Hot Spots on Dogs

Written by Small Door's medical experts

Is your dog suffering from hot spots? If he can’t stop licking, biting, or scratching at an itchy red sore, your dog may indeed have a hot spot. Read on to learn what hot spots are, how to identify them, and most importantly, how to treat them.

In This Article

What are hot spots on dogs?

Hot spots, also known as moist dermatitis or “summer sores”, are inflamed and/or infected lesions on your dog’s skin that crop up when skin irritation or a small wound is moist. Hot spots are painful for your dog and bacterial infections can spread easily. Because skin irritations are hard for dogs to stop licking, scratching, or biting, it can be hard for them to heal on their own.

What does a hot spot look like?

Hot spots on dogs often look like a large wet scab that oozes. They can also be described as areas of skin that look raw and inflamed, and may sometimes even bleed.

Signs & symptoms of canine hot spots

Signs of hot spots on dogs may include redness, swelling, and hair loss. The hot spots are typically moist and may discharge pus or fluids that can dry to create crusting and matting of hair. Generally, hot spots are found on the hips, limbs, and head but they can occur anywhere on a dog’s body. Due to bacteria that builds up in the hot spots, they can quickly spread to other parts of the dog’s body. These affected areas will be painful and result in your dog itching and licking the area. Many of these symptoms overlap with other skin conditions so it’s important you contact your veterinarian right away.

What causes hot spots on dogs?

Hot spots on dogs are normally caused by chewing, licking, and scratching of an affected area. This trauma to the dog’s skin then causes inflammation and even secondary infections. This then creates a perpetual cycle of itching and scratching since the bacterial infection is another irritant. Due to this, any condition that results in your dog itching can lead to hot spots. Some of the most common conditions include:

Many of these conditions are chronic problems that require proper management, otherwise they may lead to recurring hot spots. Speak to your veterinarian about any underlying issue that may be causing hot spots so you can find the best treatment.

What dog breeds are prone to getting hot spots?

Your dog is more likely to get hot spots if they have allergies, fleas, or other parasites; frequent skin or ear infections; or a long coat or a double coat. Water-loving pups also carry a higher risk factor because damp fur is the ideal environment for hot spot-causing bacteria to grow. Hot spots can affect any dog at any age, but there are certain breeds that are at a higher risk due to their thicker coats:

  • German Shepherds

  • Golden Retrievers

  • Labradors

  • Rottweilers

  • Saint Bernards

How to treat hot spots on dogs

Because hot spots can be painful, you need to be very cautious if treating them at home. Some dogs also need prescription antibiotics if the infection is severe. Therefore, it’s always best to have a hot spot evaluated by your veterinarian.

If you can’t make it to the vet right away, however, there are a few “stop-gap” measures you can try at home to give your pup some relief. Here’s a thorough five-step process for treating hot spots:

  1. Carefully trim the fur around the lesion. If you’re using scissors, be sure to hold them so the blades are parallel to your dog’s skin, so that you don’t accidentally cut your dog if they jump or move suddenly. If the affected area is large, consider shaving it. Fur traps moisture against your dog’s skin, which needs to be dry to heal. (You may need to have a veterinarian shave or clip your dog if their hot spot is especially painful.)

  2. Clean the affected area with warm water, and gently pat dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.

  3. Apply a small amount of an over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment to stop itching and aid healing. However, be aware that OTC medications are not as effective as vet-prescribed hydrocortisone sprays and creams, so if your dog doesn’t seem more comfortable in a day or two, a trip to the vet may be in order.

  4. Prevent your dog from biting, licking, or scratching the hot spot. Hot spots heal better when they are clean and dry, so you’ll want to avoid bandages—exposure to air is good. However, that means a plastic cone, or Elizabethan collar, will probably be necessary. (Our apologies to your dog!) In some cases, your vet may prescribe a short course of an allergy medication or an anti-inflammatory to make your dog more comfortable.

  5. Be vigilant and keep an eye on the hot spot. If it spreads, your dog may need to visit the vet for oral antibiotics, another topical medication, pain medications, or allergy medications.

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.

Is apple cider vinegar a good home remedy for hot spots on dogs?

Apple cider vinegar is not a scientifically tested hot spot treatment. Some people claim that apple cider vinegar causes a cooling sensation, and thus may be appropriate for small topical problems, such as hot spots. Unfortunately, it will sting an open wound, which isn’t cooling at all!

The best course of action: as soon as you identify a hot spot on your dog, head to the vet clinic. Following a veterinarian-prescribed treatment plan will knock your dog’s hot spot out cold, and help them feel cool as a cucumber.

What is the cost of treating hot spots on dogs?

If you treat the hot spots with urgency then the costs should be relatively inexpensive. The main costs incurred would be from the veterinarian’s consultation and possible drug costs. However, if the hot spots are left untreated, severely damaged skin can die off and leave a wound. This can significantly increase costs as well as increase the time required to heal.

Is there a cure for hot spots on dogs?

In most cases, hot spots on dogs can be cured with the correct treatment. However, if the underlying cause of the hot spots is a chronic problem, your dog may have flare-ups of hot spots if not appropriately managed.

Can hot spots on dogs go away on their own?

Unfortunately, a hot spot won’t go away on its own, especially since dogs have a hard time leaving their irritated skin alone.

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. If your dog likes to go swimming, do your best to make sure they’re completely dry as soon as possible after leaving the water, especially if they have long hair or a double coat.

Are canine hot spots contagious for humans or other pets?

Most cases of hot spots on dogs are caused by bacteria and are not contagious to other dogs and humans. However, if the underlying cause of the hot spots is found to be fungal or parasitic then it’s possible it may spread to other dogs and humans. Contact your veterinarian immediately so they can take a sample and run a culture to identify the cause of the hot spots.

Recovery and management of hot spots on dogs

It often takes about a week after treatment begins for a hot spot to dry out and begin to heal. Once a hot spot is dry and no longer oozes, continue to keep the area clean and dry. In about two weeks, your dog’s fur will begin to grow back. Consider consulting with your veterinarian about dietary supplements that contain essential fatty acids to help hair grow in and reduce itching.

How to prevent hot spots on dogs

You can prevent hot spots on dogs by maintaining good hygiene and routine grooming, treatment of skin infections, parasite prevention, and management of allergies. Additionally, if your dog swims or gets baths often then make sure their coats are completely dried afterward, otherwise the matted fur will keep in water which sets up ideal conditions for hot spots.

Another way to help prevent hot spots on dogs is by using supplementary fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory properties and build a healthy skin barrier. Fish oil is a great source of fatty acids as it’s packed full of Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. Speak to your veterinarian for more advice on supplements and the correct dosage for your dog.

If boredom or stress is the cause of your dog’s licking issue then it’s good to increase daily exercise or provide them with puzzle toys that keep them mentally stimulated. This additional enrichment should help reduce your dog’s licking.

Is there a vaccine for hot spots?

There is no vaccine for hot spots on dogs.

Are hot spots likely to recur?

Unfortunately, dogs that get hot spots are prone to getting them again. Taking preventive measures such as proper grooming and bathing as well as flea control can help reduce the risk of hot spots recurring on dogs. If your dog experiences chronic hot spots, we suggest talking with your veterinarian about getting your dog tested for hypothyroidism, skin and food allergies, and joint problems.

Summary of hot spots on dogs

Hot spots on dogs, also known as moist dermatitis, are a painful condition where the skin becomes reddened, moist, and swollen, usually as a result of allergies, an infection, parasites, or moisture trapped within the coat. Other symptoms include licking, scratching, biting, and discharge of pus and fluids. If not treated properly, hot spots can result in severely damaged skin, so it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms, and act quickly to contact your veterinarian should any of them present themselves.

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