Hot Spots – A Hot Button Topic

Imagine a scenario: Mrs Anderson brings her dog Willow to the vet. Willow has been chewing and licking incessantly at a particular spot on her front paw, so much so that the area now appears red and it sometimes bleeds and oozes. Mrs Anderson tried giving Willow a Benadryl tablet two days ago but it didn’t seem to help so she discontinued the Benadryl. The client is at a loss of what to do.

Many of us have been in this client’s situation to a certain degree. And what is commonly the culprit is what is known as pyotraumatic dermatitis, lick granuloma, or “hot spot.” A hot spot is an irritated and inflamed skin lesion, in other words, a very itchy localized sore that can pop up anywhere on the animal’s body. They present as areas of hair loss, red skin, matting, discharge, and of course, excessive licking and/or chewing. There are many things that can cause a hot spot to form on your furry friend, ranging from allergies to insect bites to parasitic infections to an overgrowth of bacteria on the skin and beyond. And when your dog constantly itches, he keeps re-traumatizing that same area of skin, breaking the skin’s delicate barrier and allowing for bacteria to enter that barrier and cause a bigger problem. Usually at this point prescription medications need to be involved. Hot spots are an incredible nuisance, especially when they remain hidden under long or matted hair and by the time you notice them, they have become severely infected. A hot spot – or any skin condition that causes you worry – should be seen by your veterinarian. While you await that appointment, be advised to put a sock or t-shirt over your pet, or an Elizabethan collar (E-collar or cone) to keep him from getting to the hot spot.

At the vet appointment, the doctor may go over a wide range of information regarding your dog’s hot spot. If it was presumably caused by allergies, know that there is no cure for allergies, only maintenance. Allergies can present as secondary ear infections, licking feet, pink or red feet, scooting, redness of the eyes, or itching of the undercarriage. Our pets can have allergies to the environment, fleas, or more uncommonly but not impossibly, their food (and by their food I mean the protein source). Depending on the type of allergies, they can be dealt with over-the-counter antihistamines like Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec, or Allegra (which take two weeks of consistent dosing to see if they work and because dogs metabolize them differently, can have more than you think based on their weight, but don’t guess – ask the vet). And as a cat mom, I look to Chlorpheniramine.

It’s also important in order to rule out fleas or mites, to make sure your pet is on good flea/parasite control. Some animals are so allergic to parasites like fleas that one single flea bite can cause terrible itching.

For food allergies, this one is a little more complicated and should really be discussed with your vet. The only way to rule out a food allergy is to feed a specific diet (either a prescription hypoallergenic diet or prescription novel protein diet) for six to eight months and absolutely nothing else to see if symptoms regress.

Another cause for hot spots is an actual skin condition. Conditions like pyodermas, staph, ringworm, abscesses, or various bacterial infections can be very itchy and should be appropriately treated under veterinary instruction. Often times, hot spots can turn into secondary skin infections and require prescription treatment to first get rid of the itching due to infection. Otherwise it will continue to be a vicious itchy cycle for your pet.

And, sometimes, your pet will develop a hot spot out of boredom. You read correctly. If a pet starts to lick out of boredom or habit, they will continue to do so because, well, they can. And the hot spot is easily accessible. For situations like these, it would be best to talk with your veterinarian about ways to mentally stimulate your pet (i.e. food puzzles, peanut butter frozen in a Kong toy, significant constant exercise, and did you know certain dog breeds need to have a job like herding?).

Whatever the cause of your pet’s sore, step one should always be to have a doctor look at your pet up close (not a picture, not a verbal description over the telephone) so she can see clearly, touch the area and look for other potential sites. And did you know certain skin conditions like yeast-based ear infections have a particular smell? No one likes to be itchy, our dogs and cats are no exception.

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