Hot spots look and feel miserable and frequently arise from an underlying allergy. Treatment is effective if they’re caught early, while a healthy diet and the right supplements can help prevent them altogether.

Many dog lovers will tell you how annoying hot spots can be. These skin irritations start with some innocent licking or scratching, but if left unchecked, they can grow into large, painful and potentially dangerous infections. Thankfully, treatment for hot spots is usually simple, with a good chance for full recovery.

What are they?

“Hot spot” is the common name for pyotraumatic dermatitis. This condition is the direct result of self-inflicted skin trauma that leads to infection. In other words, dogs will lick and scratch at an area until it is a red, infected sore. Most commonly, hot spots appear as moist, red, painful bare patches of ulcerated skin. Sometimes the area is obscured by matted fur that hides the irritated skin. Hot spots can occur rapidly, frequently within 24 hours of the dog starting to lick or scratch. People will exclaim that they “had no idea it wasn’t there yesterday!”

Why do they happen?

This is a common question, and unfortunately the cause of most hot spots is never determined. By the time the dog is presented to the veterinarian, the area is so ulcerated and infected that the inciting cause cannot be determined. Hot spots occur more frequently during the summer months. This is probably due to the increased exposure to biting insects, activities that involve water and being wet for long periods and contact with allergens, such as pollen. Basically, anything that might cause a dog to itch could result in a hot spot if the licking and scratching response is not controlled.

Other causes include ear infections and underlying allergic skin disease. Ear infections can cause a dog to scratch and rub his face, leading to a hot spot on the cheek area. Dogs with allergies already have itchy, sensitive skin, making them extremely susceptible to hot spots.

How can they be prevented?

Even though we do not know the cause of most hot spots, we can still take measures to avoid them. Parasite control, especially against  fleas, ticks and other biting insects, is paramount. You should also frequently inspect your dog’s skin for areas of irritation and ear infections. Dogs that like to swim should be dried afterward. Also, dogs with allergies should receive appropriate treatment to control their symptoms. A healthy diet, minimal vaccines and a resilient immune system can go a long way to help prevent or alleviate these problems (more on this below).

How hot spots are treated allopathically

If your dog develops hot spots, know that they are relatively easy to deal with if caught early. First, the area should be gently cleaned with a mild antibacterial soap, and the hair surrounding the lesion should be clipped. This will allow the area to stay clean and dry. You also need to stop your dog from licking and scratching. This may involve using Elizabethan collars, t-shirts and nasty-tasting sprays. The area will never heal if the dog continues to bother it!

Conventional treatment may also include oral or topical antibiotics and steroids to address infection and inflammation. If the dog has underlying allergic skin conditions, antihistamines, special diets and shampoos may also offer some relief. Unfortunately, these medications, especially steroids, can cause unwanted side effects.

Alternative methods are effective Alternative therapies aim to treat infection and reduce the redness and pain.

• Once the area has been clipped and cleaned, try a topical solution. Look for ingredients such as St. John’s wort, which decreases local inflammation while soothing irritated nerve endings and providing pain relief. Topical aloe enhances wound healing and is also anti-inflammatory.

• Calendula juice can be diluted and used to rinse the area. It provides antimicrobial action and encourages wound healing.

• Acupuncture can also be used to encourage wound healing. A method called “surround the dragon”, in which needles are placed in a circle around the lesion, stimulates local circulation to the area. This encourages the body’s natural ability to fight infection bacteria-fighting white blood cells and nourishing proteins and chemicals to the area.

• Laser therapy is another option. It utilizes light energy to stimulate the cells and local circulation. It has been proven to enhance wound healing in both human and animal studies.

Hot spots can be a frustrating problem. If not caught quickly, they can grow into large, painful infections. But it’s not always necessary to use antibiotics and steroids to deal with them. Many natural substances offer the same anti-inflammatory and antibacterial benefits without the unpleasant side effects. For dogs prone to hot spots due to allergies, diet and herbs can help decrease their itchy symptoms. Preventing the itch in the first place is the best way to avoid hot spots!