This time of year, hot spots (aka superficial pyoderma, moist pyoderma, pyotraumatic dermatitis) are a common problem in dogs. Hot spots are more common in males, and most often occur on the cheek (pictured), neck or outside of the thigh. Normal skin is covered with various bacteria but infections don’t develop because healthy, intact skin is a natural protective barrier. Hot spots typically occur when the skin’s normal barrier is compromised from scratching (e.g. from allergic skin disease, insect bites) or chronic moisture (e.g. under the ear or collar of dogs that swim a lot). Hot spots are typically red, with oozing serum or pus on the surface and a foul smell. They are often itchy, so affected dogs with repeatedly scratch the area, but they may also be very painful.

Various bacteria can cause hot spots. Most commonly, Staphylococcus pseudintermedius is involved. Hot spots are quite low risk for transmission to other animals or to people, although it is possible for concerning bacteria like methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) to be involved. Only a culture of the infected site can determine the bacterium that is involved.

  • Most hot spots are easily treated. This typically involves clipping the hair around the infected site and scrubbing the area with antibacterial soap. Sometimes, antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatories are also needed. The infected site should be kept as clean and dry as possible.
  • While most hot spots are not caused by bacteria that are a major concern for transmission to people or their animals, any infected site should be handled with care. Direct contact with the hot spot should be avoided.
    • If the infected site needs to be touched, gloves should be used if possible, and hands should always be thoroughly washed after touching the site.
    • Care should be taken when touching hot spots because they can be very painful, and touching them could make some dogs bite.
  • Prompt examination by your veterinarian will help ensure your pet gets the treatment it needs as soon as possible, and ultimately helps speed recovery.
  • Always follow your veterinarian’s recommendations closely and completely. Stopping treatment too early can lead to recurrence of the infection, which may be more difficult to treat.

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