Within hours, you notice that your cat has developed a red, raw, damp, hairless spot and it’s spreading. It looks like a scrape you’d get falling off your bike. The likely diagnosis: a hot spot.
Cats with underlying skin diseases — usually allergies — are candidates for quickly developing hot-spot-type lesions, says dermatologist William H. Miller, VMD, Medical Director of the Companion Animal Hospital at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Allergic animals feel itchy but may focus on a particular spot as they lick, rub, scratch, and bite, and in the process can pull out fur. The bare patch can quickly grow in size. What to do?
“The lesion usually is uncomfortable,” Dr. Miller says, “so not treating it causes needless discomfort. If the lesion isn’t treated, it can become infected and deep infections of the skin can cause scarring.” A hot spot treated within the first six hours after it appears can be resolved this way, Dr. Miller says:
- Clip the hair in the region so a sticky mat does not form.
- Wash the area with a cleansing solution or dab it well with cotton soaked in antiseptic solution.
- If advised by your cat’s veterinarian, treat the spot with a thin layer of topical steroid cream. Some pets are so tender in the area that oral steroids or pain medications are prescribed.
Any condition that causes sudden, intense itchiness or pain can trigger a hot spot, which is generally the same thickness as the surrounding skin. The lesion is damp from serum leaking from the broken skin. “Fortunately, true hot spots are rare in cats,” Dr. Miller says. “Cats who create hot spots around their ears usually have been shaking their heads or showing some other signs of ear disease before the hot spot appears.”
Hot spots differ from acute moist folliculitis and furunculosis where the raw skin is thicker than the surrounding skin, Dr. Miller says. Small raised skin bumps or even pus-filled bumps are seen surrounding the sore when the area is clipped. “Many cases of ‘hot spots’ in long-coated cats are actually this,” Dr. Miller says, adding that owners might not notice the cat’s pre-existing bacterial disease because it’s hidden by the long coat. “Bacterial infections are itchy in animals and it’s not uncommon for an animal with an infection to suddenly attack one infected area because the itchiness there becomes intolerable.”
Prevention Tips. If fleas or ticks trigger hot spots in your cat, try a different form of flea and tick control, such as a monthly preventive sold at veterinary clinics. If poor grooming is a problem, step it up. Brush your cat weekly, and do it more often during shedding season to get rid of excess dead hair, says the American Animal Hospital Association’s website (HealthyPet.com).
Regular brushing removes dirt and spreads natural oils throughout the coat, preventing tangles. If your cat doesn’t like to be brushed, ease him into it. Give him a small treat after each short brush stroke. Gradually over several sessions, lengthen the brush strokes and brushing time. On the bright side, “A hot spot has a cause,” Dr. Miller says, “and if that cause is identified, it should be corrected.”