The term “hot spot” can have a lot of meanings. It’s the place I search out on a visit to a big city or, in winter, where we would all like to be stretched out on the beach. At Hillcrest Animal Hospital right now, “hot spot” is the disease of the week.

Many people with large breed dogs — particularly Golden Retrievers, Labs, Huskies and similarly heavy-coated crosses – have had to deal with hot spots on their pets. Today, I saw an unfortunate victim with the whole left side of his face involved and soon we’ll be sedating him for clipping, cleaning and drying of the wound.

Hot spots are known by various names, including the technical mouthful “pyotraumatic dermatitis”, but they are essentially rapidly spreading, oozing, painful areas of skin inflammation that drive dogs nuts with itching (causing furious scratching and thus, the “traumatic” part in the technical term.) There are various causes, but the common thread is something that causes intense pain and itching, starting the worsening cycle of scratching and overlying infection. The inciting culprit can be an insect bite, a bacteria-laden swimming hole, allergies or a minor scratch. This is generally a warm-weather disease and, praise the weather gods, winter is finally over in Trenton.

Usually, the first thing you would notice on a dog with a hot spot is a coin-sized oozing wound (often on the face, particularly below the ear). Before you can say “call the vet”, the wound can spread to cover large areas. Today’s case had progressed from coin to half the face in just a few days. So, what do do? The absolute best choice is a trip to the vet as soon as possible since early intervention can stop the spreading wounds in their tracks. If circumstances prevent immediate attention, do the basics; clip, clean and dry. Clipping is usually the hardest to achieve at home, since most people don’t have the equipment, but removing the hair is a huge help. Clean the wound vigorously with the best dog shampoo you can find. If you happen to have access to chlorhexidene soap, all the better. Be sure to rinse off really well and dry gently, but thoroughly. Applying ointments just makes a sticky mess, but drying agents, such as Domeboro solution can be helpful. After the fur has been clipped back one of Dr. Steen’s favourite products to use to dry the area is good old Hydrogen Peroxide. Keep all soaps and solutions (and peroxide!) out of the eyes, of course.

Now, the problem with all this sage advice is that these wounds are usually quite painful, so “Molson” is probably not just going to let you clip, clean and dry without objection. This is why I suggested the trip to the vet’s, but do what you can if you can’t get to one right away. It’s important not to give pain medications like Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid or ASA) since your veterinarian will likely prescribe an anti-inflammatory steroid called prednisone which doesn’t play well with the ASA-type of drug. Hot spots are also generally treated with antibiotics since bacterial infection plays a large role in the fast spread of the wounds.

If your dog does frequent battle with these painful skin sores, it is worthwhile trying to track down and eliminate the inciting cause. A new diet, careful bathing and drying after swimming or keeping a thick coat trimmed back may all be indicated.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist, DVM