November 28, 2010
You would think that we are out of allergy and flea season, but alas, allergies and fleas are still making dogs itch and scratch. And, because they are still itchy, I continue to see “hot spots” on a regular basis. If you have had more than one dog in your lifetime, you have probably encountered a “hot spot” or two. Because they are so common, I thought it a good idea to talk about what they are and what you can do for them at home while you are waiting for your veterinary appointment.
A “hot spot” is a red, irritated section of skin that literally gets hot from the increased blood supply to the inflamed area. They quickly progress from a red circle to a wet, oozing, infected mess. I have had many an owner apologize for letting the dog’s skin get so bad before they sought my attention. They always feel that they must have missed the infection for days. However, I assure these owners that a “hot spot” can literally appear overnight and grow visibly during the course of a day. They didn’t notice it yesterday because it probably was very small and hidden under the fur.
“Hot spots” are the result of intense chewing, scratching and/or licking. Anything can trigger this licking and chewing and fleas are the most common culprit, but ticks, biting flies and mosquitoes could also trigger such an intense reaction. Dogs with allergies to pollens, grasses and foods can sometimes get itchy enough to get a “hot spot”
Once a dog starts focusing on one area of itching, the area becomes red. Continued scratching with dirty toenails or licking with a dirty mouth results in an infection in the area. This is what causes the pussy oozing of the wound. If it isn’t treated, it becomes bloody and painful. They usually stink pretty badly too. A “hot spot” on the underside of the body might easily be missed by an owner until the smell becomes bad enough to raise suspicion of a problem.
The key to treating a “hot spot” is to keep it clean and dry. The best way to do this is to remove as much hair from around the area as you can. I use clippers and a #10 blade to do this. Unless you are cutting away very long hair, I do not recommend the use of scissors because it is too easy to cut the skin accidentally. Once the hair around the area is out of the way, I use a very dilute disinfectant soap to clean the area aggressively. Then I rinse it and dry it thoroughly. A terry-cloth towel will dry the area well and kind of “fluff up” any hair that had been stuck to the wound. Dogs usually love having their “hot spot” cleaned and dried because it is so itchy. Keep a “hot spot” clean and dry like this until you can get to your vet.
The next step is to stop the incessant licking, chewing and scratching. Bandages don’t work well, because they keep the wound from drying out. Remember, we have to keep these wounds clean AND dry. Elizabethan or Bite-Not collars can help at first, but the real trick is to remove the cause of the itch. You’ll need your veterinarian’s help here. If fleas are present, even in very small numbers, you need to eliminate these with quick-acting products like Capstar or Comfortis. Antihistamines might help break an allergic itch, but it usually requires short-term use of a steroid like prednisone to stop a “hot spot”. I know it is tempting to use something like Neosporin and a cortisone cream, but these products are made for the hairless human. They make dog skin wet and gooey, and remember, I’ll say it again, the key here is clean and DRY.
Your veterinarian will help you with treatments for an underlying allergy and he or she may even prescribe and antibiotic if the wound has gotten seriously infected. If you suspect your pet is developing a “hot spot”, don’t wait around. Call your vet for an appointment and start keeping the wound clean and dry right away.