If your dog suddenly develops a sore, red spot for no apparent reason, don't worry. While it's sure to be painful and needs treatment, most of these types of sores are a condition commonly referred to as hot spots. Hot spots on dogs are painful and can cause bigger problems if left untreated, but in most cases, they're fairly easy to take care of.
Hot spots are red, inflamed spots on a dog's skin, most commonly found on the feet or legs. They usually start small and may at first be mistaken for insect bites, but usually quickly develop into large, oozing sores. Another common name for them is moist dermatitis, in part because the fur around the hot spot is usually wet from frequent licking.
One of the most common causes of hot spots is also one of the hardest ones to spot. Allergies to food or environmental elements, such as pollen or a particular material, can cause itchy skin in dogs. Most dogs react to that by frequently licking, chewing, and scratching at the affected area, which can lead to an open sore.
If your dog develops a hot spot on a joint, it may be a sign that your dog is developing arthritis or has an injury in that area. Dogs often regularly lick painful areas in an attempt to soothe them, and over time that can quickly develop into a hot spot. This is most common in older dogs, although it can happen in dogs of any age.
Fleas, mites, mosquitoes, and other biting insects can also cause hot spots. These itchy bugs can cause dogs to scratch enough to injure themselves with their own nails. Others may obsessively lick or chew at the area of the bug bite. Hot spots at the base of an ear are often the first visible symptom of ear mites.
Some dogs may also develop hot spots due to poor grooming. Long-haired dogs, in particular, can easily develop thick mats in their fur, which rub and pull at the skin and result in painful areas. The dog may attempt to self-groom by chewing and licking at the area, which exacerbates the problem. Impacted anal glands also can be uncomfortable and lead to hot spots around the base of the tail.
Some hot spots may not have an underlying physical cause. Dogs suffering from severe boredom, fear or anxiety may chew on their own paws or legs, which over time will usually result in open sores. Those sores are painful and itchy as they heal, which often causes the problem to become worse as the dog continues to lick at the area in an attempt to soothe it.
Some hot spots are simply caused by exposure to unfavorable environmental conditions. Excess heat and moisture, such as humid summer weather, can lead to irritation and inflammation in dogs with sensitive skin. Dogs that spend a significant amount of time in the water are also prone to developing hot spots. Well-meaning humans can even cause them by giving daily baths.
Although most hot spots are minor and easy to treat at home, it's a good idea to take your dog to a veterinarian to rule out any bigger problems that might have the same initial appearance as a harmless hot spot. Your vet can also help you figure out the underlying cause of the hot spot and hopefully prevent future problems.
For many hot spots, simply removing the underlying trigger is the primary treatment. This may be coupled with the use of an Elizabethan collar or other measures to prevent the dog from continuing to lick and irritate the area. For larger hot spots, topical or oral antibiotics may be used to prevent bacterial infections. Some veterinarians may recommend oral pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications, as well as topical soothing ointments, to help the dog feel more comfortable.
Luckily for the dogs of the world, hot spots are usually not a serious problem. Most clear up on their own eventually, and with treatment, they usually disappear very quickly. However, if your dog is prone to getting hot spots, there's a good chance, it will be a recurring problem throughout the dog's life. Identifying and addressing the underlying causes of your dog's hot spots can help prevent them from happening too frequently, and proactively identifying and treating problem areas can help keep them from becoming large, painful sores.
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