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Recognizing and Treating Hot Spots in Dogs

brown, black and white puppy laying in the grass scratching it's side with it's hind leg

Is your dog suffering from itchy, irritated skin? If so, you want to address their discomfort as quickly as possible. Learn how to recognize and treat hot spots in dogs and keep your furry friend safe!

With this beautiful weather now upon us, it is time for a number of our favourite warm-weather activities including hiking, camping, bonfires and days at the beach.

While these activities offer great bonding experiences, they also introduce a few potentially annoyances into our lives… Environmental allergies, heat-related skin irritation and pesky insects like fleas, ticks and mosquitos.

For some pets, these irritants can cause a bigger problem known as a hot spot.

Hot spots, also known as ‘acute moist dermatitis’ or ‘pyotraumatic dermatitis’ are localized areas on a dog’s body where they are experiencing skin inflammation or infection.

Depending on how long they have been dealing with the condition, the condition can range from a minor skin lesion to a deeper more serious infection (complete with additional complications).

Hot spots not only look bad and promote potential infections, but they are also incredibly painful and stressful for your pup.

While there is no foolproof way to prevent the development of a hot spot (I don’t recommend keeping them locked away in a sterile room, hidden from all potential irritants lol), by educating yourself about he condition, you can catch these lesions early.

The sooner you catch a hot spot, the quicker you can jump on treatment, providing your pup with faster relief!

Related: ‘Tick Prevention for Dogs: How to Keep Your Family Safe this Tick Season

Recognizing Hot Spots in Dogs – What Should I Watch For?

Hot spots generally present themselves as areas of hot, irritated, red or moist skin.

They may also appear as an oozy lesion, or areas of scabby or crusty skin if they have started to dry out.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Intense and persistent itching
  • Chewing/licking the body
  • Agitation or noticeable discomfort
  • Obsession with an area of the boy
  • Loss of hair
  • Hair matting
  • Hiding or preventing you from seeing the area of concern

Often these spots will come on quickly with little to now warning and grow alarmingly fast if they aren’t addressed.  

What Can I Do to Prevent Hot Spots?

While there is no secret to preventing the situation entirely, there are steps that can be taken to prevent the appearance of hot spots in dogs.

Following any time spent outdoors, check your pup over for any skin injuries, insect bites, ticks, or other irritants.

If you do notice an area of irritation, clean the area immediately to avoid it becoming infected or inflamed. This will greatly reduce the chances of irritation developing into a hot spot.

Flea and tick prevention are also key, as they work to protect your pups from these pests.

Matted hair can trap moisture, bacteria, and parasites against the skin, encouraging irritation.

Regular grooming will help to remove any dead hair and prevent matting.

Some breeds can be shaved; however, you should NEVER shave a double-coated dog. Examples of double-coated dog breeds include Pomeranians, Huskies, Sheepdogs, Samoyeds and Malamutes.

white, brown and black beagle pup sitting in the grass in front of a wooden fence, it's hind leg up mid scratch

Skin irritation can also occur as the result of an allergy. This includes environmental allergies such as grasses, trees and pollen, as well as food allergies.

Common signs of allergies include:

  • Increased itching (localized or generalized)
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Runny eyes
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian to discuss the best options to address your concerns. Allergies can be managed with appropriate care.

Another cause, although not as common as the others, is that a dog is simply so bored that they resort to chewing on themselves.

This can easily be prevented with a little extra effort on your part.

Ensure that your dog is getting plenty of exercise and playtime, reducing the chance of pent-up energy.

If your dog is indoors for a period of time, provide them with mentally stimulating toys and activities in order to keep them occupied.

Related: ‘Easy and Effective Ways to Entertain Your Dog at Home

How Can I Treat A Hot Spot?

If you suspect that you have identified a hot spot, it is important to act fast as they can grow rapidly.

The best approach is to speak with your veterinarian at the first sign of a problem. They will guide you in the proper care for your dog’s individual case and prescribe the necessary medication for treatment, if required.

This may include:

  • Antibiotics to treat a possible infection
  • Medication to treat or prevent parasites
  • Painkillers
  • Medicated shampoos or topical drying sprays to relieve irritation
  • Corticosteroids and antihistamines to help control the itching.

If you have an appointment with the veterinarian already scheduled, but you can’t get in immediately, you can help to alleviate some pain and irritation.

Cut back the fur around the area of the hot spot to allow for proper air flow.

Clean the area with cool water and a gentle. However, be cautious! These spots are incredibly painful, so your dog may snap or lash out, even if it is out of character.

A cold compress applied to the area can provide short term, temporary relief.

Finally, prevent your dog from chewing at the area either by using a cone or through careful monitoring of your dog during this time.

Visual learners, check out this video from Dr. Wendy Zimmerman:

As I previously mentioned, these spots can be incredibly painful, itchy and irritating for your dog.

While hot spots in dogs can be treated in the early stages at home (in some cases), you don’t want to prolong his/her suffering any longer than necessary.

Contact your veterinarian to discuss your specific case and the best course of action.

brown, black and white puppy laying in the grass scratching it's side with it's hind leg, with text encouraging dog owners to learn to recognize hot spots in dogs

Do you have experience with hot spots in dogs?

What advice do you have for other dog owners? I invite you to share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

About Author

Britt is a digital/social media marketer and the owner of The Social Alternative. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending her time with her ‘pack’ which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs Daviana and Indiana and their 2 cats Pippen and Jinx. A proud pet mom, she shares all her pet-related tips, tricks and funny pet antics on Shed Happens.

62 Comments

  • Seriah Sargenton
    July 16, 2021 at 8:43 am

    This is such a useful article! My dog gets hot spots frequently and I never know what to do. Thank you

    Reply
    • Britt
      July 16, 2021 at 10:15 am

      I hope this helps you handle it all a little easier the next time that your dog gets a hot spot. My girl gets theme from time to time, so we’ve become quite familiar with the steps to address them and spare her the pain that comes with them growing over time.

      Reply
  • LuLu B
    July 16, 2021 at 9:04 am

    Growing up with my sister’s dog, I thought I knew a lot about dogs, but this is something I’ve never heard of. This is really helpful information especially if you can detect hot spots before they grow and become more severe.

    Reply
    • Britt
      July 16, 2021 at 10:14 am

      Definitely! They are relatively easy to treat early on if they are caught in time.

      Reply
  • Melanie Williams
    July 16, 2021 at 10:33 am

    Wow such an amazing post. So much information to help our dog owners to make sure that their dog stays comfy and healthy x

    Reply
    • Britt
      July 17, 2021 at 10:21 am

      Thank you!

      Reply
  • Gerald Godinho
    July 16, 2021 at 6:57 pm

    thanks for a wonderful write up britt. I love your passion for dogs and it shows. I have a better idea of hot spot and how to treat them. I also like how you detail everything and that is amazing. Continue to do the work you do and stay strong. I love dogs

    Reply
    • Britt
      July 17, 2021 at 10:20 am

      They are super common, but also easy to treat when caught early. I hope that this will help newer dog owners that are still learning about conditions like this.

      Reply
  • Lyosha
    July 19, 2021 at 3:16 pm

    great post! one of my dogs suffers from skin allergy (he’s allergic to the blooming of one particular flower), if we miss timing, he needs some extra skin care not only his meds.

    Reply
    • Britt
      July 21, 2021 at 8:19 am

      Skin reactions and allergies can quickly get out of hand if they aren’t addressed right away, can’t they? My girl has a skin condition as well that’s triggered by both environmental allergies and food allergies. It can be a lot to stay on top of at times.

      Reply
  • Erica (The Prepping Wife)
    July 20, 2021 at 9:10 am

    It never ceases to alarm me how fast a hot spot can develop and become a serious problem! It is so crazy. But regular grooming really is important, just as you mentioned, because you can spot them faster and help prevent it as well.

    Reply
    • Britt
      July 21, 2021 at 8:18 am

      Definitely! They are far easier to address if you’re able to catch them early.

      Reply
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