Ruh roh…you found a hot spot on your cat or dog. Hot spots are incredibly common and can be caused by a wide range of factors. While hot spots themselves aren’t usually emergency issues, they can sometimes be indicative of a more serious health problem that needs to be addressed.
Let’s talk about what to do in the first two hours after you spot, well, a hot spot.
0-30 Minutes In: Inspect the Spot
Hot spots can be present for days before even the most contentious pet parent ever notices them. Animals are really good at hiding anything that’s bothering them and in many cases, hot spots naturally form in areas you’re usually not looking at too frequently: under the arms, under the tail, or around the ears.
Once you find a hot spot while bathing your pet or after noticing him furiously licking one particular area, take a minute to inspect it. The information you gather will be important later on as you come back to the spot to see how (or if) it’s healing. A few things to note include the color of the spot, the size, the amount of swelling, and if there’s any bleeding associated with it.
It’s not a bad idea to take a photo of the hot spot to compare it to later, or just to show your vet if things get worse.
30-60 Minutes In: Determine Treatment
Most hot spots can be treated at home without professional intervention. There are, of course, a couple of exceptions to this rule. If the hot spot looks in any way infected (i.e. you see pus, there’s significant bleeding, the spot is very red and tender), go ahead and call your vet for an antibiotic before things get worse. We’ll talk about other reasons to contact your vet in a minute.
If the hot spot is relatively mild, consider where it might have come from. Did your pet’s skin stay moist for longer than usual after a swim yesterday? Did he have a cut he’s been gnawing on? Or maybe you recently switched his food? Understanding the underlying cause of a hot spot (or hot spots) helps treat them. Remember that moisture is the enemy of health skin in pets.
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If you’re comfortable doing so, safely trim off any hair that might get in the way of the medication, or get inside the hot spot itself. Next, sterilize the hot spot – which is really just a wound – with an over the counter hot spot spray or chlorhexidine/nolvasan, both of which are available over-the-counter. Leave on the hot spot for 10 minutes then rinse with clean water. Another option, especially if a big dog or a large hot spot, is to use a hose to apply pressured spray. That helps remove bacteria and debris and the pressure helps turn over skin cells, but be sure to stop if it seems like it’s painful for your pet.
Once the area is dry, apply a thin layer of topical hot spot ointment or spray to the area. Regular Neosporin works fine, but wipe off any excess after 10 minutes of contact. (If enough antibiotic ointment is ingested, it can actually make your pet sick. The most important aspect of hot spot management is keeping your pet from licking the area, so a T-shirt or head cone are a must as it heals.
Some pets’ hot spots don’t respond to over the counter solutions and might require a prescription solution, so keep an eye on the hot spot over the next couple of days. If it’s not markedly better within 2-3 days, call your vet for an appointment.
1-2 Hours In: Know When to Call a Vet
Most hot spots can be treated at home without professional intervention. There are, of course, a couple of exceptions to this rule. If the hot spot looks in any way infected (i.e. you see pus, there’s significant bleeding, the site is very red and tender), go ahead and call for an appointment. An infected hot spot isn’t likely to get better without a prescription medication.
If this is the very first hot spot your pet has ever had, you also might want to touch base with your vet. Your pet might have risk factors that predispose him to getting hot spots, and your vet will be able to walk you through prevention options.
Conversely, if your pet regularly gets hot spots and you’re just not sure why, reach out to a veterinarian! It could be that your pet has some kind of allergy to food or something in the environment. He might have scabies, dry skin, or even mites. Fleas are a common cause of hot spots in pets. It’s possible he’s licking the same spot raw due to pain, or even that he’s dealing with some anxiety. Your vet will know what to do next.