Hot Spot …or Not?

   One of the most often used terms to describe an area of irritation on pets is “hot spot”. When pet owners describe their dog’s lesions as “hot spots”, they might be asked what that actually means to them and to explain what they are describing as a “hot spot”. Many times, what is initially referred to as a “hot spot” is simply a bacterial infection and the approach and the diagnostic implications of these two things can be completely different.

What exactly is a “hot spot”?
     Hot spots are areas of irritation on the skin produced by self-trauma. Unless the patient has created the lesion on the skin due to scratching it is NOT a “hot spot” by definition. The initial source of the itch to the particular area may be caused by an allergy, ear disease or parasites.  To seek relief from the itch, the patient will scratch or chew creating a surface irritation and inflammation. 
     The result is a red, moist and raw area (see picture) that may be accompanied by matted hair that has accumulated fluid and blood and will develop adherent crusting to the skin. These lesions can develop rapidly, literally overnight. Most hot spots are located on the side of the face, neck, rump or tail. Surface infection or overgrowth of bacteria are generally present as well.

      Crusted lesions and pustules indicative of a bacterial pyoderma are often incorrectly called hot spots by pet owners. It is true that a hot spot often develops a degree of infection but infections that develop on the skin are NOT hot spots. An infection is the growth of bacteria in a break in the skin or hair follicle. The infection and a hot spot may present similarly but the approach to treatment is different.
     For a hot spot, identification of the underlying cause of itching is key. First the hot spot must be treated to bring comfort to the dog and then address the cause of the irritation. To treat a hot spot, topical or occasionally oral glucocorticoids may be needed to help break the itch cycle. In addition, topical or oral antibiotics are often needed to treat the surface infection. Once that is controlled, investigation into the cause of the itching that created the hot spot becomes important. While generally for bacterial pyodermas, topical and oral corticosteroids are contraindicated and may result in persistence or recurrence of the bacterial infection. Oral or topical antibiotics in these cases will resolve the infection. In cases where bacterial infections may be pruritic, antihistamines are a better choice. However as with hot spots, continued investigation as to the cause of the bacterial infection will be important to prevent and manage relapse.
Source: David Duclos, Canine & Feline Skin Diseases
Rusty Muse DVM, ACVD, Animal Dermatology Clinic

** Download the PDF print version of Derm Digest to see additional articles **

Support Your Local Shelter or Pet Rescue

     At this time of year please consider a donation to a local shelter near you. Nearly all shelters and pet rescues operate on shoe-string budgets and rely largely on volunteer support and donations.

Call a shelter and ask if they have a particular need for items, if not money perhaps it could be towels, blankets or pet food. Medication that your pet no longer needs might be usable at a shelter, just call and ask.

In the print version of this Derm Digest page 4, selected shelters and rescues have been listed in each of the cities Animal Dermatology Clinic is located. There are many, many more that need and would appreciate your support.

Did You Know?

  • Prairie dogs are not dogs. A prairie dog is a kind of rodent.
  •  Dachshunds are the smallest breed of dog used for hunting. They are low to the ground, which allows them to enter and maneuver through tunnels easily.
  • The Maine Coon cat is America's only natural breed of domestic feline.
  • Boxers are named for their playful habit of using their front paws in frolic.

*** Download the print version of Derm Digest to see more articles ****


Pet Obesity: A Growing Problem

     As America goes, so go our pets? There have been numerous reports regarding the expanding waistlines of the population, but that trend is also mirrored in our pets, with one pet food manufacturer claiming that 60% of pets in the U.S. are overweight.
     Just like people who are overweight that can suffer from health problems, an overweight animal might face diabetes, arthritis, heart and lung disease. Dermatologists may see infections in fat rolls where bacteria gets trapped. Occasionally there can be a medical reason such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease that is contributing to the obesity.
     There are many guides to help determine the ideal weight of your pet or ask your veterinarian to help you in determining that number.
     If you are not sure what the ideal weight of your pet should be, a good start would be to feel her rib cage. Place your hands on the rib cage with your thumbs over her spine. If you can easily feel the ribs, then your pet is probably a normal weight. If ribs are visible, then your pet may be too thin. If you can feel fat between the skin and ribs, or if the ribs are difficult to feel, your pet is overweight.
Cats that have a large abdomen that swings when the cat walks indicates obesity.
     Ask your veterinarian for guidance before changing your pet’s diet, although a sensible start would be to cut back on treats or eliminate them altogether. Increased exercise will also help burn those calories; a daily walk will do wonders for your pet…and you, too. Bonus!

Previous Newsletters

As specialists, we stay current on new research and treatments and are actively involved with the research. Our dermatology practice is not limited to small animals and we often have equine and occasionally exotic patients. Learn More >