The 411 on Hot Spots

Does your dog itch, scratch and lick himself so often in certain places that the affected areas become red, hot, irritated, or even bloody and scabbed? This ailment, also known as “hot spots” or “moist eczema,” is caused by a variety of factors such as bites, poor grooming, skin infections, stress or boredom, but is quite often the result of environmental allergies.

Allergens in the air such as dust or pollen often consistent with a change in seasons, increase a dog’s histamine levels, which set off uncomfortable itching that the dog tries to self-remedy by scratching, licking and biting. Not to be ignored, environmental allergies, also known as “atopic dermatitis” typically occur post puppy-hood after a dog is one years old, and become progressively worse over a dog’s lifespan.

Hot spots can not only be quite painful and irritating for dogs, but are also upsetting for the owner who has to watch and listen to a dog licking, scratching and inflicting self-trauma. Hot spots can severely affect the quality of the dog’s life and if left untreated, the hot spots will only worsen and develop into bacterial infection sites due to the combination of an open wound and surrounding moistness.

Certain breeds are more susceptible to hot spots, including Retrievers, Terriers, Boxers, Dalmatians, Bulldogs, Shepherds, Beagles and Irish Setters.

Medication Treatments for Relief:

Antihistamine Medication – Similar to treatment offered to humans who suffer from allergies, an antihistamine such as Benadryl or Claritin can be helpful as a first line of defense, at least for temporary relief. Remember to consult with your vet regarding the appropriate dosage for your dog based on weight. Unfortunately, these medications can often lose effectiveness if used too often and only work on 30% of dogs.

Steroid Medication – The next option, if an antihistamine isn’t doing the trick, is to discuss corticosteroid medications with your vet. A stronger Rx, these meds are often effective, but you must be careful with continued use, as they can present possible severe and permanent side effects.

Immunotherapy – Many veterinarians will say allergy shots are the only effective method to stop the progression of allergies. Similar to the skin testing performed on humans, a veterinarian will inject various allergens into the dog’s skin to test which cause reactions, and to which degree. The allergens are then mixed together to formulate the injection, which over time and if performed consistently, will desensitize your dog’s immune system. It’s recommended to start young as the older the dog gets, the less effective the treatment can be.

Immune-Suppressants – This option should only be explored if immunotherapy is not showing positive results or improvement. Immune modulator drugs suppress the immune system so that it does not respond to harmless allergens. However, these medications can cause side effects such as vomiting and diarrhea, and present an increased risk of infection from other illnesses.

Sublingual Immunotherapy – This is an alternative to allergy shots, if you’re concerned your dog may have a negative or aggressive reaction to an injection. With this treatment, the medication is administered by squeezing into their mouth.

Please know that each option should be thoroughly discussed and weighed with your veterinarian as treatments will vary based on the dog’s breed, size, and medical history.

Non-Medication Treatments for Relief:

Keep Your Dog’s Paws Clean – As a preventative measure, it doesn’t hurt to manually remove potential allergens from your dog’s paws after walks or hikes by washing or wiping thoroughly.

Use Medicated Shampoo – For bathing, ask your vet dermatologist for a recommendation on a specially-formulated shampoo designed to control inflammation on skin.

Try Supplements – Certain dietary pills with fatty acids such as biotin and Omega-3s are supposed to suppress itching and improve coat health.

Avoid Products with Known Allergens – If you’ve done a skin testing for your dog and are able to isolate certain allergens, take care with buying food or skincare free of those allergens.

Bathe Often and Follow Flea Control Regimen – A regularly groomed dog taking consistent flea prevention medication will have less risk of fleas and other irritants, which can cause hot spots.

Offer A Stress-Free Environment – Make sure your dog gets regular exercise and opportunities for play to relieve boredom.

Use a Temporary E-collar – While annoying for your dog, an Elizabethan collar or cone can be effective for stopping the itching and allowing the hot spot to heal.