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Putnam North Animal Hospital
Hot Spots (Acute Moist Bacterial Dermatitis)
The Basics
“Hot spots,” also called acute moist bacterial dermatitis, are rapidly developing infected sores that occur on the skin. They can occur in any breed but are somewhat more common in thick-coated or long-haired dogs. The most common areas where they occur are along the back near the hind end, near the tail base, the side of the thighs, the flank areas, the side of the neck or the face. Hot spots tend to occur more frequently in the summer months.  Several skin conditions may be the underlying cause of a hot spot. Anything that causes skin injury or encourages the dog to scratch or chew at its skin may start the disease process. Skin parasites such as fleas or ticks; allergies; hair mats; or foreign material caught in the coat are common factors that start the process. The inciting factor causes the dog to chew or scratch at an area which damages the skin, causing moisture to ooze from the skin.  Bacteria grow in the fluid, causing more inflammation, and the affected area expands rapidly.  This creates a vicious cycle as the chewing or scratching causes more damage and the damage leads to furthering the sore, causing more itching and scratching.  The skin often appears red and moist with an occasional pus-like discharge and scabs.  Hot spots can occur quite rapidly, often developing into a large and painful sore in a matter of a few hours.  Fortunately, other than being uncomfortable, hot spots are not life-threatening and they tend to heal very well.

Preventing hot spots involves controlling, and ideally eliminating, initiating causes.  Good parasite control, allergy management and proper grooming are key to helping avoid these from occuring.

The most important step in treatment is to clip the hair away from the area and then clean the skin of all discharge and scabs with an antiseptic. The hair is usually clipped beyond the edge of the visible lesion or sore.  We may need to sedate your pet for this step if the area is too painful, because the skin may be incredibly sensitive. Topical medications containing an antibiotic are applied directly to the area to kill the bacteria and stop bacterial growth. These topical medications also often contain an analgesic or corticosteroid to help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation and itchiness. Oral antibiotics given by mouth are often required to eliminate the infection. In many cases, an injection of a short or long acting steroid is given to help reduce the inflammation and relieve pain and itchiness.  Most hot spots tend to heal rapidly (days) since the infection is concentrated on the surface of the skin. Some hot spots are associated with a deeper skin infection. In these cases, red, raised bumps are often found scattered in the healthy skin surrounding the hot spot. Golden retrievers seem more prone to this form than other breeds. These infections may require a longer course of antibiotics or additional treatments or medications.

Keep the lesion clean and keep scab free if possible.
• Use and give all medications as directed.
• Keep your pet free of skin parasites, especially fleas.
Groom long- or thick-coated pets regularly; remove foreign bodies such as plant material from the haircoat, so these do not cause mats or penetrate the skin directly.
Treat and manage underlying skin diseases, such as allergies.
If a hot spot develops, have it treated immediately.
Expect that over the first 48 hours of beginning treatment, the hot spot will look “quieter”: less red, with less fluid oozing from its surface, and it should be less painful.
Return of normal skin will usually occur over a 7-10–day period.
Wash your hands thoroughly after treating the hot spot.

Do not touch the hot spot directly with your fingers except to apply medication (and then, use disposable latex medical gloves). Touching a fresh hot spot can be painful and can carry bacteria into it, adding to the infection or even possibly transferring an infection to you.
Do not cut the hair over a new hot spot using scissors, as this is a common cause of severe skin injury in dogs.

When to Give Us a Call
After treatment, if the area still looks red after 72 hours.
If the problem is spreading to new areas of skin.
If the problem fails to heal within 10 days.
If your pet has any vomiting or other problems.

Signs and Things to Watch For
Intense scratching or chewing at an area, sometimes accompanied with whimpering.
Scratching at the ears.
Skin parasites such as fleas and ticks.