Everything You Need To Know About Hot Spots On Dogs

dog laying on area rug

Key points

  • A hot spot is a red, inflamed skin lesion caused by a dog scratching an itchy spot on its body;
  • Any condition that causes your dog to scratch itself can result in a hot spot;
  • Once you notice a hot spot on your dog’s body, you should immediately stop your pet from biting, licking, or chewing the affected area.

What is a Hot Spot on a Dog?

A hot spot (also called pyotraumatic dermatitis, acute moist dermatitis, or “summer sores”) is a superficial inflammation of the skin in dogs. The name comes from the fact that the inflamed area can be very hot, reddened, and often itchy. A hotspot is usually represented by a mostly circular eczema spot that secretes a foul-smelling liquid. Bacterial infections can easily spread within the wound, making the condition very painful for dogs. Although hot spots can appear anywhere on a dog’s body, the most common sites include the pet’s head, legs, and hips.

Hot spots are common in dogs, especially when it comes to breeds with long or dense fur (e.g., St. Bernard, Golden Retriever, Newfoundland dog). Hot spots might be very obvious, or they could be hidden beneath the pet’s fur. Since dogs can’t help licking, scratching, or biting the wound, hot spots usually don’t heal on their own.

Symptoms of a Hot Spot in Dogs

The symptoms can vary from animal to animal. However, you will probably notice one or more oval to circular areas of inflammation on the skin that could often be oozing or festering. The affected area looks “raw”. The dog will scratch or lick this area of the skin intensely to get relief. However, this will only irritate the skin more. Other symptoms of hot spots include hair loss in the affected area and sticky fur.

Depending on how severe the pain caused by the hot spot is, your dog may behave unusually. For example, it may get tired very fast, or the pet may suddenly start limping. The constant itching can also lead to restlessness. If you notice any of these symptoms in your animal, you should consult a veterinarian.

What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?

A hot spot is not a disease on its own but rather a symptom triggered by something else. It can arise, for example, from an infestation of parasites such as fleas, ticks, or mites, but also allergies, skin injuries, and poor care. Food intolerance and ear infections can also lead to the pet developing a hot spot. In addition, dogs that are under a lot of stress can try to relieve it by licking or scratching themselves, which can also cause a hot spot to appear.

brown and black spider on gray concrete wall

So all triggers that make a dog’s skin itch and cause the pet to lick itself intensely can potentially lead to hot spots. Licking, scratching, or biting the area exacerbates skin irritation, causing the skin to break eventually and begin to leak tissue fluid. Hot spot development is often intensified by humid and warm weather. A tiny inflamed spot on the skin can quickly turn into a raw lesion the size of a pancake.

Many health conditions that cause hot spots in dogs are chronic and, thus, require proper consistent treatment. If your dog often suffers from hot spots, you should consult a veterinarian to pinpoint the underlying issue and find the best treatment plan for your pet.

What Dogs are Prone to Hot Spots?

Some dogs are prone to hot spots, while others are not. In principle, a dog of any breed can develop a hot spot, but certain breeds are more likely to suffer from them. This includes dogs with very thick, dense coats and animals that have a particularly large number of skin folds.

Here are some breeds that are most commonly affected by hot spots:

  • German Shepherds
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labradors
  • Rottweilers
  • Saint Bernards

However, there are some other risk factors apart from a breed. For example, your dog might get a canine hot spot if it suffers from allergies, parasites, recurring ear or skin infections. Also, dogs that love water are especially vulnerable to hot spots since damp fur forms a favorable environment for the development of bacteria.

adult gold golden retriever lying on floor

Ultimately, any dog that licks itself intensely and irritates its skin can develop a hot spot. The dog’s age does not play a role in hot spot development, as this skin condition can occur in young and old animals alike.

When Should I Go to the Vet?

If you have noticed a hot spot on your dog’s skin, you should do something about it as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the issue will not go away on its own, and it definitely needs to be treated.

If the dog is in pain from the hot spot, it is necessary to consult a veterinarian, especially if you’re observing this condition in your pet for the first time. Without treatment, the disease will inevitably spread.

It’s also mandatory to visit a vet if your dog develops a fever as a symptom of the condition. You should tell the vet when the skin change first appeared and how badly the dog scratches it to help them find the best treatment plan.

The vet will also want to know whether the dog has ever been diagnosed with an allergy. The specialist’s goal will be to find out the cause of itching and fix it. If the vet is able to determine the cause of the issue after a thorough examination, they can begin administering targeted treatment.

How to Cure a Hot Spot on a Dog?

Treating hot spots at home

The best way to get rid of a hot spot on a dog’s skin is to have a vet examine the pet and prescribe treatment. But if you can’t go in for an appointment right away, there are still a few things you can do to give your pet some relief. The top priority is to stop the pet from licking and scratching so its irritated skin can recover. If you can’t deter your dog from licking and scratching, it will need to wear an Elizabethan collar (also known as an E-collar or cone) until the skin lesion heals. If the hot spot is on a part of the body that your dog cannot reach, this probably won’t be necessary.

dalmatian dog sitting on the street

The next step is to treat the itchiness to provide the dog some relief. We all know from our own experience that constant itching is extremely stressful. Your animal is no different. So do take itching seriously. It may be necessary to give the animal medication to relieve the condition. You can use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment to stop itching and speed up healing. However, keep in mind that over-the-counter medications are never as effective as those prescribed by a vet. Thus, if an over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment doesn’t seem to help your dog’s condition, you should see a vet.

It is also essential to remove some of the pet’s fur located right around the wound. This measure ensures that a sufficient supply of air can get to the skin. However, your dog may resist when you try to shave its skin because your touch might feel uncomfortable or painful.

In the following days, you make sure to regularly disinfect the inflamed area using a chlorhexidine solution that kills bacteria. Cooling compresses can also help the dog recover faster. Depending on the depth and size of the hot spot, it can take a different amount of time for the wound to heal completely. In severe cases, the healing process can last for weeks.

Visiting a vet for canine hot spots

Once you are at the veterinary clinic, the vet will assess your pet’s condition, determine the underlying cause of the hot spot, and prescribe treatment to address this cause.

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If the issue was caused by a flea allergy, your dog will be prescribed a fast-acting adulticide which will be followed up by some other long-term medications. If a hot spot was caused by arthritis, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to treat it. Examples of these medications include meloxicam, carprofen, or deracoxib.

If your pet is suffering from allergies, the vet will prescribe hypoallergenic food. Ear infections require you to treat the underlying yeast or bacterial infection. If your pet scratches and hurts itself due to boredom, behavior modification will be necessary. The vet might also prescribe antidepressants such as fluoxetine, clomipramine, and amitriptyline to help.

Remember that topical antibiotics, desiccating sprays, and soothing reagents have a better effect if applied to clipped, clean skin. In the worst-case scenario, the vet will prescribe oral antibiotics and steroids/antihistamines.

Home Remedies for Hot Spots in Dogs

As soon as you notice that your dog is licking or scratching itself excessively in a certain area, you need to stop it. If your dog doesn’t stop scratching, you can put socks on the pet to cover its paws. This is the only way to prevent inflammation, and if there are signs that a hot spot has already started developing, you can treat it with simple home remedies.

For instance, you can use a calendula tincture or St. John’s oil, which both disinfect the skin and reduce itching.

Some people claim that apple cider vinegar has a cooling effect. But in fact, it only stings an open wound, which won’t help your dog and instead will only hurt it, so you should avoid using this remedy.

You should also never treat the affected area with greasy ointments or creams, as these cover the wound too much and slow down healing.

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The Cost of Treating Hot Spots on Dogs

Typically, hot spot treatment is inexpensive. You will spend most of the money on a vet’s consultation and prescribed drugs. Nevertheless, if left untreated for a long time, severely damaged skin can die off, resulting in an open wound on your pet’s skin. In this case, you will have to spend much more money and time to resolve the problem.

Do Hot Spots on Dogs Often Recur?

If your dog is generally prone to getting hot spots, it will probably keep developing them over and over again. Preventive measures such as proper grooming, bathing, and parasite prevention will minimize the risk of recurring hot spots. If your dog gets hot spots regularly, you should test it for hypothyroidism, skin and food allergies, and joint problems.

Are Canine Hot Spots Contagious for Humans?

A hot spot itself is not contagious to humans or other animals. However, things that triggered the condition might be. If the hot spot was caused by mites or fleas, for example, this can also become a problem for you and other pets. This is why it is so important to find out the trigger of the condition and treat it as well.

How Can I Prevent a Hot Spot on My Dog?

The best way to treat a hot spot is to prevent it. On the one hand, it is crucial to take good care of your dog. And although good hygiene is crucial, it does not mean that you should constantly bathe the dog with shampoos. Instead, it is vital to regularly check its fur for parasites and inspect the pet’s skin for wounds or abrasions.

You should also brush longer fur regularly to prevent it from becoming matted and causing skin irritation. It is best to use a soft brush when combing the pet to avoid damaging the skin, causing inflammation. You should also remember to dry your dog’s hair after it gets a shower or swims.

Hot spot prevention measures also include protecting the dog from vermin infestations. It is best to get directions and advice from your vet, as there are different ways to do this.

Supplements rich in fatty acids have strong anti-inflammatory properties, and they can help the pet build a healthy skin barrier. Fish oil is one of the best sources of DHA and EPA fatty acids. Talk to a vet to choose the right dosage of fish oil for your pet.

If your dog is licking itself due to boredom, consider increasing the amount of physical and mental activity the pet receives daily. You can do so by providing the pet with interactive toys or taking it on long walks. This will distract your dog from licking the affected area.

Ultimately, your dog can get a hot spot even despite the best possible precautions, for example, because it has injured itself or developed an allergic reaction to something. Unfortunately, there is no way to protect your pet from this condition completely.


What is the best thing to put on a dog’s hot spot?

The first thing you should do is clean the affected area and then apply chlorhexidine to kill bacteria. Cooling compresses can also help relieve pain.

What causes dog hotspots?

Hot spots are not a disease but rather a symptom. A dog can hurt itself by scratching an itchy spot so vigorously that it creates an open wound. Dogs can scratch for many reasons, for example, parasites, skin infections, food allergies, anxiety, etc.

Is a hotspot on a dog an emergency?

Once you notice a hotspot on your dog, call the vet immediately since the condition might result from a severe disease. If you can’t go to a veterinary clinic right away, you should prevent the pet from scratching the hot spot. For example, try using an Elizabethan collar or covering the hot spot with a sock.