Hot 🔥 spots are an awful 😞 thing for any creature to experience, but when they appear seemingly out of nowhere on our otherwise-healthy pupper 🐶 pals, it's quite distressing🆘.
Not only do you worry that they're painful or a potential source of infection, but it also feels bad to think maybe you've done something, neglected something, or otherwise caused them somehow.
The truth is, hot 🔥 spots are perhaps the single most common skin condition a dog 🐶 can experience, and they show up all the time, though they're more frequent in the summer 🌞.
They can be irritating, distressing, frustrating, and painful, but they're also very treatable and even preventable if you know what to do.
So, read on to learn everything you need to know about hot spots in dogs, what causes them, how to identify 🕵️♀️ them, and how to treat 👩⚕️ them. Make sure to watch the short educational bonus video📽️.
As usual my blog is packed with research-backed 📚 knowledge. For pet parents looking for reliable, unbiased, and fact-based dog skin care guides, I have sprinkled some additional great ones throughout the post.
And btw, did you know that you can share 📤 this blog post with one click 🖱️ on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest? Yup, just one click ☺️.
Hot spots on dogs are raw, open sores that spring up on the skin, often seemingly out of nowhere.
I say "seemingly" because, if you're paying close attention, you can spot them before they grow; they often show up looking like little pimples or insect bites first before rapidly expanding into raw lesions.
Hot spots are more technically known as "acute moist dermatitis" (AMD) or "pyotraumatic dermatitis," both of which are just scientific names for a skin problem caused by factors including moisture and skin damage.
This makes it critical for pet parents to ensure they follow basic routine grooming practices with their dogs.
For example, something as simple as brushing your pup regularly may alert you of any hidden sore areas thus allowing you to further investigate and uncover the issue early on.
The incidence of hidden hot spots is another reason why we highly discourage the use of so called furminators or rakes. Such products have the potential of causing substantial amount of pain and harm to a dog with hidden hot spots.
Though typically just an overgrowth of bacteria, hot spots can be painful.
“Although AMD typically only involves surface bacterial colonization (ie, overgrowth)—not true infection—lesions may progress quickly and result in folliculitis and, sometimes, furunculosis, especially without treatment.” -cliniciansbrief.com
What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?
Hot spots are, essentially, an area of skin that is inflamed started by some other kind of skin irritation. Virtually anything with the potential to cause your dog to scratch, lick, or chew at their skin may cause a hot spot.
For example, your fur baby might get a bug bite, a flea infestation, a tick, a scratch, an allergic reaction, or some other kind of irritant on their skin. They then start to scratch and lick at it, which makes it worse and allows bacteria on the skin to get into it and fester.
This creates a feedback loop; the irritation, pain, and itching and scratching of the lesion makes your fur baby scratch and lick at it more (because it's all they can really do about it), and that, unfortunately, doesn't help. It keeps adding more damage to the area and moisture from their licking, which keeps the bacteria going and makes it worse.
Hot spots can be caused by:
Trauma, such as a scratch, cut, or insect bite.
Parasites like fleas or mites.
Infections like ringworm or mange.
Contact irritants like chemicals or plant-based irritants (poison ivy, stinging nettles, etc.)
Grooming issues, in particular matted fur that traps moisture and dirt against the skin. As noted above, irritation after clipping or brushing could lead to hotspots.
Excessive moisture from a source like swimming without being dried off or excessive licking due to boredom or stress.
Genetic predisposition. Some breeds, like Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Bulldogs, are all more likely to get hot spots than other breeds.
Infected of impacted anal glands.
“Dog breeds with thicker coats are more prone to hot spots because it is harder to get this thick hair completely dry once it gets wet. This causes moisture to get trapped against the skin, making the perfect breeding ground for bacteria to start a skin infection. Also, breeds that are prone to skin allergies are most likely to get hot spots.” – Dr. Chyrle Bonk
With so many different causes, it's a wonder that dogs aren't constantly covered in hot spots!
Hot spots are basically self-inflicted wounds. Whatever the initial cause happens to be, once the skin is injured, your dog likely licks at the area to soothe it, which adds moisture and helps their natural skin bacteria to proliferate.
The licking and scratching leads to further irritation and the growth of a hot spot, which left untreated could develop into an infection.
How to Recognize a Hot Spot on a Dog
Hot spots are generally pretty evident. They're a patch of skin where the fur has fallen out, where it's red and infected-looking, and moist. It may be leaking pus or other fluid, and it will be itchy and painful for your fur baby.
As noted above, they can show up anywhere on the body, and they can be all sorts of different sizes, so sometimes there's no easy identifier, but nine times out of ten, a sudden skin issue like this is going to be a hot spot.
What to Do When You Spot a Hot Spot on Your Dog
So, you’ve found a hot spot, now what?
The first step is to call your vet. While there are some home remedies you can try – and I'll get to them a bit later – usually, a vet will want to see your pup to assess the lesion.
It's not usually a case for an emergency vet, though. Hot spots show up quickly and can expand quickly, but they aren't immediately life-threatening.
So as long as you can take a few actions to help keep them from getting worse, you can wait a day or two before getting in on an appointment. Of course, a more advanced or infected-looking hot spot might be worth faster treatment.
The main reason a vet will want to see your dog isn't just to treat the hot spot. Hot spots are so common that they're readily treatable, and every vet knows what to tell you to do, what to prescribe, and how to handle the situation.
The main reason a vet should examine your fur baby is to do two things.
Make sure it's actually a hot spot and not something worse, and
Try to identify why the hot spot occurred and how you can prevent them in the future.
To that end, your vet will probably want to run some tests. They'll do things like:
Do a visual inspection to look for signs of parasites.
Do a smear inspection to look at what bacteria are involved and make sure there's nothing unusual going on.
Do a skin scraping to check for mites or mange.
Check for a response to treatment for allergic reactions in case it's an allergy-induced hot spot.
Perform a skin biopsy to make sure it's not something worse, like skin cancer.
The biggest benefit to having a professional assess the spot is getting the peace of mind of knowing whatever is causing the hot spots isn't something terrible and determining what the cause is so you can prevent it from happening again in the future.
How a Vet Will Treat a Hot Spot on a Dog
Your vet will likely begin treatment by clipping back the fur around the area. Since hot spots feed off of moisture, exposing it can help let it dry out.
From there, treatment will generally consist of a handful of different avenues, taken individually or together.
Your vet will likely want to clean the area, usually with an antiseptic solution of some kind, like chlorhexidine. They may also ask you to bathe your fur baby using a medicated shampoo for more full-body coverage and protection.
If there's a parasite or other nasty involved, there will be treatment for that as well. If fleas are causing hot spots, it makes sense to get rid of the fleas, right?
Similarly, if the infection on the skin is bad enough, topical antibiotics might be prescribed.
Since hots spots can be caused by such a variety of issues, from impacted anal glands, to arthritis, to ear infections, your veterinarian will determine the cause and the correct course of treatment.
Usually, though, the primary treatment is going to be an oral (or occasionally injected) medication to treat the underlying cause of the hot spot. If it's an allergic reaction, they'll get an antihistamine or other allergy medicine.
If it's just an infection, they'll likely get antibiotics. If it's just caused from trauma and licking, they'll probably get a steroid to promote healing.
In extreme cases sedation at the vet may be required. Check out the video below where Miss Lola had to be sedated due to the seriousness of her wounds.
Dog Hotspots & Treatment at The Vet | 2 min Video by Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital
All of this, of course, works in tandem with an Elizabethan collar or e-collar, i.e. the cone of shame.
Since the biggest aggravating factor preventing hot spots from healing is your fur baby licking and scratching at them, using an e-collar to prevent them from going at it will help a lot.
After all of this treatment and some watchful care, a hot spot will generally resolve itself within 3-7 days. It'll take a little longer for the fur to grow back completely, but they're good to go in short order with the right treatment.
If a skin lesion pops up on your pup for the first time, we always recommend having a vet assessment done. If your dog is sadly prone to hot spots, you’ll likely notice the issue in the early stages.
In this case, you may want to treat the hot spot at home.
Just like at the vet, the first step is to trim around the area with hair clippers to expose the irritated skin to help dry out the area.
While you're at it, look around for other mats and patches of fur where moisture can be trapped, as they can cause additional hot spots.
Look for signs of fleas or other parasites. If your dog has them, you should visit the vet anyway to get a treatment lined up; otherwise, you're going to struggle with hot spots for a long time.
Clean the area with warm soapy water or an antibacterial cleaner. Sprays, wipes, shampoos, and other options are all available without a prescription.
Get that e-collar out. Your fur baby may not like it, but the single best thing you can do is prevent them from licking at their hot spots more than they have been. An e-collar also prevents your dog from licking potentially toxic substances in cases where you may opt to apply creams under your vet’s supervision.
You may also opt to use some human first-aid products and an antihistamine to help reduce the itching. Remember, always consult with your vet first to ensure the OTC medication is safe to give your pup.
“Apply a first-aid cream, such as Neosporin (the cream, not the ointment). For healthy dogs, a generic 1% hydrocortisone cream from the human first-aid shelf is safe and usually effective. It will need to be applied 3-4 times a day.” - Cornell Richard P. Riney Canine Health Center
If you opt to use products intended for human consumption under the supervision of your veterinarian, always ensure you use an e-collar.
The use of this devise will prevent your dog from licking potentially toxic substances such as zinc oxide which is common in many human skin ointments.
So long as there is no infection, and you prevent your pup from further irritating the area, your dog's hot spots will likely resolve on their own, though it may take a little longer than it would with oral medications and prescriptions on your side.
If the hot spots don't heal after a couple of weeks, or if they get worse, call your vet.
How to Prevent Hot Spots on Dogs from Happening Again
Preventing hot spots is all a matter of identifying why they're happening in the first place.
First of all, establish good grooming and cleanliness habits. Regular grooming can help you to identify skin irritation before it turns into a hot spot.
“A hot spot is easier to prevent than to treat, so try to keep your dog free of hot spots by grooming them regularly and keeping them up to date on flea and tick medication.” – Small Door Veterinary
From there, here are some very easy to follow tips:
Make sure your fur baby's coat is brushed and clean. We have some great brushes for this if you need some. Mats trap moisture and bacteria and exacerbate hot spots.
Any time your fur baby gets wet, make sure to dry them off thoroughly. That means bathing, rolling in puddles, jumping in the creek, or getting caught in the rain. Remember, moisture allows hot spots to flourish.
Keep an eye out for, and treat any parasites that crop up. Fleas, ticks, and other parasitic infections can cause hot spots and make them more difficult to treat. Preventatives are always your best bet, though they can’t cover all insects that can bite your pup.
Keep that e-collar on hand. It's better than a hard "cone of shame" but still effective at preventing licking and scratching.
If there's an underlying cause, like an allergic reaction, identify the allergen and try to avoid it as much as possible. Sometimes this means keeping your fur baby away from that patch of nettles, and other times it means antihistamines during spring or fall.
Finally, make sure your fur baby has plenty of stimulation, and not just physically. Dogs can play fetch until the end of time and never wear out if you aren't adding some level of cognitive stimulation as well.
A bored dog is a dog that might start licking just for stimulation, and that habit may turn into constant licking which may lead to hot spots.
There are all sorts of ways you can add mental stimulation to your fur baby's daily life, including rope toys, feeder puzzles, and play. Try out different options and see what works best for your dog.
Do you have any questions about hot spots? If you do, be sure to let me know! I'd be more than happy to answer any questions as best I can. Just leave a comment down below, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.
K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer (https://www.amazon.com/author/kmariealto), and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 45K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).