WHAT IS A HOT SPOT?
A hot spot is a skin disorder that affects dogs and cats. The term “hot spot” refers to the characteristic presentation of this condition which includes a red, oozing lesion or moist infection on a dog’s or cat’s body When only one hot spot exists, it is usually found near the tip of the animal’s tail.
In some cases, more than one visible lesion will be present. This condition is also known as acute moist dermatitis in the veterinary literature. It can occur anywhere on a pet’s body but occurs most commonly between the toes, at the base of the tail, and in inter-follicular spaces.
Hot spots often develop when dogs or cats are experiencing a combination of internal and external factors that contribute to the development of dermatitis. The most common internal factor is an animal’s compromised immune system, which can be caused by things such as parasites, allergies, malnutrition, or other underlying health issues.
There are many potential causes for dogs and cats to develop skin problems. Among these problems are parasitic infections, food protein reactions, infectious diseases, bacterial skin infections, yeast overgrowth, hormonal imbalances, hormone-related skin conditions (e.g., hypothyroidism ), autoimmune disorders, allergies/ atopy, lack of protective oils in the skin (seborrhea), underlying health conditions (especially suppressed immune systems) and mental/emotional issues among others.
Cats with hot spots often have a history of flea infestation or skin allergies.
Triggers of hot spots in cats and dogs
Intact female cat in heat. This is another reason NOT to neuter your baby! In animal shelters, about 5% of the cats are on stud service for breeding when they arrive. The other 95% are spayed or neutered before being adopted out. Animal shelters don’t get a large percentage of intact animals, just think how many people would be breeding their pets if they knew the great health problems that these innocent kittens will face later in life from being altered at such a young age! Hot spots on cats can likewise be triggered by unknown factors especially in some cats that are over-grooming.
Hot spots often develop as an abnormal response to irritating or painful stimuli. This is especially true in cats, who are very sensitive creatures! Among the most common causes of hot spots are skin allergies, parasitic infections, food protein reactions, infectious diseases, bacterial skin infections, yeast overgrowth, hormonal imbalances, hormone-related skin conditions (e.g., hypothyroidism), autoimmune disorders, allergies/atopy, lack of protective oils in the skin (seborrhea), underlying health conditions (especially suppressed immune systems) and mental/emotional issues among others.
The most common external cause for hot spots to develop is irritation due to excessive grooming. This type of over-grooming is commonly seen in cats that are experiencing stress or anxiety due to changes within their environment (e.g., new household member, redecorating, moving to a new home, etc), especially when these stressors involve other cats.
Cats can also develop hot spots as an abnormal response to irritating or painful stimuli. Among the most common causes of these skin, lesions are parasitic infections, food protein reactions, infectious diseases, bacterial skin infections, yeast overgrowth, hormonal imbalances, hormone-related skin conditions (e.g., hypothyroidism ), autoimmune disorders, allergies/atopy, lack of protective oils in the skin (seborrhea), underlying health conditions (especially suppressed immune systems) and mental/emotional issues among others.
Although hot spots may occur at any age in dogs or cats, they are most frequently seen in young to middle-aged animals with an average age of 5 years in dogs and 3 years in cats. However, these skin lesions can develop at any age, including in senior pets.
External causes of hot spots on cats
The most common external cause for hot spots is irritation due to excessive grooming. This type of over-grooming is commonly seen in cats that are experiencing stress or anxiety due to changes within their environment (e.g., new household member, redecorating, moving to a new home, etc), especially when these stressors involve other cats. In a study involving cats with anxiety-related problems, more than 80% of the cats had excessive grooming.
Some of these cats had a single hot spot while others had multiple skin lesions. In another study, over 20% of the individuals had more than one skin condition at diagnosis. However, it is important to remember that hot spots themselves are not a sign of mental illness or stress.
Another common cause of hot spots on cats is flea infestation. Severe parasitic infestations can indeed trigger an itch cycle in pets and may lead to the development and worsening of concomitant medical conditions such as allergies and/or bacterial infections. Other parasites such as scabies mites ( Sarcoptes scabei ) and Demodex or non-specific mite infestation ( Knemidocoptes mutants & Knemidocoptes pilae ) have also been associated with the development of itchiness and subsequent hot spots.
Infectious diseases such as FIV, feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), toxoplasmosis, ringworm, fungal infections, and even ear mites can cause skin irritation in cats leading to secondary bacterial skin infections and/or hot spots.
Although a rare condition in cats, scabies is another possible cause of hot spots in these animals. In addition to being caused by a parasitic mite, Soil Based Organisms (SBO’s) have also been associated with the development of hot spots in cats. Other causes include food protein reactions, allergies to environmental elements such as dust, pollen, molds, and mildew or more obscure medical conditions such as lack of protective oils in the skin (seborrhea), underlying health conditions (especially suppressed immune systems), and mental/emotional issues among others.
Many of these disorders are at least partially treatable; however, some medical conditions may be life-threatening or difficult to manage long term. Even though it can help your veterinarian diagnose any underlying ailments that could be triggering the itch cycle, it is very important not to self-diagnose hot spots using the Internet. Some of these skin lesions may be serious and should be evaluated by a veterinary professional.
Excessive licking, chewing, and scratching can lead to bacterial colonization on the skin and can in some cases eventually escalate into an itch-scratch cycle in which it becomes increasingly more difficult to stop your cat’s compulsive behavior.
In some cats, excessive grooming can become so intense that they mutilate their skin with their nails or teeth leading to wounds that resemble human open-heart surgery. And In the most severe cases, cats may actually eat parts of their body tissues (fur, hair, etc.). In addition to being emotionally painful for your pet’s owner, this condition is very uncomfortable for him or her and can be life-threatening.
Self-Grooming Syndrome in Cats
Humans who are overwhelmed by heavy feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, boredom, or frustration may engage in self-destructive activities such as cutting or excessive drinking. Pets are also known to experience these emotions but express them through behaviors that are not considered normal within the human population. One fairly common problematic behavior is termed “self-grooming syndrome”.
During this particular cycle, cats may lick, chew, scratch, and/or bite themselves so much so that they actually cause serious skin problems including erosions, hair loss, and severe skin inflammation ). Although any breed or even mixed breeds can develop this psychological disorder, it appears to be most common in older cats, overweight cats, and those with relatively sedentary lifestyles. Some of the identified triggering factors include living indoors exclusively (especially if their owners are out for much of the day), boredom, separation anxiety, or stress among others.
According to one study at Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, over 25% of all cats admitted for behavioral issues were diagnosed with self-grooming syndrome. This medical condition is characterized by compulsive activities such as licking, chewing, scratching, and biting that cause hair loss; skin injuries; open wounds or sores; infection; flea infestations; fur swallowing (potentially leading to intestinal blockage); personality changes (most notable depression ); lower urinary tract disease; encopresis; and dehydration.
Although treatment may involve a combination of medications, environmental modifications and behavior modification, many cats with this condition seem to benefit from the administration of low dosages of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which are antidepressant drugs that increase the level of serotonin within the brain.
In addition to treating hot spots as soon as possible, it is also very important not to punish your cat for licking, scratching, or biting itself. This can be very difficult because it is hard not to show anger or frustration but punishing him will only make things much worse. In fact, by yelling at your furry friend you run the risk of creating more problems than you solve because he could develop fear-based anxiety or stress-related behaviors.
Instead, it is best to provide him with plenty of other activities that are known to reduce anxiety and boredom such as playing, using interactive toys, or feeding your cat food puzzles. If possible, you should also make sure that he has access to the outdoors only if it is safe.
Outdoors can be quite dangerous for cats because they are exposed to many parasites (fleas, ticks), harmful UV radiation, vehicles issues, dangers posed by other animals including pets, infectious organisms (e.g., feline leukemia virus ), and people who might want to harm them.
Outdoors vs Indoors Cats: Which Is Safer?
As important as identifying hot spots on cats so they can be treated quickly is knowing when to let your cat roam outdoors vs when to keep him safely indoors.
According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine, cats who lived exclusively outdoors were nearly 3 times more likely to be exposed to serious illness caused by parasites such as ticks and fleas than indoor-only felines.
In addition, outdoor cats had a much higher risk of exposure to harmful organisms such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukemia virus (FeLV), and FIP. Another important finding from this analysis was that the average life span of an outdoor cat is only about 5 years while most indoor-only cats can expect to live 15 years or longer.