Acute Moist Dermatitis in Dogs: Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog—Hot Spots

Wait a minute. Hot spots—acute moist dermatitis—if it has a name, it is already a diagnosis, isn’t it? Well, yes and no.

The medical term for hot spots is either pyotraumatic or acute moist dermatitis. Did you notice how often names of medical conditions are nothing more than a description of a problem?

Acute Moist Dermatitis in Dogs: Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog—Hot Spots

What does it mean when the name of your dog’s condition ends with -itis?

The suffix -itis stands for inflammation. This covers a laundry list of things starting with arthritis and ending with vulvovaginitis–yeah, that’s a real thing.

The part of the word that precedes the suffix identifies the involved organ. Joint(s) in arthritis, stomach, and intestines in gastroenteritis, ear(s) in otitis, skin in dermatitis, and so on.

That’s all that tells you

A geographical location and the fact that it’s inflamed. That is not nearly enough information. The cause behind inflammation can be trauma, bacterial infection, viral infection, fungal infection, auto-immune reaction–more information is needed to treat successfully.

Qualifiers to the rescue

If more information is what you need, in the case of hot spots, you’re in luck. Don’t forget the additional words–either pyotraumatic or acute moist. Those indicate there is oozing and pus. Where there is pus, there is an infection. In this case, bacterial.

So that’s a diagnosis, no?

Maybe. The bacteria that cause hot spots aren’t some exotic type that your dog contracts someplace if they are unlucky. It’s a bacteria that is normally present on the skin all the time, but its population gets out of control. The real diagnosis lies in why does that happen.

There could have been a minor trauma. Perhaps the coat has been matted or wet. But you take good care of your dog, and their coat is brushed regularly. So that’s not it. I don’t know about your dog, but mine get scratches and little wounds from running through brambles all the time and don’t end up with hot spots. Jasmine was an avid swimmer and didn’t end up with hot spots. Until she did. And at about that time she also got diagnosed with hypothyroidism.

The immune system normally keeps such things under control

So what allowed the bacteria to run rampant? And that, my friend, is the right question. The answer lies within your dog’s immune function almost every time.

Is the immune system under-performing? Why? In Jasmine’s case, it was a poor thyroid function, but there are other issues that weaken the immune system.

Or is the immune system going crazy, attacking your dog’s own tissues instead of taking care of business?

Treat the hot spot and look for a cause

Once a hot spot develops, it can spread like a forest fire. Almost literally. It is also very itchy and painful at the same time. The first order of business is treating the infection.

After that, though, if you don’t want your dog to keep getting hot spots over and over again, look what led to the loss of equilibrium in the first place.

Symptoms of hot spots

Hot spots are a common skin problem in dogs. The ultimate manifestation of a hot spot includes raw, inflamed, oozing sores that can spread rapidly. The wound might bleed and it is very painful. Before it gets to that, you might notice:

  • scratching, licking and chewing at the affected area
  • wet, matted fur
  • hair loss

Changes in behavior and even aggression can accompany large, painful hot spots.

If you pay close attention to your dog, you can catch it early. The first time Jasmine had a hot spot, the first thing I noticed was her scratching at her cheek. Because she was not normally an itchy dog, it prompted me to have a closer look.

I found a small area on her cheek that was wet and it looked as if it had pimples on the skin. Later that night I found a small patch of fur with some skin still attached to it. Was that related?

We went to the vet the next day but by then the area grew. When the vet shaved off Jasmine’s fur, I was shocked to see how big the problem really was. That time, Jasmine needed oral antibiotics to get her hot spot under control. We got away without having to use the Elizabethan collar but it is often necessary to prevent the dog from causing further trauma to the wound.

Anti-inflammatory medication can be necessary to control inflammation and pain in bad cases.

The second time when a hot spot started brewing, I was tipped off by a familiar small patch of fur I found on her bed. She wasn’t even fussing with it that much yet. Because I caught it so early, we were able to treat it with a topical medication.

Potential causes of hot spots

In general, a hot spot is a result of normal local bacteria getting out of hand. The two ingredients are trauma to the skin and immune system unable to keep things in check.

A healthy dog can get a hot spot after they sustained a minor injury to their skin from running through brambles, particularly if they have a long coat, and the weather is hot and humid.

If your dog keeps getting hot spots, though, there is usually more to the picture. An underlying condition is likely. Underlying issues that lead to hot spots include:

  • poor grooming practices
  • allergies (food or environmental)
  • systemic issues that depress the immune system such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease
  • immuno-suppressive medications such as steroids

The best way to prevent hot spots is getting to the underlying cause.

Related articles
Primer On Hot Spots

Further reading:
Pyotraumatic dermatitis (acute moist dermatitis, hot spot)

Categories: Acute moist dermatitisHot spots

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Jana Rade edited by Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience. Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc is our wonderful sponsor and has been kind to edit and fact-check my important articles.

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