Pet Care Blog

Hot Spots on Dogs: Causes, Treatments & Prevention

Ricky Walther, DVM
Dr. Ricky Walther
beagle licking hot spot on paw

If your dog is constantly scratching, licking, or biting the same place, they might have a hot spot. Also known as acute moist dermatitis, hot spots are a skin condition that affects dogs. If left untreated, these bothersome sores will start causing pain and itchiness but with proper care, they can easily be treated and prevented.

Keep reading to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and available treatments for hot spots on dogs.

Table of Contents:

Pro Tip: Hot spots are covered by some pet insurance plans, as long as they are not a pre-existing condition. That means you can get reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses paid for your dog’s hot spot treatment.

What are hot spots on dogs?

A hot spot, also known as acute moist dermatitis, is a common condition in dogs that causes inflamed skin due to an underlying irritation. When a dog licks, bites, or scratches an itchy hot spot, the inflamed skin becomes susceptible to bacterial infection and secondary health problems. Dogs can get hot spots at any time, but they occur most often during the warm summer months — which is why they’re sometimes known as ‘summer sores’.

Hot spots can spread easily across a canine’s body, so it’s important to recognize the symptoms as soon as possible. Although the sores themselves are not contagious to humans nor other dogs, the underlying cause (parasitic and fungal infections) may be transmissible across species. Therefore, be sure to get in touch with your vet if you notice anything out of the ordinary on your dog’s skin.

What does a hot spot look like on a dog?

Initially, dog hot spots look like small, red patches of skin but the sores can quickly become enlarged within a matter of days. The affected area may scab, ooze discharge, and in severe cases, bleed. Additional signs of a hot spot on dogs include swelling, hair loss, and pain to the touch.

The appearance and size of hot spots vary by location, which commonly includes the neck, face hips, or limbs. Acute dermatitis can occur anywhere on a dog’s body, but the condition is especially prevalent in moist areas that are prone to bacterial infection.

If your dog is constantly biting or scratching a certain spot, or you notice a patch of irritated skin that appears crusty or inflamed, call your veterinarian. Contacting your vet is even more important if the affected area is bleeding, increasing in size, or oozing colored discharge.

hot spot on french bulldog neck

What causes hot spots on dogs?

Food allergies may account for as many as 50% of dogs’ hot spots, according to recent estimates, but you’ll need to talk to your vet to determine what’s bothering your pup in particular.

Other common causes of hot spots on dogs include:

  • Fleas
  • Insect bites
  • Parasites (such as ringworm and scabies mites)
  • Seasonal or environmental allergies
  • Yeast infection
  • Ear infection
  • Anal gland inflammation
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Excessive licking due to stress or boredom
  • A matted or dirty coat
  • Moisture trapped within the coat (from bathing or swimming)

Any underlying condition that triggers excessive licking, scratching, or moisture build-up can cause hot spots on dogs. As little as 10 minutes of chewing is sufficient to create acute dermatitis.

Dog Breeds Prone to Hot Spots

Due to their thick coats, some dog breeds are genetically predisposed to hot spots. A few examples include:

How to treat hot spots on dogs

The best treatment for dog hot spots depends on the underlying source of irritation in your specific pet. Your vet will need to identify the underlying cause to treat it effectively and prevent it from recurring. Depending on the case, you may be able to provide your pet with relief using natural hot spot home remedies.

Home remedies to treat dog hot spots

Here’s how to treat hot spots on dogs at home:

  • Trim the fur around the spot, preferably using clips. If you are using scissors, be very careful not to cut your pet in case they suddenly move or jump. If the affected area is large, it might be a good idea to shave the surrounding fur pending your pet’s sensitivity and vet’s advice.
  • Clean the affected skin area using warm water and mild soap, then pat dry with a paper towel or cloth.
  • Apply topical ointment to alleviate itching and speed up the hot spot healing stages. Some over-the-counter products you might have at home that you can use include:
    • 1% hydrocortisone cream: this topical steroid is rich in vitamins and highly effective for itch relief
    • Benadryl: diphenhydramine such as Benadryl comes in a topical gel form and may be effective at treating hot spots on dogs with allergies
    • Coconut oil: a natural hot spot treatment that helps soothe the inflamed skin
    • Apple cider vinegar: mix with 50% water to create a hot spot spray that neutralizes itchiness and acts as a natural flea repellent
    • Aloe vera: only use aloe vera for hot spot relief on areas your dog can not lick or bite, as it can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested
  • Monitor the affected area for signs of healing, such as a decrease in size, moisture, and redness.

Hopefully, your pet’s condition begins to improve, but it’s still wise to visit your veterinarian to understand what caused your dog’s hot spot and how you can prevent them in the future.

When to seek veterinary treatment

If the hot spot does not improve, gets worse, or spreads to other areas, it’s critical to see the vet as soon as possible. Unfortunately, approximately 30% of dogs with hot spots will have some form of skin disease (like a bite wound or deep infection) that requires veterinary treatment, meaning home remedies alone will not suffice.

Your vet will perform a full physical exam and may recommend additional tests, such as an allergy panel or skin scrape to check for parasites. Once they diagnose the underlying cause, they will prescribe a suitable treatment. Most vets treat hot spots with topical medication to control inflammation and decrease itching, and oral antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections.

Your vet might also prescribe medicated solutions, wipes, or hot spot sprays to gently clean the affected area daily, as well as an Elizabethan collar to prevent your dog from continually scratching or licking. Depending on the underlying cause, additional medications might be necessary to treat conditions like allergies, ear infections, or flea infestations.

vet examines dog hot spot

Dog hot spot treatment costs

The cost of diagnosing and treating hot spots on dogs will depend on the severity of the lesion and how often it recurs. For instance, if the lesions appear once or twice a year and they remain uncomplicated, the owner might decide to treat such episodes symptomatically without the need to manage an underlying disease. In that case, hot spot treatment will be less expensive, ranging from $40 to $200.

On the other hand, if more comprehensive diagnostic tests are required, the expense will increase significantly. This is especially true if allergy testing is needed, which might cost up to $2,000.

Pro Tip: No matter what type of veterinary treatment your pet needs, vet bills can be expensive. However, with the right pet insurance policy, you can protect yourself against unexpected costs and ensure your four-legged friend gets the best care possible.

Hot spot healing stages

Once your vet has started treating the hot spot, your dog will likely improve rapidly. It usually takes between three and seven days for a hot spot to dry out and start to heal. Your pet’s fur should start growing back in about two weeks. If your pup is still having issues after a week or two, be sure to get in touch with your vet.

Unfortunately, if your dog has experienced hot spots once, chances are they might get them again. Taking preventive measures like flea control and proper grooming can help decrease the risk of recurrence.

If your pet experiences chronic hot spots, it might be a good idea to speak to your vet about getting your pup tested for food and skin allergies, joint problems, and hypothyroidism.

How to prevent hot spots on dogs

Good hygiene, regular grooming, allergy management, and flea/tick prevention are all essential to preventing hot spots on dogs. Also make sure your pup is completely dried off after bathing or swimming, especially if they have a double coat or long hair.

If your dog is prone to licking due to stress or boredom, consider increasing their daily exercise or provide them with puzzle toys that will keep them busy and mentally stimulated.

Another way to help prevent hot spots is by using fatty acids supplements. Fish oil is an excellent source of the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA that have anti-inflammatory properties and promote a healthy skin barrier. Consult your vet for advice on what supplements are best for your dog and the correct dosage.

Key Takeaways

  • Hot spots are painful sores that cause the skin to become irritated, red, swollen, and moist. They are usually a result of parasites, allergies, infections, or moisture trapped in the coat. Symptoms include chewing, licking, scratching, and discharge of pus.
  • With proper treatment, hot spots will go away in about a week. For more extreme cases, the treatment can take up to two weeks before the hot spot begins to heal.
  • If you suspect your dog has a hot spot and you aren’t able to get to your vet right away, try a few home remedies such as apple cider vinegar mixed with water to provide your dog with some relief.
  • If left untreated, hot spots can cause severe skin damage, which is why it is very important to contact your vet if you notice these lesions on your dog’s skin.

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Ricky Walther, DVM

Dr. Ricky Walther

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor "The Pet Insurance Marketplace") that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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