Lick, lick -- your buddy isn’t trying to cause a stir, he’s trying in vain to soothe his irritated skin. When your dog excessively licks matted fur, it gets damp and full of bacteria. This can lead to a painful case of moist eczema -- a “hot spot.”
Portrait of a Hot Spot
Hot spots are areas of moist, raw skin, often covered with matted, damp fur. These open wounds are usually red, weeping and full of bacteria. Your buddy’s fur may sometimes keep these sores well hidden, but if you can't see it, that doesn’t mean it’s not painful and itchy. That’s why he can’t stop licking at the sore, but his licking only makes it worse. Hot spots can grow rapidly; before you know it, you’re at the vet’s office.
All hot spots start the same way: An area of trauma or skin inflammation triggers your buddy’s itch-scratch cycle. The origin of a hot spot can be as innocuous as a flea or mosquito bite, or it can start with skin problems caused by allergy. Once your buddy scratches and the skin is broken, bacteria flourishes in the warm, moist environment of his coat. This is especially true in long-haired, thick-coated breeds; in hot, humid environments, and with dogs who love to swim. All your pal's licking and scratching tangles his hair until it forms a mat over the sore. It’s nearly impossible for the sore to air-dry and form a scab once his fur mats on top of it.
Treating a hot spot involves first clipping away any matted fur around it. Once that's done, cleanse the area with medicated soap and water, and thoroughly pat it dry. Keeping the area dry is vital to healing. Your veterinarian may prescribe topical hydrocortisone sprays or creams to stop the itching and allow your buddy to stop scratching and licking. Follow your vet's instructions for application of the medication. As much as possible, you must stop your buddy from licking the affected area. If he's persistent about licking, you may need to resort to an Elizabethan cone. In some cases, a hot spot becomes a deep skin infection. Deep hot spots often require oral antibiotics to clear up the infection.
The best way to prevent a hot spot is by grooming and checking your buddy’s skin and fur frequently. To be diligent, brush your buddy at least once a week -- more often if he has a thick coat that's prone to matting. Check him over daily for bumps, wounds or sores. Early hot-spot detection is important. Treat new sores twice daily with a skin disinfectant approved by your vet. If your canine friend is still scratching and licking, take him to the vet before you have a full-fledged hot spot on your hands.
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.