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Hot Spots are Wildfires

by Katie McKay | Dec 15, 2015

I’m not sure it’s possible to talk too much about hot spots. There is no week that goes by without a question or story about a hot spot. Any time of year, any place and the cause can be so many things. A tiny flea or other insect bite, allergies, excessive grooming, only your dog will know and she’s not talkin. They pop up quickly and if you aren’t on top of things, they can spread even faster….like a forest fire. The good news is that if you are patient and are committed to it, you can usually clear them up on your own, even when they look their worst.

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This is Gracie Lou-face. I call her Lou-face because I love her face….it is adorable. However, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a not-so-adorable spot on her face and upon further examination, boom, hot spot.
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A closer view
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Ouch! And of course she was madly itching it.

Let's do an experiment, Google Hot Spot. Definition: a small area or region with a relatively hot temperature in comparison to its surroundings. A place of significant activity or danger. Not exactly the hot spot we are referring to, however I would agree that canine hot spots are certainly worthy of these definitions. Now let's Google: Canine Hot Spot. Acute pyoderma or acute moist pyotraumatic dermatitis (AMPD). Um what? This basically directly translates as pus (“pyo”) skin (“dermis”). Raw, painful and irritated, these skin lesions resultin and worsen when your dog scratches, licks or bites the area. Let me say that again, when your dog scratches, licks or bites the area.  I think this is where the “traumatic” part in the definition comes from….for you, for the dog, for everyone. There are a few simple rules to follow to contain and control a hot spot and if you follow them, have some patience and are set on having golden retrievers, you might want to memorize these.

Rule #1. SHAVE and clean the area. I know, your dog’s hair is absolutely lovely and the beauty by which all goldens are measured, but believe me, it does and will grow back. Don’t be shy. You need to shave the area of the hot spot but you also need to shave around the spot until you can see healthy skin. This does two things, 1. It gets the hair out of the way. Hair laying over the spot traps dirt, heat and wet conditions. And 2. It clears the area so that you can properly clean and apply medications directly to the area. 
Here is Gracie after a shave and a careful scrub with a cotton ball dipped in Dawn dish soap and water. After clipping the hair away, I gently clean the area with a mild soap to get that yellow looking slime off.....that's bacteria doing its thing. Then I pat the area dry and allow it to air out a little.
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Here's a closer look at the before shot again
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And after the shave and clean! Much better! Again, its tough to shave this area so just do the best you can.
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You don’t have to have a fancy dog clipper. Mine is from the drug store and is a home hair cutting kit for $15 and it has been worth every penny as I have had it now for several years.
hair clippers
I also own one of these
beard trimmer
It’s a beard trimmer ($8)…..this also works great for smaller spots like the one on Gracie Lou. It’s cordless and operates on a single AA battery. You must shave the area….not just trim it.  Get close to the skin and give em a buzz! This is obviously tricky when trimming hair on their face but just do the best you can. Here are some pictures of hot spots in other locations that are nicely shaved just so you can get an idea. 
hot spot
Above is Bailey's hot spot when her owners found it. Notice all the hair involved...let's take care of that!
Here is another nasty hot spot from my boy Gus who was notorious for breaking out after a swim in the lake. This is his belly, sorry for the PG-13 photo.
hot spot2

Wet looking and shiny is never a good thing. That's your indication that pain and inflammation and spreading is occurring.....which brings me to rule #2!
Rule #2. DRY IT OUT! Hot spots are warm and moist making them a luxury resort for yeast and bacteria. Our goal is clean, cool and DRY them out. NOTE: Dog tongues are warm and wet so keep them away! NO LICKING, BITING OR CHEWING!  Once the spot is dry, I use Gold Bond Powder. Gold Bond contains menthol which helps to soothe and it has anti-itch properties. Gold Bond also contains Zinc Oxide which has about a hundred million uses, but in this case can deodorize, prevent soft tissue damage by slightly absorbing in to the skin and emits antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Be careful with the blue bottle (I usually get the yellow), it contains a higher concentration of menthol and can burn.
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Here's Gracie's powdery face. I always cover her eyes and nose with a towel or blanket while I'm applying the powder. Once the dust settles, she's free to go...into the e-collar.
Here are some great examples of what your dog's hot spot will look like if properly cleaned, dried out and left alone to heal. (Wear that E-Collar!!)

shaved hot spot#2
Notice the nice little square around the irritated part, this is perfect! Also, you can see unaffected skin all the way around the red area.  This is Hutch, he has an old man pimple, no worries....just be careful when shaving that you don't cut into these little lumps and bumps. Here's another example
shaved hot spot
shaved and healing hot spot
Everybody got the idea? This last picture is actually a great example of what a healing hot spot will look like once you dry it out! This foster did a fantastic job....which leads me one last time to a very important point!

Rule #3. DO NOT let your dog lick, chew or bite the area. Use an e-collar, an old t-shirt, shorts, socks, whatever you can to keep them away from it.  No one likes it, but you absolutely MUST keep them away from the area. You’re fighting a losing battle if you don’t. A few days in an e-collar is inconvenient but everyone will survive, I promise. Remember when we talked about the normal balance of bacteria and yeast on the skin (FLOPPY EARS ARE WARM BLANKETS) and how warm moist conditions can throw things out of balance? The same thing is happening here. 

Your vet will likely clean and clip the spot as I have described, prescribe antibiotics, very possibly steroids and usually a topical antibiotic spray. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, but I equate it to using the super soaker for something that only needs a squirt gun and it can be expensive if you are visiting them every couple of months. But let’s face it, sometimes those spots get away from you and you need to pull out the big guns. 

Anti-histamines may help with the itching, but this will vary from dog to dog. They are all different. Always make sure to continue to brush and bath your dog, even though the winter. Good grooming will also keep hot spots at bay or at least help you locate them while they are still manageable. There are some other powders and products out there for dealing with hot spots out there, that's for sure.  Make sure they are safe for your dog and use what works. I like Gold Bond because its cheap, easy to find and works every time.....as long as I follow the rules. Now where did I put that e-collar.....

Good luck!
Katie