You notice your dog licking or chewing excessively at a focal spot on its body. As if he/she can't leave it alone, much like a toddler with a mosquito bite. The more irritated it becomes, the more the pet will itch and thus, a vicious cycle starts!

Hot spots, technically called acute moist dermatitis or superficial canine pyoderma, usually appear as localized, moist reddish sores. Hot spots are the result of a bacterial infection: Something irritates your dog's skin and the irritation becomes itchy, so your dog does the logical thing — scratch, lick, or both — eventually causing a red, ugly oozing sore. Typically the bacteria involved in the infection is the Staphylococcus bacteria inherent on all skin surfaces.

So what causes your dog to be itchy in the first place? Itchy skin can be caused by a variety of things, such as allergies to food or the surrounding environment and fleas. Factors such as mange, anal gland disease, poor grooming, tick or mosquito bites, and even warm weather can cause your best friend to start the dangerous cycle of repeatedly scratching and licking at an itchy area. Dogs with long, dense coasts tend to be more susceptible to this condition.

In some situations, licking can be a behavior issue, so make sure you discuss your dog's behavior when you visit your veterinarian.

If your dog is passionate about licking and/or scratching, or if you notice hair loss and irritated skin that is oozing, crusty or scabby on him/her, you should call your veterinarian immediately. Your pet needs some relief from the itching and most likely some medication to treat his irritated skin.

Your veterinarian will want to identify the underlying cause of your pet's desire to scratch and lick. Depending on your dog's history, the location of the hot spot, and other symptoms, your veterinarian will recommend the right combination of tests. These may include blood tests and microscopic skin evaluations (skin scrape) and potentially allergy testing.

How will your dog find relief? Your veterinarian will most likely clip the hair away from the infected area and gently clean it with a mild antiseptic. They may prescribe medications such as an antibiotic, a cortisone-type medication to help control the itch, and topical medications to help heal the hot spot. Furthermore, your veterinarian will work with you to treat the underlying cause of the hot spot. Healthy skin is the key to preventing hot spots! Make sure your dog is free of fleas and ticks. If your pooch has a thick heavy coat, groom him regularly to prevent his coat from matting. Matted fur traps moisture and parasites, such as fleas, creating the ideal environment for hot spots .Even foxtail grass can migrate through the hair coat and imbed into the skin causing irritation and thus the cycle of itching and secondary infection. Generally, hot spots are more of an issue in the spring, summer and fall and dogs that get them seem to have recurrences. Finally, make sure you contact your veterinary staff if your friend seems itchy; they can help identify the cause and provide advice before the itch creates problems.

Dr. Darren Woodson has practiced veterinary medicine in the Farmington area for more than 28 years and has a passion for educating pet owners. If you have a question you would like him to address, email dwoodson@valleyvetpet.com. Please understand that Dr. Woodson will choose the questions that are most relevant to our readers.