A hot spot starts innocently enough: probably with a minor itch or irritation, but one bothersome enough that your cat or dog keeps licking or scratching at it. This abrades away the fur and top layer of skin, leaving a raw sore that attracts bacteria. This creates an infected and painful spot that can become a huge, oozing wound in a matter of hours.
There are many potential causes of the initial irritation:
- Ringworm is a fungus that produces ring-like areas of hair loss; it can be very itchy. Ringworm is highly contagious, so it’s important to get to the bottom of the problem as soon as possible.
- Matted fur may be pulling on the skin.
- Localized pain may cause a cat to lick an area excessively. For instance, a hot spot over a joint may indicate discomfort from injury or arthritis.
- Infected scratches or cuts (abscesses) are painful and will attract a lot of licking. It can look like a hot spot, but an abscess actually extends under the skin and it will need to be drained by a vet in order to heal.
- Skin parasites such as fleas can be itchy, and may cause your pet to keep pestering an area.
- In cats, stress or nervousness may excessive grooming, which can eventually create a hot spot.
- The most common underlying cause of hot spots is allergies, and the most common allergy is to fleabites. Other allergens include food and inhaled particles, such as pollen or dust mites.
Treatment of hot spots consists of two phases: relief for your pet, and dealing with the underlying cause.
- Clip and cleanse. Shave around the hot spot to keep hair out of it, and clean it with an antiseptic soap; rinse thoroughly.
- Stay clean. Cleanse the wound 2–3 times a day until it no longer oozes pus.
- Black tea. Prepare an infusion of black tea by heating up 2–3 ounces of water, and steep a tea bag in it until it cools off. Apply the cool tea bag directly to the wound and hold it there 5 minutes—or as long as your pet will tolerate it. Repeat 3–4 times per day. You can re-use the same tea bag all day if you keep it in the infusion between applications. The tannins in the tea have a drying effect.
- Raw honey. This old folk remedy actually has some good science behind it. After cleansing and rinsing, apply a layer of honey over the wound. Honey has antibacterial properties, and also helps protect the area from further contamination.
- Tea tree oil is antimicrobial and antibacterial, and can help to disinfect wounds.
- Aloe vera gel can help to soothe and cool hot spots and speed healing.
- It may be necessary to use an e-collar (a cone made of stiff material, worn around the neck) to keep your pet from continuing to aggravate the wound.
If hot spots don’t begin healing after a couple of days, a vet visit is in order.
Long-term Prevention and Healing
Of course, finding and addressing the underlying cause is important; but often a definitive cause is not found. In that case, we turn to general support of the whole body, particularly the skin. Skin is the body’s largest organ; its main function is protection. So, what can we do to maintain that barrier in a healthy state?
Basic nutrition. Feed your dog or cat the most natural diet you can. For allergies, whether food-related or not, it is often useful to simplify your pet’s diet and move toward less-processed food. Dry food typically contains more additives and is more processed than food in cans or pouches. Raw, dehydrated, freeze-dried, or homemade diets may be better tolerated.
Smart supplementation. Omega-3s are critical for skin and coat health. Their anti-inflammatory properties are beneficial for wound healing. The most important forms, EPA and DHA, are best obtained from marine sources such as fish or green-lipped mussel oils.
Stress management. There are plenty of invisible stresses on pets, such as air pollution; electromagnetic fields; noise and light pollution; airborne viruses, molds, bacteria, pollens and other irritants; plus toxins in foods, vaccines, and medicines. Stress suppresses the immune system, which allows problems like hot spots to arise.
Flower essences can help with anxiety, nervousness, and stress.
Exercise is tremendously valuable as a stress reducer. A bored, frustrated cat, for example, is more likely to develop obsessive-compulsive behaviors that can lead to hot spots, like over-grooming.
Jean Hofve, DVM, is a holistically oriented veterinarian and co-author of Paleo Dog: Give Your Best Friend a Long Life, Healthy Weight, and Freedom from Illness by Nurturing His Inner Wolf.
ASCENTA HEALTH Canine Omega 3 and Feline Omega 3 helps keep your pet’s skin and coat healthy with EPA and DHA from fish oil.
HOMEOPET Hot Spots Homeopathic is formulated to promote healing of open wounds and ease itching.
VET’S BEST Hot Spot Spray is a cooling combination of aloe vera, chamomile, and tea tree oil.