Pyotraumatic dermatitis in dogs, better known as “hot spots” can be a dog owner’s worst nightmare, considering how ugly, painful and itchy these skin lesions may be. Fortunately, with proper diagnosis and treatment, hot spots are a temporary problem, and despite how bad they look, they are rather a short-lived problem. Some dogs though can be predisposed which can make them a recurrent issue. Following is some information about pyotraumatic dermatitis in dogs, also known as hot spots by veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec.
Pyotraumatic Dermatitis in Dogs (Hot spots)
The term hot spots, refers to a very common, painful and itchy skin condition that can develop in a matter of minutes and clinically manifests in an acute form. The condition has several synonyms like moist dermatitis, pyotraumatic dermatitis and superficial canine pyoderma.
As the scientific name, pyotraumatic dermatitis suggests, the condition consists of two components. Dermatitis refers to the skin inflammation which with time results in pus formation, while pyotraumatic refers to the licking, scratching and biting which leads to trauma and worsening of the skin lesions.
Simply put, hot spots develop when moisture becomes trapped under the hair coat. The moisture can be from humidity, swimming or bathing. Once the moisture is trapped, it gradually macerates the skin. The macerated skin can no longer serve as mechanical barrier and the normally present bacteria from the skin’s surface invade the macerated layer of the skin.
This process is itchy and encourages the dog to lick, scratch and bite. Since the dog’s saliva contains bacteria that cause mild to moderate infection, the skin lesion becomes even more infected.
What do hot spots look like? Hot spots have specific appearances. They are round, red, moist and tender skin areas covered with matted hairs, crusts and scales. They are often described as superficial and oozing skin lesions with foul and repelling smell. Their size varies and it can measure up to several inches in diameter. Hot spots are most frequently seen on body areas where the coat is heavy – back, tail base, neck and face, particularly on the cheeks and under the ear base.
Risk Factors and Underlying Causes
There are several predisposing factors which increase the dog’s risk of developing hot spots. For instance, age is a factor considering that the condition is more common among young dogs. Breed is also a factor and is associated with the specific type of coat some particular dog breeds have – long and dense-coated dogs are at higher risk.
The geographic location in which the dog lives can also play an important role considering that dogs living in hot and humid climates are more prone to hot spots.
And then there are predisposing medical conditions. Certain medical disorders serve as underlying causes for the development of pyotraumatic dermatitis in dogs. Those disorders include allergies, flea allergy dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, food allergies, inflammation of the external ear canal, anal sac impaction, foreign bodies, contact irritants, post-clipping and post-grooming traumas and parasitic skin infections like scabies and demodicosis.
All in all, since anything that can initiate an itch-scratch cycle can trigger the condition, hot spots are considered as “self-induced lesions.”
At the Vet’s Office
Diagnosing the condition is quite easy and straightforward especially for a trained veterinary practitioner. Nevertheless, once at the clinic, the vet will take the patient’s full history and perform a thorough and complete physical examination.
The spots’ distinctive appearance is usually enough to set a diagnosis. However, in certain cases, microscopic evaluation of the skin can be performed to rule out similar conditions. If the patient’s response to treatment is poor, bacterial cultures are recommended. If the hot spots are a recurrent problem, additional tests are recommended.
In spite of their nasty appearance, hot spots are superficial lesions that fortunately tend to respond well to adequate treatment. However, it should be noted that the treatment is multimodal and includes several steps. Those steps are:
Clipping – first of all, the skin lesions and their immediate surrounding must be cleared of hairs. The hair should be clipped for at least one inch beyond the edge of the lesion. Clipping the hair promotes the healing process by allowing the lesion to dry quicker. Additionally, by clipping, the real size of the lesion can be determined.
Hot spot lesions are much like icebergs. What is visible to the eye is usually much smaller than the actual size. It is advisable to perform the clipping by using electric animal clippers instead of scissors because the scissors may have traumatic effect on the skin around the lesions.
Cleaning – once clipped, the hot spot lesion and its surrounding should be cleared of debris, infected discharges and crusts. Removing these accumulations promotes the healing process. After mechanically cleaning the lesion, mild antiseptics can be used. Antiseptic lavages are recommended to stop the bacterial growth.
Drying – keeping the spots dry is the most crucial aspect of managing the condition. If the skin remains moist, the lesions cannot heal properly.
A variety of medications are used to treat pyotraumatic dermatitis in dogs. Antibiotics – both topical and systemic can be used to put the infection under control. Pain management and anti-inflammatory drugs are often prescribed- due to the intense inflammation, hot spots are quite painful. Therefore, using medications that suppress the inflammation and reduce the pain not only promotes the healing process, but also increases the patient’s level of comfort.
Home Remedies for Pyotraumatic Dermatitis in Dogs
Home remedies should only be used in cases of small to mild hot spots. Home remedies are not strong enough to resolve the condition but they do provide some quick relief. The most popular home remedies include the following.
Washing the lesion with antibacterial soap once a day. Improvement should be seen in 3 to 5 days.
Stepping tea bags in hot water and then using the cooled water to wash the hotspots. The procedure can be done several times per day.
Applying homeopathic remedies like calendula tincture sprays.
Performing oatmeal baths which have a soothing effect on the skin.
Using witch hazel spray reduces the itchiness and putting a small amount of vaporizing rub around the lesion discourages the dog from licking and biting the area.
How long for hot spots to heal? Fortunately, due to their superficial nature, with proper treatment, hot spots resolve in a few days. Generally speaking, the prognosis is excellent. Unfortunately, if the underlying is not determined, they may become a recurring problem.
The best way of preventing your dog from developing hot spots is by keeping the underlying causes under control. That includes keeping the dog free from skin parasites, treating all underlying skin diseases and regular grooming and keeping the fur clean and free of mats and foreign bodies.
” We may use a drying agent such as Witch hazel to help with the soreness and itchiness. We will then place them on antibiotics as well as a low dose steroid to help with the inflammation and infection.”~Dr. Christie, veterinarian
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. She is a certified nutritionist and is certified in HAACP food safety system implementation.
She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.
Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.