How to treat hot spots on dogs is one of the most common questions vets are asked. Out of all the possible skin conditions in dogs, hot spots are among the most common. Hot spots can have different underlying causes and treatments based on severity.
Here’s everything you need to know about hot spots on dogs—from what they are and what causes them to how to treat and prevent them.
How to treat hot spots: what they are
Hot spots, also known as acute moist dermatitis, are painful, red areas of infected skin that appear to be irritated and are sometimes raised.
Hot spots on dogs can occur anywhere on the body, but they are commonly found on the face, neck, limbs or hips. The size and appearance of the lesions can vary slightly in each location, but most will look similar regardless of where they are.
These spots can appear quickly, usually with some degree of hair loss, and they become much larger in a matter of days.
Hot spots on dogs can be relatively minor and heal quickly, but they do have the potential to cause more serious issues, such as widespread infection or deeper skin ulcerations.
What do they look like?
The actual hot spot lesion can range in size but is usually red, inflamed, and raw, and may bleed intermittently.
The area will become moist and painful and typically spreads due to licking, chewing, and/or scratching.
Hot spots on dogs will usually look different to other skin conditions, such as ringworm or mange, because the skin is very moist and inflamed.
Ringworm, as well as some parasitic skin infections, will have associated hair loss but are usually drier in appearance compared to hot spots.
What causes them?
Certain breeds are predisposed to skin conditions, including hot spots. Commonly affected breeds include Golden Retrievers, English Bulldogs and German Shepherds
Most hot spots are caused by an underlying condition that either causes itchiness, excessive licking, or excessive moisture.
The most common of these conditions include:
Allergies (fleas, food, seasonal)
Excessive moisture from swimming
Excessive licking due to boredom
Anal gland inflammation
How to treat a hotspot
While some hot spots can be treated at home, the underlying cause of the hot spot should always be identified, if possible, to prevent further hot spots from occurring.
To determine the underlying cause, and especially for large or overly infected hot spots on dogs, a veterinary exam is necessary.
It’s even more urgent if the affected area is:
Increasing in size
Displaying coloured discharge
You should also seek veterinary attention sooner if you cannot keep your pet from licking/scratching it.
What will my vet do?
Depending on the severity of the hot spot, most veterinarians will treat the area with a combination of oral antibiotics, anti-itch medication, and an e-collar.
Additional medications may be necessary to treat the underlying cause (flea prevention, allergy medication, ear medication, etc.).
By getting your pet veterinary care as soon as possible, you can prevent further infection.
Do’s and don’ts at home
If you aren’t able to get to the vet right away, there are a few things you can do at home to help heal hot spots.
DO NOT USE human medications such as Neosporin, hydrocortisone, or Vaseline. Topical creams and ointments tend to cause dogs to lick the area even more, so they should be avoided if possible.
Follow these steps to promote healing of the hot spot:
Trim the area around the hot spot with dog hair clippers (not scissors). This will allow the affected area to get some air and prevent excess moisture from slowing down the healing process.
• Clean the skin with a mild, water-based antiseptic spray or wipe or an antibacterial shampoo.
• Apply a veterinary-recommended hot spot treatment spray that is safe if ingested.
• Place an e-collar, or “the cone of shame,” on your dog to help prevent them from biting, licking, or scratching the hot spot.
• Monitor the area for improvement and signs of healing (decreased redness, less moisture, smaller lesion size).
• Contact your veterinarian for an exam to treat the underlying issue, and notify them if the area is not healing or is getting worse.
How to prevent hot spots
The key to preventing hot spots in dogs is determining the underlying cause.
Your veterinarian can help you with this, but in general, it is important to keep your dog current on flea prevention, groom your dog regularly (especially after swimming), prevent ear infections by using maintenance ear cleansers, and treat allergies if needed.
In some dogs, preventing boredom with interactive toys can help decrease excess licking behaviours.
Although it is difficult to completely prevent hot spots, these tips can help significantly reduce the risk of recurrent skin problems in dogs.