Feline hot spots are also known as acute moist dermatitis. This is a painful condition which requires veterinary treatment. If your cat is excessively licking or biting at places on her body, it may have hot spots. There are several possible causes. Narrowing them down will determine the course of treatment.
What are Hot Spots?
A hot spot is the common term for an infected sore. These sores usually appear when a cat has been biting and scratching at a particular spot that irritates it. If the skin is accidentally broken at some point, bacteria have the opportunity to invade the spot and cause an infection. The area usually becomes quite red and warm, hence the name “hot spot.” As the infection progresses, the spot loses hair, seeps pus and eventually crusts over but continues to itch resulting in even more scratching and biting, making the sore even bigger.
One of the most common causes of hot spots is fleas. Flea saliva acts like an allergen, setting off the reaction. You might compare the condition to getting a mosquito bite and the maddening itchy feeling it gives you. While fleas are a common cause, other insects, such as mites (ear mites, sarcoptic and demodectic), mosquitoes, flies and ant bites can create the same reaction.
Cats can be allergic to many things in their environment. Molds, pollens, grass, cleaning products and even the chemicals commonly found in carpeting can produce an allergic reaction in some felines that causes severe itching.
Another possible source of hot spots is ear infections. An ear infection is itchy, so your cat scratches at the ears and some of the skin below the ear. The self-trauma from scratching can lead to a hot spot just below the ear. Ringworm infections are sometimes itchy enough to cause a hot spot to develop. A few hot spots are related to painful conditions like hip arthritis. This could cause your cat to lick and chew at the skin above the hips, causing a hot spot to form on that area.
If your cat’s hot spots are not caused by any of the other potential reasons, a food allergy may be the culprit. While your vet can perform allergy testing on a cat, a diet change to speed the diagnosis and treatment may be initiated. The vet may put your cat on a diet of venison, duck, or rabbit only to identify a possible allergen. Beef and wheat often trigger food allergies in pets.
Lack of Proper Grooming
Long-haired cats tend to experience hot spots more often than short-haired cats. A thick coat will interfere with air circulation around the wound, setting up an environment for bacterial growth. Likewise, matted fur can also aggravate hot spots.
Treatment is a two-faceted process of doctoring the wound and eliminating the underlying cause once it has been identified.
Detecting Parasites and Ringworm
Even if fleas are not present at the time of the exam, their presence can still be detected by the flea dirt on your pet’s coat. It will appear like pepper flecks on your cat’s skin. Since fleas are one of the most common allergens, it is possible that this can be the cause of your cat’s hot spots. Your vet will treat your cat with a flea product that is safe for felines.
Mites are more difficult to detect, so it may be necessary for the vet to examine a skin scraping under a microscope to look for them. The vet can treat your pet with miticide, if necessary.
To rule out ringworm, your veterinarian will swab the wound and do a microscopic exam. Your veterinarian can diagnose ringworm using a specialized black light. The fungus will appear fluorescent under the lamp. If it’s present, your vet will likely shave the area and apply some antifungal cream.
If there is no sign of a parasitic or fungal infection, your vet may decide to test for environment allergies or food allergies. If the allergen can be identified, the next step is limiting your pet’s exposure to it.
Cleaning the Wound
In order to speed healing, your veterinarian will need to clip the fur around the hot spots. Since they can be quite painful, your vet will likely muzzle your cat or sedate it, depending upon her temperament. Topical ointments and oral antibiotics may both be used to heal the wound. Depending upon the severity of the issue, your cat may have to wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent it from getting to the wounds and risking reinfection. Cats react differently to the collar. Your cat may hide and appear less sociable while wearing it. Unfortunately, the collar is necessary in some cases.
In general, hot spots are not contagious, but fleas, ringworm infections and some mites can be spread from one cat to another cat. So if you have multiple pets and one gets fleas, you must treat all the pets in your home with a flea product. Some of the newer prescription flea products can also control ear mites and skin mites.
Although you can’t prevent allergies, these can usually be controlled with cortisone injections, tablets or liquid suspension. In addition, your veterinarian can refer you to a veterinary dermatologist for allergy skin testing and immunotherapy (allergy shots) to control the allergies.
Keeping fleas, mites and allergies under control will usually prevent a reoccurrence of a hot spot. Frequent grooming and brushing will also help; however, if you notice any problem with your cat’s skin, or if your cat is frequently licking and chewing at the skin, then it is time to take your cat to your veterinarian for treatment before the skin problem becomes worse.
Fortunately, hot spots can be easily treated and prevented once a cause has been identified. In this way, you can improve your pet’s quality of life and make it much more comfortable.
Rebecca Diaz, DVM is the owner of The Cat Clinic, a feline-only veterinary clinic located at 67870 Vista Chino, Cathedral City, CA, www.catcitycat.com,