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Dog Hot Spots: How to Treat and Prevent Them

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Nothing plagues a dog quite like a hot spot. What starts out as a small red area quickly becomes a pesky and often infected sore. A dog hot spot frequently appears with little warning, but the good news is that these troublesome spots can be tamed quickly. With a little prevention know-how, you can also reduce the risk of future flare-ups.

How to Tell If Your Dog Has a Hot Spot

Many pet owners welcome doggy kisses as a sign of affection. The American Kennel Club explains many dogs lick their owners to greet them and show love. But when your dog starts licking himself obsessively, it’s time to take a closer look at what’s going on. 

Obsessive licking, especially around the paws, is a sign your pup may have a hot spot. If you peek at the area your dog is licking, you might see:

  • Raw, red patches of skin
  • Swelling
  • Hair loss
  • Drainage from the wound

Hot spots are both itchy and painful, and if your pup can’t lick the hot spot, he may resort to scratching. Common problem areas for hot spots on dogs include the head, paws, and hips.

What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?

Cute mini husky with dog hot spot

Hot spots start off as a small area of inflammation on your dog’s skin. This patch is itchy and bothers your dog, so he starts to chew, scratch, and lick the area. The chewing and scratching lead to infections, and the wound starts to get bigger and bigger.

If this cycle describes what your dog is going through, he’s not alone. Because many dog parents treat hot spots at home, there isn’t an accurate statistic on how many dogs develop them. However, VCA Hospitals maintain that this is one of the most common skin conditions, especially in warm weather. 

But what causes so many dogs to struggle with hot spots? Officially known as acute moist dermatitis, hot spots don’t have a singular cause. There are many health conditions that can create them, including:

  • Parasitic infections (i.e., insect bites from mites) 
  • Flea allergy dermatitis
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Food allergies 
  • Skin infections
  • Anal sac disease

Hot spots aren’t always triggered by medical conditions. Environmental causes of hot spots include:

  • Irritation from a contact irritant (e.g., a household cleaner)
  • Stress
  • Excessive licking caused by boredom
  • Matted fur 
  • Moisture trapped under a mat 
  • Blisters from wearing booties that are too small

Exploring the Risk Factors of a Dog Hot Spot

Some breeds — including Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Labradors — are more likely to experience hot spots. That’s because these breeds tend to have thicker coats. 

Heat, high humidity levels, and exposure to water (either swimming or bathing) is the perfect storm for hot spots. The thicker coats on these breeds trap moisture and serve as a breeding ground for bacteria. 

Breed and coat aren’t the only risk factors for hot spots on dogs, though. Other risk factors include:

  • Exposure to moisture: Any dog who frequently gets wet — whether it’s from swimming or spending a lot of time walking in rainy weather — may develop hot spots if too much moisture lingers. 
  • Untreated skin conditions or allergies: If Rover continually chews or scratches at itchy skin, he’s more likely to see a hot spot develop.

Get Relief With These Treatments

Puppy with a dog hot spot

Because hot spots can double in size in just a few days, it’s crucial to seek veterinary care, especially if this is the first time your pet has a hot spot. Your vet can pinpoint the underlying issue — such as a parasitic infection — and address the root cause. 

In addition to treating any underlying conditions, there are several ways you can soothe the pain and itchiness associated with a hot spot. Here are some ideas on how to treat hot spots on dogs.

Trim the Hair Around the Hot Spot 

Trimming the area helps prevent matting and problems associated with tight knots of hair. It also gives you a clear view of the wound so you can keep tabs on the healing progress. For example, if you see an increase in oozing, it’s time to head back to the vet as this is a sign of a bacterial infection.

Keep the Area Clean

Apply a gentle antiseptic solution to the affected area. According to VCA Hospitals, many vets suggest using a warm saline solution or chlorhexidine. Depending on the severity of the hot spot (and if any secondary infections develop), your vet will let you know which cleansing agent to use.

Apply Antibiotic Cream as Directed

Depending on the severity of the hot spot, your vet may advise you to apply antibiotic cream to the skin lesions. Follow all instructions and never stop using medication unless directed to do so.

Administer Oral Medications

Sometimes, hot spots lead to secondary infections. To help reduce inflammation and fight infections, your vet may prescribe oral antibiotics or oral steroids. Again, continue to administer all medications as directed, even if the hot spot starts to look better. Your dog may also need medications, such as antihistamines, to control itchy skin due to allergies.

One of the best tips for treating a hot spot is to eliminate your pup’s ability to agitate the area. Licking, chewing, and scratching can prolong the healing process. 

Consider placing a cone — sometimes called an e-collar or Elizabethan collar — on your dog. E-collars are especially helpful if you need to apply topical medication to the hot spot. With proper wound care, hot spots can heal in about a week or less.

Preventing Dog Hot Spots

Even though a hot spot can be treated quickly with the help of a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) and some TLC at home, prevention is still the best medicine. You can help prevent hot spots on dogs in several ways. 

Manage Underlying Conditions

If underlying conditions aren’t managed, it’s very likely that your pup will struggle with recurrent hot spots. If you’re not sure what’s causing the initial skin inflammation, talk to your vet. There are many tests, including allergy tests, that can help determine the source of your dog’s itchy skin. 

Tip: Many dogs scratch at their ears if they have an ear infection. Hot spots can develop from repetitive scratching.

Groom Your Dog Regularly

Some dogs are more prone to mats, and if you have a dog breed that needs daily brushing — such as Old English sheepdogs, doodles, and poodles — use a slicker brush and follow up with a fine-tooth comb. Preventing mats eliminates the risk of hot spots caused by dogs licking at mats. 

Tip: If your dog has long fur or hair, use clippers around the paws to keep the area tidy.

Combat Boredom

If your dog is stressed, anxious, or bored, he may chew or lick himself. To prevent hot spots triggered by these issues, make sure your dog has plenty of exercise, interactive toys, and a comfortable place to play indoors. 

Stay Up-to-Date With Flea and Tick Medications

Flea and tick medication are a surefire way to reduce hot spots associated with flea allergies and flea bites. Flea and tick medication won’t prevent mites, though, so don’t hesitate to check in with your vet if you suspect a mite infestation. (This looks like small specks of dirt on your pup’s skin or a brown crust on the inside of his ears.)

Support a Healthy Skin and Coat 

Along with managing underlying conditions, consider incorporating a skin and coat supplement into your pup’s diet. A high-quality skin and coat supplements should contain:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids to support healthy skin 
  • Fish oil from low-mercury fish such as anchovies, which are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Natural preservatives such as vitamin E

Skin and coat supplements aren’t your only options. If anxiety is causing your pup to stress-chew, talk to your vet about adding a calming chew to your dog’s diet. If allergies are bothering your pup, consider an allergy relief chew.

Whether you’re opting for a skin supplement or a calming chew, choose supplements without:

  • Harsh chemicals, including synthetic preservatives
  • Synthetic dyes or flavors
  • Fillers such as corn
  • High levels of sugar or salt

If your pet is bothered by frequent hot spots, consider trying PetHonesty’s SkinHealth chews. Free from toxic chemicals, these soft chews are a tasty treat your pup is sure to love.

Promote Healthy Skin From the Inside Out

Even if your beloved pet has never had a hot spot, it’s never too early to focus on promoting healthy skin and coat. From trimming fur to keep it free of mats to managing underlying conditions like pet allergies, you can reduce the chance your canine companion will develop these spots. 

However, if hot spots do develop, swift action can reduce the chance of secondary infections and bring relief as soon as possible. Consult your vet to determine if your dog requires any medications or wound debridement. 

For more helpful information, be sure to visit the PetHonesty blog for useful tips to enhance your dog’s overall well-being.