Dog Hot Spot 101: Everything Pet Owners Need to Know

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / January 26, 2018

When it comes to staying on top of your pet’s health, one of the best things you can do as a dog owner is to always be on the look out. One very common skin disease that pups deal with is the dog hot spot. If you aren’t already familiar with hot spots, it is important that you take the time to really learn about this problem. By reading this article, you will know how to tell if your dog has a hot spot and, more importantly, how to help your pet!

Dog Hot Spot 

dog hot spot

Hot spots may be common in dogs, but what exactly are they? In short, they are irritated lesions that develop on your dog’s skin. Also known as acute moist dermatitis, these hot spots can typically be found on your dog’s head, chest, or hip area. When these sores, scratches, or areas of broken skin become irritated, (typically through moisture or your dog scratching itchy skin) it introduces bacteria onto the skin. The saliva from your dog’s mouth adds a more bacteria to the skin which can cause a mild to moderate infection.

A dog hot spot grows quickly and can become extremely painful for your canine companion. The more your dog licks and chews the area, the worse the infection gets and the more painful it can become. This is a very stressful cycle for your pet and it makes the dog hot spot very difficult to treat.

How Does a Dog Hot Spot Happen? 

A dog hot spot is a common occurrence, but why exactly does it happen? A dog hot spot can start with any type of skin scratch or irritation, no matter the origin. However, when that skin scratch irritates your pet so much that they start to scratch and lick, that is when it turns into a dog hot spot. The constant licking and scratching makes the irritation worse, preventing it from healing.

Dog hot spots can start as:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Scabies or Demodex
  • Anal gland disease
  • Dry skin
  • Surface scratches
  • Bug or flea bites
  • Underlying skin infections
  • Mite bites
  • Over-grooming
  • Constant licking from boredom or stress

It doesn’t matter why the original irritation started. It all has to do with the bacterial growth that happens afterward. Once a dog begins to excessively chew or lick an area until it becomes moist and irritated is when it becomes a “hot spot”. Unfortunately, hot spots can lead to more serious health complications.

Bacterial Infections and Hot Spots on Dogs

In most situations, hot spots occur in dogs because of surface issues. However, some hot spots are actually caused by an underlying bacterial infection. If there is already an bacterial imbalance on your pet’s skin, then a sore or wound can easily become a hot bed for more bacterial growth. After all, bacteria loves moist, hot environments.

Dog Hot Spot Symptoms 

dog hot spot symptoms

There are a number of different symptoms to watch out for when attempting to diagnose a hot spot in your pet. The first and most important thing to understand is what dog hot spots look like.

A hot spot is a red spot on your dog’s skin. While they start rather small, typically the size of a quarter, they are known for growing at a rapid rate. This is due to your dog’s tendency to lick and scratch. The red spots are typically moist to touch and physically hotter than the surrounding skin, which is where the name “hot spot,” comes from.

Other Symptoms of Dog Hot Spots

The most obvious symptom of a dog hot spot is actually seeing the red, moist spot on their skin. However, in some cases, especially with dogs who have longer coats, spotting a hot spot right away isn’t always possible.

Knowing what hot spots look like is only half the battle. Here are other signs that something may be wrong.

  • Unusual aggression
  • Whining, wincing or signs of pain
  • Possible depression
  • Excessive itching or biting at the skin
  • Scaly or itching skin around the original sore
  • Obsessive chewing, licking or grooming
  • Puss or scabbing sores
  • Heat coming from the dog’s coat or skin
  • Matted or damp looking fur
  • Strong smell of infection (sometimes sweet or moldy smelling)
  • Change in appetite, mood or behavior
  • Hair Loss
  • Fever
  • Lethargy

Many times, symptoms like these will accompany a hot spot. Most of the time, pet owners will notice when their dog continually scratches or licks one area of their skin. However, the hot spot can be hidden on your dog’s fur which is why it’s important to watch for other symptoms of hot spots on dogs!

Are Certain Dogs More Prone to Developing Hot Spots?

Yes, certain dogs are actually more prone to hot spots. Typically, dogs who spend more time in the water and those who are often exposed to rain are more likely to get hot spots. Dogs with hip dysplasia are actually more likely to get hot spots as well since they tend to lick the affected area. Dogs with ear infections or anal sac disease may also be more prone to hot spots if they lick and chew at these irritated areas too much.

Longhaired breeds and those with thick coats are more likely to get hot spots than dogs with shorter hair. The following dog breeds are also predisposed to getting hot spots:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • Rottweilers
  • St. Bernards
  • Labrador Retrievers

Owning one of these dogs doesn’t necessarily mean that they will get hot spots. However, during the summer or any hot, humid weather, you should pay close attention to these breeds and their coats to make sure hot spots aren’t forming.

Are Hot Spots Contagious?

If you live in a multi-pet home, you may be worried about hot spots being contagious. The good news is, they aren’t able to spread! However, the underlying cause of the hot spot, such as fleas, ticks, or other parasites may be contagious. This is why it’s so important to determine what the cause of the initial skin irritation was in your dog.

Dog Hot Spot Treatment 

If you suspect that your dog has a hot spot, you will want to take your pet to the veterinarian right away for an official diagnosis. Most veterinarians will not only treat the actual hot spot, but try to diagnose and treat the underlying issue.

Once the hot spot has been located and diagnosed, your veterinarian may recommend a few of the following treatments.

Shaving and Grooming

The first thing that most veterinarians will do when a dog has a hot spot is shave off the hair around the infected area. This allows topical medication to reach the hot spot. This also allows the veterinarian to clean the hot spot with a non-irritating cleanser such as a povidone-iodine such as Betadine or an astringent or antiseptic spray that will remove bacteria. Most vets will also recommend that you continue to clean and disinfect the wound at home several times a day.

Don’t be surprised if your vet shaves a good amount of hair off of your pet. Most vets will only leave 1/2 inch of hair at the most around the hot spot. Oftentimes, your vet will avoid shaving over the wound, as not to irritate your dog’s hot spot even more. Hot spots occur because of an excess of bacterial growth and damp, matted, thick hair. When combined, this is the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive in!

Oral Medications

Depending on the severity of the hot spot, or multiple hot spots, vets may prescribe a series of oral medications to help treat the infection from the inside out. Common oral medications for hot spots include:

  • Anti-parasitic medication, such as Panacur, to get rid of any parasites that may have caused the original wound.
  • Steroids to help give the dog an extra boost of strength to fight off the infection.
  • Antibiotics to help kill off the infection, if necessary.
  • Pain medications. This can help with extreme hot spots and provide your pet with enough relief to prevent excessive scratching and chewing.
  • Cortisone tablets to stop the itching and inflammation.
  • Antihistamines to help with itching

If your pet has been given oral medications, make sure to be on the lookout for any reactions or side effects.

Topical Treatments

Topical treatments are very common for hot spots in dogs. Veterinarians will often recommend the following topical treatments for hot spots.

  • Corticosteroid creams to help with itching and discomfort.
  • Topical parasite treatments if the initial wound was caused by flea and ticks.
  • Cooling and soothing topical treatments made with aloe to provide relief.
  • Topical antibiotic ointments, like Neosporin to soothe and help heal the wound.
  • Topical drying sprays to dry out the area and allow it to heal properly.
  • Hydrocortisone sprays and creams to promote faster healing and alleviate itching.
  • Special shampoos and topical medications to expedite the healing process and kill skin bacteria.

Your vet will likely have you apply these topical treatments several times per day after cleaning your dog’s hot spot.

Dog Hot Spots and Apple Cider Vinegar

dog hot spots and apple cider vinegar

One of the most common home remedies recommended for dog hot spots is apple cider vinegar. This is a natural treatment that pet owners can actually apply on their own to treat their pet’s hot spots. Here’s how to do it properly.

Dilute the Apple Cider Vinegar

You should never apply apple cider vinegar directly to your pet’s skin, especially if they have an open wound or irritation. You will need to dilute it with warm water. The mixture should contain no more than 50% apple cider vinegar. If your dog’s hot spot is oozing with pus, scabbing, or irritated, the mixture should be 10% apple cider vinegar and 90% warm water.

Applying Apple Cider Vinegar Daily

Once you have your apple cider vinegar mixture, it’s time to apply it to the skin. It is easiest to apply when it is in a spray bottle. Carefully spray the mixture on to your dog’s hot spots 2-4 times per day and allow it to dry after application. Don’t worry if your dog licks the apple cider vinegar as it’s completely safe for your pet.

Testing for The Root Cause

usual hot spots in dogs

If unable to determine the cause through a physical exam, your veterinarian might perform several tests to determine how the hot spot came about in the first place. In some situations, the cause of the issue is quite obvious. However, if the origin of the hot spot is unknown, a vet may want to test for food allergies or other allergies in order to get to the root of the problem. This allows dog owners to make sure they aren’t setting their pet up for more hot spots in the future.

8 Natural and Holistic Home Remedies for Hot Spots

Many pet owners will choose to apply natural or holistic hot spot treatments for their pets. The good news is there are many natural, at home treatments that can help alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with hot spots.

1. Wash the sore with antibacterial soap.

This works best on small, mild hot spots that you catch early on. If the hot spot is already growing, oozing pus, or is hot to the touch, it may be too late for this step.

2. Give regular oatmeal baths.

Oatmeal baths can be administered once a day, preferably in the evening before your pet goes to bed.

3. Apply steeped tea.

Steep a bag of herbal tea in hot water and then let it cool completely. Place the tea against your pet’s hot spot for 15-20 minutes several times per day.

4. Apply tea tree oil.

Essential oils are very powerful, specifically tea tree oil. This natural ointment is particularly proficient in soothing and healing affected skin. It has anti-bacterial, anti-itch, and anti-viral properties that can help heal your dog’s hot spots. Always apply tea tree oil topically. Never allow your pet to consume the oil.

5. Dab on Witch Hazel.

If you don’t already have Witch Hazel in the home, this is a very affordable, powerful, and natural astringent. Dab some Witch Hazel on your pet’s hot spot to clean the area, promote natural healing, and soothe irritated skin.

6. Clean with baby soap. 

If your dog’s hot spot is progressing and is sensitive to regular soap, you can clean it with baby soap 2-3 times per day. This gentle cleanser will help keep the area clean, fight bacteria, and is much gentler on the skin.

7. Rub the dog hot spot with coconut oil.

Coconut oil has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and it is great for skin issues. Rub a little bit of this oil directly on the hot spot, several times a day. You should rub until the oil turns from a white solid into a clear liquid and allow it to air dry.

8. Vitamin E. 

Vitamin E is nature’s Neosporin. It can help promote faster healing, kill harmful bacteria, and soothe irritated skin. Take a vitamin E tablet and cut it in half, so the liquid on the interior comes out. Gently rub this “ointment” on to your dog’s hot spot, 2-3 times per day.

If the hot spot does not start to heal or if you are noticing signs of fever or changes in your pet’s behavior, take your dog to the vet right away.

The Cone of Shame: Why it’s Essential for Dog Hot Spot Recovery

cone for dog hot spots

One of the best things you can do for your dog while they recover from a hot spot is to invest in an Elizabeth Collar, otherwise known as the cone of shame. While cones can be confusing for your pet, they are a great tool to help prevent dogs from licking and biting wounds, sutures, and hot spots.

This is particularly important for dogs who have hot spots. The bacteria in your dog’s mouth can make hot spots even worse, causing the bacteria to spread. The more you can prevent your dog from licking the hot spots, the better.

Find comfortable cone that is padded and easy to sleep in. You can take the cone off while you are home and able to monitor your pet, but otherwise, it should stay on until your pup is healed!

5 Tips for Monitoring a Dog Hot Spot at Home

Whether you visit your veterinarian or decide to treat your dog’s hot spots at home with holistic remedies, it is important that you monitor the progression of the hot spot to ensure it’s healing properly. Here are five tips to help you and your canine companion as they recover.

  1. Mark the outline of your dog’s original hot spot. Using a pen or sharpie, carefully draw a circle around the hot spot’s original outline. This will help you see if the spot is growing or not.
  2. Clean the hot spot regularly and leave it open to breathe during the day.
  3. Monitor your dog’s temperature daily until the hot spot starts to go away. If your dog has a fever, then it is time to take them back to the vet.
  4. Try to monitor your dog as much as possible to prevent them from irritating the hot spot even further. If your dog continues to scratch at the hot spot when you are not around, place a clean, light bandage on the hotspot before you leave.
  5. Monitor the heat of the hot spot daily. If the spot continues to radiate heat, put a cool compress on the hot spot 2-3 times per day until the heat goes down. Not only will it cool the spot, but it will also help provide some pain relief for your pet as well.

Hot spots will not heal overnight. They take some time to clear up. This is why it’s so important that you are patient and give your pet the right care while they heal.

Dog Hot Spot Prevention 

dog hot spots prevention

Hot spot prevention can help save your dog a great deal of pain and discomfort. Here are some key tips!

  • Keep your dog’s skin healthy with regular baths and grooming.
  • Get your dog on a tick and flea control medication to help prevent initial sores from forming.
  • Don’t leave your pet out in the rain for long periods of time.
  • If your dog has long hair, groom them regularly to prevent their coat from getting matted.
  • Always take your pet to the vet right away if they begin excessively scratching or itching certain areas of the skin.

If your dog has had a hot spot before, they are most likely prone to getting one again. It is essential that you get to the root of the problem and determine what caused the hot spot in the first place so you can prevent further issues from happening.

You don’t want your beloved dog to suffer from something as irritating and painful as a hot spot. The more you understand about spotting, treating, and preventing these skin problems, the happier and healthier your pet will be in the long run!

About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for