Why do cats get hot spots and how can you help

Hot spots, also known as acute moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis, can occur in cats just like they can in dogs. They are more common during warm weather, but in general, cats can develop hot spots all year round.

Hot spots can be painful and extremely distressing for your cat. The sooner your cat gets help, the faster she will heal. Knowing the risk factors for hot spots will also help you take steps to prevent them from occurring. 

Here is everything you need to know if your cat has a hot spot and how to help your kitty.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

While I am a veterinarian, this article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. If you have any medical concerns about your pet, consult your vet immediately. Always seek professional assistance if you are unsure of your pet’s health.

sleeping tri-color cat

What are hot spots?

Hot spots are painful skin lesions caused by excessive scratching and/or licking of the inflicted area

Cats, just like dogs or other animals (even humans), have a normal amount of bacteria, fungi, and yeasts on their skin and in their mouths. Hot spots are localized skin infections caused by bacteria that are normally present on the skin. 

When a cat is excessively licking, scratching, and biting at one place, she creates small lesions in the skin. The infection occurs when the skin is damaged, allowing the bacteria to penetrate and multiply. This results in inflammation, redness, swelling, hair loss, and even pus formation. 

These lesions are typically itchy, painful, moist and sometimes oozing pus

So basically, hot spots are caused by excessive licking and biting at a certain area.

But why the cat is biting or scratching at her own body is what you need to address to stop the behavior and treat the problem. 

Main causes of hot spots in cats

Hot spots can occur in cats due to a variety of reasons. 

A cat with hot spots is in a hellish circle – she starts scratching and licking her own skin, which leads to the development of hot spots. Hot spots per se are itchy and painful, which forces the cat to scratch and bite at them more, which only worsens the situation. The more she licks at the spot, the more itchy and painful it is. The itchier it is, the more she licks at the spot… 😕

Whatever makes your cat lick, scratch, or bite at one spot of her body can cause hot spots to develop. 

That’s why it’s important to seek veterinary care and get a proper diagnosis. You need to address any underlying health issues that are creating the problem to prevent further infections. 

The following are some of the most common causes of hot spots in cats:

→ Allergies: 

Allergies are a common cause of hot spots in cats. Cats can be allergic to a variety of things, including flea bites, food ingredients, and environmental allergens like pollen or dust mites.

An allergic reaction can cause a cat’s skin to be incredibly itchy. Your kitty will try to get relief by scratching or biting at her skin, which can lead to the development of hot spots. 

A flea bite can cause flea allergy dermatitis in susceptible cats. Other common allergies in cats are food allergies and different environmental allergies.

→  Parasites: 

Fleas, ticks, or mosquitos can all contribute to the development of hot spots in cats.

Other common causes of hot spots in cats are ringworm infections and ear mites. All of these parasites can cause itching and irritation, leading the cat to scratch or bite at her skin.

→  Injuries and wounds: 

All animals tend to lick their wounds. Any type of skin wound, such as a scratch, cut, or bite, can lead to excessive licking. This leads to inflammation and the development of a hot spot. 

→  Underlying diseases:

Skin diseases are often itchy or cause small wounds in the skin. Cats with underlying skin conditions are more prone to developing hot spots. Other diseases can also cause a cat to lick excessively, mostly due to pain and discomfort.

→  Stress and behavioral issues:

Stress and anxiety can also contribute to the development of hot spots in cats. Cats that are stressed or anxious may engage in excessive grooming, leading to hair loss, skin irritation, and inflammation.

→  Pain:

If your cat has hot spots in certain areas, it might indicate that she is experiencing pain or discomfort. Hot spots in hip or elbow areas might indicate that the cat is suffering from osteoarthritis or hip dysplasia. Anal glands inflammation is also often associated with hot spots in the area around the anus or around the tail base. 

In order to prevent the development of hot spots in cats, it is important to address the underlying cause. 

Why do cats get hot spots

How to tell if your cat has a hot spot 

A hot spot, as the name suggests, is a localized lesion that’s infected and inflamed. Inflammation causes redness and swelling of the area. 

The infection often causes pus formation or oozing and the formation of hair mats on top of the wound. This matted hair will often hide the severity of the infection underneath. 

A hot spot is:

  • Localized
  • Wet (sometimes oozing)
  • Red
  • Swollen
  • Itchy and/or painful

It’s basically an inflamed, wet, open wound that’s often hidden underneath a crust of matted hair from the surrounding area and puss. 

Are hot spots in cats contagious?

Hot spots in cats are generally not contagious to other animals or humans. They are localized skin infections caused by bacteria that are normally present on the skin. 

While the bacteria that cause hot spots can be transferred from one animal to another, it’s unlikely that hot spots will spread from one cat to another through casual contact or sharing of living spaces. 

However, the underlying cause for excessive licking and biting can be contagious

Think about it this way, your or other animals in your household might not get a bacterial infection through contact with a cat that has hot spots. But if the underlying cause for her hot spots is a flea allergy, it means you have fleas at home and they can and will bite all your cats (and you) at some point. 

cute cat

How are hot spots in cats diagnosed

While hot spots are often diagnosed with a physical examination, your vet might need further diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the problem. This may include skin scraping and skin culture,, blood tests, or even X-rays. 

Finding the cause is the key to successful prevention and treatment. Otherwise, the problem will come back again. 

Additionally, if you have other pets in the household, it’s important to monitor them for signs of skin infections and seek veterinary care if necessary.

Treatment of hot spots in cats

Hot spot treatment consists of 2 parts. The first part is treating the wound itself. The second part is treating the underlying health issue. 

In mild cases, where the hot spot is caught early and treatment is prompt, healing can occur within a few days. More severe cases, however, may take longer to heal and may require more aggressive treatment.

In severe cases, the infection can spread and cause more extensive skin damage, which may take longer to heal and may result in scarring or other permanent changes to the skin.

Additionally, if the underlying cause of the hot spot is not addressed, the cat may continue to develop hot spots, leading to repeated episodes of skin damage.

Thoroughly clean the infected area:

This process can be painful and as we all know, cats are usually not very cooperative. Your vet might have to sedate your kitty and give her pain medication to be able to clean the wound properly. 

The first step is to carefully remove all the hair and crusts on and around the affected area. This will also allow your vet to see the severity of the problem. 

The next step is to remove the pus and thoroughly clean the lesion. 

Antibiotics and pain medication:

The infection is usually treated with antibiotics. 

Most vets use a combination of injections or oral antibiotics and topical medications

Depending on the severity, your cat might also need pain and anti-inflammation medication. In severe cases, your vet might choose to give your cat cortisone injections to control an allergic reaction and stop the itching.

You can buy several over-the-counter topical ointments like Vetericyn or Duoxo S3 to help speed up the healing process. Just don’t combine them with the topical medication your vet gave you.

A protective collar or shirt:

You have to prevent your cat from scratching and licking the wound. This can be achieved with an Elizabethan collar or a protective shirt. 

Now, I know that all cats hate these things, but it is extremely important that you keep it on while the wound is healing. 

Wait until the wound is completely closed before you remove the collar. Do not take it off sooner! If you do your cat will open the wound again and you will be right back where you started… 

Treatment of the underlying health problem

Your cat will also need medication for the underlying health problem. For this, your vet needs to know what is actually causing your cat to self-mutilate. As this can be a number of things, he might need to perform several diagnostic tests. 

The medication depends on the diagnosis – it’s different if your cat is suffering from an allergic reaction, ear infections, or painful joints. 

How long does it take for a hot spot to heal in cats?

The length of time it takes for a hot spot to heal in cats depends on the severity of the infection and the effectiveness of the treatment. In general, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for a hot spot to fully heal.

In mild cases, where the hot spot is caught early and treatment is prompt, healing can occur within a few days. More severe cases, however, may take longer to heal and may require more aggressive treatment. 

How to prevent hot spots in cats

Hot spots can be caused by a number of factors, including insect bites, allergies, infections, and grooming habits. While you can’t prevent them all, there are ways how to lower the risk of your cat developing hot spots. 

Flea & Tick prevention:

Fleas are a major cause of hot spots in cats. Not only does their bite cause itching, but a lot of cats are allergic to flea saliva. 

On top of that, fleas are the most common intermediate host for tapeworms, while ticks are carriers of several dangerous diseases. So it’s always a good idea to use products that will keep your cat safe from fleas, ticks, and mosquitos.

Nowadays it’s much easier to keep your cat (and your household) safe from fleas and ticks. Gone are the days when you had to wrestle with your cat trying to give her a pill 😛

Now you can buy convenient spot-ons that are safe, effective, and easy to administer. You can even buy convenient combined products that will not only protect your kitty from fleas and ticks but also work as dewormers. Read more on why you need to regularly deworm your cat.

A good combo option is Frontline Plus for cats or Revolution Plus for cats 🙂

Or you can buy a special collar that will protect your cat from fleas and ticks. Look for the Seresto Flea Collar for cats, it will protect your cat for 8 months! 😎

Treat the allergy:

If you suspect that your cat has allergies, talk to your veterinarian about testing and treatment options.

Sadly, allergy is not that easy to diagnose. If there is a reason to believe your cat is suffering from food intolerance or food allergy, your vet will recommend an elimination diet to diagnose which food proteins is she allergic to. 

If your cat is allergic to mosquitoes or tick bites, choose the right tick & mosquito prevention before the warm season starts. 

In case of a flea bite allergy, you can protect your cat with a certified high-quality flea product all year round.

Avoid stressful situations:

Cats are extremely susceptible to stress. A stressed cat can not just severely hurt herself but can develop a number of health issues. 

I have to say, I love cats, but they are strange beings… We had a cat in our clinic with hot spots from excessive grooming and the beginning of feline idiopathic cystitis. It turned out her owner started a new job and had to slightly change his daily schedule. That was all it took 🤷‍♀️

If you know there is a big (or even small) change coming and your cat is not one of the calm and relaxed ones, talk to your vet about stress management. There are a few things you can try to help your cat adjust. If you are expecting a new baby, want to buy a new puppy (or a new cat, parrot, hamster…), want to move, or even just redecorate your home, talk to your vet ☺️

Treat the underlying health issue:

If your cat has hot spots, take her to a vet for a check-up. If she has an underlying health problem that causes her to lick excessively, follow your vet’s treatment plan. 

But this is true also the other way around – if your cat has a health issue, she needs to have a proper therapy plan to avoid developing hot spots. 

Your cat might need to take her medication regularly for a long time. Don’t forget to give your kitty her meds every day, set a reminder, and keep a medication log. I have a printable Cat planner in my shop with a Medication overview and Medication log sheets to help you stay organized, check it out 👇☺️

printable cat planner pink

Maintain good grooming habits: 

Regular grooming can help prevent hot spots by removing excess hair, dirt, and debris that can irritate your cat’s skin. This is especially important for long-haired cats or cats with thick coats. Regular grooming will also help prevent hairballs and matted hair. 

If you want to bathe your cat, use a gentle cat-specific shampoo when bathing your cat, and be sure to dry your cat thoroughly afterward.

Inspect your pet’s skin regularly for parasites, redness, or swelling. Remove any matted hair and inspect the ears for signs of infection.

Your cat’s fur and coat should be silky and shiny.

Provide a healthy diet:

It’s been proven again and again that diet has a profound effect on health and well-being. A healthy diet can help keep your cat’s coat and skin in good condition, support her immune system, and even have an anti-inflammatory effect. 

Different special diets can also be used to help manage skin allergies, stress-related problems, or painful joint diseases. Talk to your veterinarian about the best diet for your cat’s individual needs.

Hot spots in cats are localized bacterial skin infections that are caused by excessive licking or scratching at one area. They can be caused by a number of factors, the most common being parasites, allergies, pain, behavioral problems, or underlying diseases. 

These painful skin sores have a big impact on your cat’s quality of life. As a responsible pet parent, please take your cat to a vet if she has a skin problem or shows any signs of infection. Early diagnosis and proper treatment will be a huge relief for your furry friend.

Good luck and happy cat parenting! 🥰

PS: If you are as crazy about animals as I am subscribe to my newsletter for regular pet care tips and news! You’ll get a free printable cat planner as a welcome gift ☺️

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