What’s up with hot spots?

‘Tis the season for dogs to get hot spots! What are they exactly? The medical diagnosis is “moist pyoderma.” This loosely translates into “gooey, seriously infected skin”.
And itchy.
And painful.
People often think hot spots are related to hot weather. While they do seem to occur more in summer, it isn’t the temperature outside that’s causing them. There is usually an underlying allergy that makes the dog itch. Most commonly, it’s fleas (or a flea allergy), but it can also be seasonal allergies (ragweed, pollen, grass, etc). For whatever reason, the dog gets itchy and starts to lick and bite that area, which damages the skin. This allows the normally harmless bacteria that live on the protective outer layer of the skin (typically staph or strep) to set up house BELOW the outer layer of the skin. This is a whole new environment, and the bacteria go a little crazy. The result is a deep skin infection that itches and hurts! It’s a vicious cycle, as the more the dog licks and chews, the more infected the skin gets. In some dogs, these are so painful the dog may stop eating, lie around, and the particularly melodramatic can act like they’re absolutely dying. (You know who you are!)
These are frustrating because they can develop so quickly! I’ve had people leave for work in the morning with a seemingly normal dog, and come home at the end of the day to a dog with a sore the size of my palm! The best bet is to have them seen by a vet. Oral medications are the most effective at treating these deep infections, as anything topical tends to slide off. If your dog has one, never use any kind of alcohol or peroxide on it! Sometimes a cool cloth can feel good. Bottom line: if your dog suddenly develops one of these, you’ll know there’s something wrong. Have him or her treated promptly….for all of your sake!