused by the inhaling of allergens, is a common cause of ear infection. This can be a very difficult underlying cause to treat and, in many cases, may never be successfully treated; only managed. If your dog is one of the unlucky canines to have an overactive immune system that is negatively triggered by environmental allergens, it may take a lot more to address the underlying cause of a hotspot and prevent it from recurring on a regular basis. The vet will have to spend more time in such a case to work out a plan of action for future prevention.

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