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Home > Cats > Hot Spots on Cats: Vet-Approved Signs, Causes & Treatment

Hot Spots on Cats: Vet-Approved Signs, Causes & Treatment

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Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Scratching is a normal part of your cat’s life, but excessive scratching can lead to painful hot spots. Hot spots are painful skin lesions that are warm to the touch, hence their name. They can result from various reasons; therefore, it’s important to visit your vet as soon as you notice a skin lesion on your cat to avoid further pain and problems.

Keep reading to learn more about hot spots on cats and what you can do to prevent and treat the issue.

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What Are Hot Spots?

A hot spot, formally called acute moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis, is a skin infection that occurs on damaged skin surface, which is normally caused from your cat’s scratching, licking, or chewing behaviors. Though they are more commonly seen on dogs, cats can develop them as well.

What starts the hot spots is the skin trauma and inflammation from your cat’s excessive scratching or licking. Your cat’s mouth and skin are surrounded by bacteria. With the excessive moisture and heat, these bacteria (alongside yeast) overgrow, and infection can set into the affected area. This is especially true if scratching and chewing creates tears in the skin.

Hot spots are relatively easy to diagnose. The hot spot will first be itchy, moist, and red-looking. After infection sets in, pus may ooze out and eventually dry around the wound. If left untreated, your cat’s fur can fall out as a result. The hot spots feel warm to the touch and are incredibly painful.

cat with hotspot in the head
Image Credit: eremeevdv, Shutterstock

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The 3 Stages of Acute Moist Dermatitis

It may be helpful to think of hot spots in stages. Although these stages are not formal, they can help you determine how serious your cat’s hot spots are while waiting for the vet appointment.

1. First Stage – Red, Inflamed, and Moist

The first stage is whenever the hot spot is red and inflamed. It may be difficult to distinguish regular skin irritation from acute moist dermatitis at this stage. The main difference is that the wound will be slightly moister than regular skin irritations. It’s important to take your cat to the vet at this stage so that the lesion doesn’t progress.


2. Second Stage – Red, Inflamed, and Moist + Oozing Pus

During the second stage, the hot spot will continue to be moist, red, and inflamed, but the infection will cause ooze to come out. Most people notice acute moist dermatitis at this stage because the pus is impossible to ignore.


3. Third Stage – Red, Inflamed, Moist, Oozing Pus + Dry Pus

The final stage of hot spots is that the pus will be there long enough that it has time to harden around the wound. As a result, you will see oozing pus as well as flaky pus since the infection has not been addressed and old pus has had the chance to dry out.

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Causes of Hot Spots in Cats

Hot spots are most directly caused by excessive licking, chewing, or scratching. Several underlying issues can cause your cat to irritate the skin repeatedly, causing a hot spot.

Some of the most common underlying causes for hot spots include:
  • Fleas
  • Skin mites
  • Ear or skin infections
  • Environmental allergies
  • Food allergies
  • Insect bites
  • Joint pain
  • Matted fur
  • Boredom
  • Stress or anxiety

It’s critical to pinpoint the underlying cause of the hot spot so that you can prevent further hot spots from occurring for the same reason. The location of the hot spots may help you determine the underlying cause for the issue.

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How to Treat Hot Spots on Cats

If you suspect that your cat has hot spots, take your cat for an examination at the veterinarian. Even though you may think you can treat your cat’s hot spots on your own, taking your furry friend to the vet is the best way to ensure that the issue is being treated appropriately and, most importantly, that the underlying problem is detected and addressed.

Your veterinarian will clip the hair around the infected area. This will ensure that the skin can be thoroughly clean, and any trapped moisture and pus will be removed. 

To treat the hot spot directly, your vet will likely prescribe anti-inflammatories and antibiotics. These can be given as an ointment, by mouth, by injection, or a combination of all these. Together, this treatment plan will kill off the bacteria and yeast while reducing any itchiness, pain, and swelling of the hot spot. Depending on the location, your vet may prescribe an e-collar or cone to further prevent itching.

In addition to treating the hot spot, your vet will want to treat the underlying cause. The treatment for this will depend on the underlying cause responsible for your cat’s itching. For example, if fleas were responsible for the hot spot, your vet will prescribe flea medication.

cat wearing cone
Image Credit: Pixabay

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The 3 Prevention Tips

Unfortunately, hot spots may appear on your cat no matter what you do. That being said, there are some prevention tips you can implement to help minimize the risk of hot spots appearing on your cat.

1. Proper Medication

The first thing you should do to prevent hot spots from developing in your cat is to provide them with preventative parasite medication, such as flea drops or flea tablets. This anti-parasite medication is important for all aspects of your cat’s health, but it can help prevent hot spots as well.


2. Proper Grooming

If your cat’s fur gets matted or excessively long, the chances of your cat developing a hot spot increases. Make sure to groom your cat’s fur properly. This step is especially important during the summer months when humidity is at an all-time high.


3. Avoid Allergens

If you know that your cat has certain allergens, try your best to avoid these allergens. Obviously, don’t feed your cat foods that you know they are allergic to. If your cat’s allergies are triggered by environmental allergens, you can discuss immunotherapy (allergy shots) and medications with your vet to ease your cat’s signs.

long haired cat eating food from a cat bowl
Image Credit: Seattle Cat Photo, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

If you notice that your cat is itching excessively, take your cat to the vet immediately. If your cat is left untreated, they will quickly develop wounds on their skin and hot spots can appear. Hot spots are extremely painful for the cat and can grow large if left untreated. Luckily, treating hot spots is relatively easy under a vet’s care.

The hot spot largely developed because of an underlying cause that is urging your cat to lick or scratch excessively. If you provide your cat the proper medication for the hot spot and the underlying cause, you can expect your cat to feel brand new in no time.

While your cat is undergoing treatment for hot spots, remember to be very cautious around the area. Even cats that are normally docile and friendly may claw or bite you if you touch the painful hot spot. So, remember to be careful around your cat during the recovery period.


Featured Image Credit: Drnooker, Shutterstock

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