What Are Hot Spots On Dogs?

Health care questions and answers about puppies and dogs

What is a hotspot? 
Questions and answers about hotspots.

he term "hotspot" refers to an active, irritating, itchy and raw spot on the dog's skin.  Though rather slang it seems well accepted.  The medical term is moist eczema or pyotraumatic dermatitis.  Neither indicates a cause of the skin lesion. Numerous causes are known to trigger a locus of eczema including insect sting, tick bite, moisture from a bath or a swim that doesn't dry normally, or even a simple scratch from a clipper or thorn.  Anything that abrades or scratches the skin can induct an infection.  Hotspots can be as tiny as a pin head or cover a wide area of the dog's body.  

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 I just dropped our dog off at the vet's because we woke up this morning and she had a huge, stinky, wet area around and under her ear.  It's even going down her neck!  
     And we heard her scratching all night but never suspected anything like this was going on.  
     What the heck is a hotspot and how did she get it?  Oh, she's a 4 year old Golden retriever.

A severe hot spot on a Golden Retriever

Answer:     hotspots... dogs... what is    
Hotspots are a rapid, infiltrating skin infection that spreads rapidly outward from the initial intrusion. An assortment of bacteria normally inhabit the pet's skin surface (and ours, too) and this flora presents no problem until something upsets the status quo.  If a particularly vigorous colony of staph, pseudomonas, or other bacteria gets a chance to enter the scraped or scratched skin they multiply rapidly.  Their physical presence, and even more, their chemical toxins released on and into the skin, break down the skin's defenses.
     The inflamed and irritated skin causes the dog to scratch vigorously at the spot and further damages the skin... essentially inoculating more areas with the infecting bacteria.  The toxins and bacteria will enter hair follicles, oil glands and deep layers of skin and create severe and slow-to-heal hairless patches.  Initially red, wet and hot, the healing progresses to dry scabs, then to clean and smooth skin that usually regrows hair... sometimes of a different color than the original!
     It's important to seek medical attention as soon as a hotspot is identified.  Clipping the fur, gently cleaning the area, applying appropriate medication, and often systemic antibiotics all assist in the healing process.  Occasionally anti-inflammatory medications such as antihistamine and cortisone can be helpful.  Diet plays a huge roll, too!

Doctor's Notes

     Some dogs and cats, even though eating a good quality diet, will benefit from extra levels of certain nutrients.   Omega Fatty Acids, glucosamine, zinc, and sulfur sources such as egg yolk can aid tissue repair and strengthen normal tissues. 

Bathing issues...
     Most short haired dogs never need a bath and unfortunately there are dogs that are bathed weekly no matter what!  Most shampoos will remove much of the skin's protective oil layer and will lead to dry, flaky, itchy  skin.  Bathe the dog only when needed and rinse, rinse, rinse to remove all traces of shampoo.

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hotspot dog dermatitis moist eczema on a dog, also called a hotspot healing hotspot Golden Retriever skin fungus called ringworm
Severe, deep moist eczema, aka "hot spot", aka pyotraumatic dermatitis Same dog as on left after shaving the matted fur and prior to cleansing Healing hot spot below the ear... see text for arrow explanations  NOT a hot spot... 
it is a skin fungus, aka  "ringworm"

My Cocker Spaniel gets tiny itchy scabs on her cheeks about twice a year.  They are very itchy and start out wet and sometimes get as big as a half dollar.  Are these clipper burns or hot spots?


Answer:     dogs... clipper burn... hotspot
You are describing what is called a clipper burn if it is occurring shortly after a grooming with clippers, or a hotspot if there is no history of recent use of an electric clipper.  Anything, including the sharp points on a clipper blade or blade guard, wire brush bristles, and even a comb can put tiny scratches into the skin.  If just the wrong kind of bacteria are inoculated into those scratches, and moisture from bathing remains after bathing, an infected rash can occur.  These are often very deep into the skin and create persistent scratching that further exacerbates the problem.
     Most groomers are very careful about avoiding "clipper burns", which aren't really a burn but rather an infection resulting from scratches of the skin.  Interestingly, some dogs are prone to these hotspots (moist eczema) and others never have a problem.  Treatment should begin at the first sign of a tiny, reddish area where the hair pulls out easily.  Topical antibiotic ointment and gentle cleansing are a good first try; but call your veterinarian if the rash seems to enlarge or bleeds.

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