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Hot Spots on Dogs: A Definitive Guide

When it comes to your dog, you'll do just about anything in your power to ensure their happiness and health. You stay up to date on the latest and greatest advancements in holistic wellness. You make sure they are on the best diet for their individual needs. And don't get us started on the abundance of mentally stimulating toys in their bed. Therefore, when problems do arise (and they inevitably do), we understand that it can be a bit frustrating. You're doing everything you can to keep Fido healthy, so where did it go wrong?

Hot spots are a common ailment that has many pet owners scratching their heads. The painful, irritating sores can sometimes seem to appear overnight and without any warning leaving dog owners wondering what to do next.

Try not to panic, you certainly aren't alone. In this article, we'll cover all there is to know about hot spots on dogs including what causes them, how to treat them, and ways to prevent them. We understand that you're eagerly wanting to rid your pup of the uncomfortable sore so let's get to it!

hot spots on dogs

What is a Hotspot

Let's start with the basics.

There's no need to sugarcoat the facts. A hot spot is one of the most frustrating skin conditions that your dog can have. Medically speaking, hot spots are referred to as acute moist dermatitis, but most people simply call them hot spots. The sores develop on the surface of the dog's skin and can develop into large, painful raw lesions in seemingly no time at all. (Quite literally no time at all... they can appear in just a few hours!) While hot spots can develop just about anywhere on the body, they are most commonly found on the dog's head, chest, or hip area.

Hot spots themselves are not considered to be dangerous to your dog's health. However, the oozing, red, irritated lesions can cause Fido to experience a significant amount of pain. Furthermore, if hot spots are not resolved, they can lead to the development of bacterial infections and irreversible skin damage.

What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs

As always, in order to prevent an ailment from occurring in the future, pet owners must recognize what caused it to develop in the first place. Hot spots are no different.

Self-Inflicted Hot Spots

Most hot spots are self-inflicted. They occur when the dog licks, bites, and itches their fur incessantly, eventually creating traumatized tissue, raw skin, and a wet scab. In many cases, the inciting cause for the persistent licking and itching is something as simple as an insect or flea bite. Even a single mosquito bite has the ability to cause significant agitation, therefore leading to the development of a hot spot.

The frustration for pet owners and pain for dogs often begins during the healing process. As the hot spot starts to scab, the itchy sensation magnifies causing the dog to bite, lick, and itch even more than before. The constant attention to the healing wound causes it to open up and allow for bacteria from the dog's mouth and paws to enter, time and time again. Therefore, the sore is not only not healing, but the potential for serious bacterial infections becomes a great risk. As you can see, a simple hotspot isn't so simple once it fully develops.

Other Factors to Consider

Veterinarians agree that in many cases the inciting cause of the persistent licking, biting, and itching is insect bite related. However, it is not the only possibility.

Hot spots on dogs can also result from the following:

  • Allergic reactions 
  • Dry skin (often appearing as dandruff
  • Scabies (a skin condition caused by a tiny, burrowing mite)
  • Demodex (tiny mites that live in or near hair follicles)
  • Anal gland disease
  • Surface scratches
  • Underlying skin infections
  • Over-grooming
  • Excessive licking resulting from boredom, anxiety or stress

While identifying the origin of the hot spot can help pet owners prevent the next one from occurring, in most cases, the severity of the lesion has very little to do with what started it and everything to do with the bacterial growth that follows.

Additional Issues Regarding Hot Spots

In most cases, hot spots occur due to self-inflicted conditions on the surface of the skin. However, in some cases, hot spots may develop due to an underlying bacterial infection. Furthermore, dogs that have pre-existing bacterial imbalances of the skin are at a higher risk of a hot spot worsening at an even faster rate than normal.

Physical Hot Spot Symptoms

One of the most important things to know about hot spots is recognizing how to detect them early on. This can prove to be difficult, but knowing the early signs can make a huge difference in how quickly the skin condition can be resolved.

dog hot spot symptoms

Red Spot on the Skin

Hot spots start as a red spot on your dog's skin. By the time that the hot spot is noticed (even early on), it is typically about the size of a quarter.

Constant Licking

However, even before you recognize a hot spot, pet owners will notice their dog paying much more attention to the irritated area. Your dog will likely be perpetually licking, biting, and itching one specific part of their body. This is when it is important for pet owners to know to intervene and identify whether a hot spot is developing.

Warm to the Touch

Additionally, hot spots get their name due to the fact that they are typically warm to the touch, at least warmer than the dog's surrounding body. Although once the hot spot has progressed, it'll be difficult for you to touch the wound without causing Fido a significant amount of pain.

Moist Skin

Finally, due to the constant licking, you'll find that the surrounding skin and fur is wet, so much so that you will likely be able to see a change in the color of your dog's fur.

Additional Symptoms of Dog Hot Spots

Recognizing the physical symptoms of a hot spot is the first step in diagnosing it. However, it's not the only way that pet owners can help stop a hot spot in its tracks.

The following symptoms are also associated with dog hot spots. However, as you will see, many are non-specific symptoms. In other words, they are symptoms of a slew of conditions. It is important to definitively diagnose that your dog has a hot spot before beginning the appropriate treatment.

Pet owners should also look for the following hot spot symptoms:

  • Unusual aggression and behavioral changes (due to your dog associating touch with significant amounts of pain)
  • Whining, wincing or crying out in pain, particularly when touched
  • Excessive itching or biting at the skin
  • Persistent chewing, licking or grooming
  • Scaly or itching skin surrounding the sore
  • Sores that are scabbing or filled with puss
  • Physical heat rising from the dog’s coat or skin
  • Matted fur
  • Wet fur
  • Strong smelling fur (a telltale sign of infection)
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Hair Loss (from excessive licking and scratching)
  • Fever (due to an infection present)
  • Lethargy and depression

Dogs at a Higher Risk of Developing Hot Spots

Many dog owners wonder whether or not their dog may be at a higher risk of developing hot spots. The answer is yes. Certain dogs are more prone to hot spots. Studies show that dogs that spend more time in the water are at a higher risk of having hot spots. Additionally, dogs with conditions such as hip dysplasia are also at a high risk as they tend to constantly lick the pain inflicted area. This is true of dogs with all kinds of ailments. If the dog is licking and biting incessantly, they will likely develop a hot spot.

Finally, long-haired dog breeds are also more prone to hot spots than those with shorter hair. Pair a long-haired dog breed with one who also loves the water... chances are you may have to deal with a hot spot every now and then.

breed most prone to hot spots on dogs

The following breeds tend to be at a higher risk of developing a hot spot than other breeds:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • Rottweilers
  • St. Bernards
  • Labrador Retrievers

With that said, just because you have one of the aforementioned breeds doesn't mean they will definitely experience a hot spot. On the same note, it is important for dog owners to understand that if the circumstances align, all dogs, of all breeds, have the potential of developing a hot spot.

Are Hotspots Contagious

Many pet owners wonder whether or not hotspots are contagious, particularly if they live in a multi-pet home. The answer is both yes and no. Hot spots themselves are not contagious. However, the underlying source that led to the development of the hot spot (i.e. fleas, ticks, parasites, etc.) may certainly be contagious. Again, whenever possible it is highly important for pet parents to get to the bottom of what caused the hot spot in the first place in order to make sure all of your pets stay hot spot free.

Dog Hot Spot Treatment

To reiterate, catching a hot spot early on is key. Once the hotspot grows and further develops, treatment often has to involve a trip to the vet and a prescription medication. Of course, we understand that hot spots develop extremely fast and early detection is not always possible.

Shaving & Grooming

If the hot spot does rapidly increase in size and severity, you'll want to make an appointment as soon as possible. The first thing that veterinarians will often do is shave area surrounding the area. Shaving will allow the vet to apply a topical medication and will also prevent hair from getting into the open sore. Your veterinarian will also apply a non-irritating cleanser and/or an astringent or antiseptic spray. This process can be a bit painful for your pup but is necessary for removing any bacteria present. The antiseptic spray will likely be continued at home for several days following in order to prevent new bacteria from infecting the wound.

Topical Medications

One of the most common treatments for hot spots is some form of topical medication. These topical treatments include any one or combination of the following:

Corticosteroid creams

Corticosteroid creams help to alleviate discomfort associated with the open wound as well as ease the itchiness as it heals.

Topical Parasite Treatments

Topical parasite treatments are typically prescribed if fleas and ticks were the sources of the hot spot.

Cooling Treatments

Often times your vet will recommend cooling ointments made with aloe vera in order to soothe the skin and provide extra relief.

Topical Antibiotic Ointments

These ointments, like Neosporin, are also often recommended to help relieve the skin and further the healing process.

Topical Drying Sprays

Additionally, topical drying sprays are prescribed to help dry out the area and allow it to repair properly. Hot spots develop and thrive in moist areas where the bacteria can grow. Keeping the area as dry as possible is imperative for the healing process.

Hydrocortisone Sprays and Creams

Hydrocortisone also helps the healing process by alleviating the itchy sensation. If your dog continues to itch and irritate the hot spot it will only get more inflamed and take longer to heal. In efforts to prevent this, a hydrocortisone anti-itch spray is usually recommended.

hot spots on dogs

Specially Formulated Shampoos

Finally, your vet may prescribe specially formulated shampoos in order to expedite the healing process while making sure the skin stays clear of bacteria.

Oral Medications

Additionally, depending on the severity of the hot spot, your veterinarian may prescribe an oral medication. Commonly prescribed oral medications include the following.

Anti-Parasitic Medication

These medications (a common one being Panacur) are prescribed when the source of the hot spot are parasites.


Your veterinarian may prescribe oral steroids to give your dog additional support in fighting off the infection.


Sometimes, when a more severe infection is present, your vet may prescribe oral antibiotics in addition to the topical treatment.

Pain Medications

When the hot spot is severe, your vet may prescribe an oral pain medication to provide extra support and relief. Prescription pain meds will also help the wound heal faster as the dog won't be paying constant attention to it.

Cortisone Tablets

Your vet may prescribe cortisone tablets to help reduce itching and inflammation.


Oral antihistamines may be recommended in order to alleviate the itchy sensation and therefore prevent additional damage from constant scratching.

*With all conventional medications, it is imperative that pet owners stay implicitly aware of any and all potential adverse reactions. The last thing you want to do is clear up your dog's skin issue only to create another problem resulting from the medication.

Cone of Shame

As sad as it is to witness and as much as your dog hates it, wearing a cone (or Elizabethan Collar) will be necessary in order to help the hot spot fully heal. Unfortunately, your dog won't understand why this annoyance is placed around their head and will likely try to rip it off right away. However, keeping the cone on is paramount in making sure your dog is unable to lick or bite the wound. The bacteria in your dog's mouth can cause a slew of problems for a hot spot. The more you can help avoid contact, the better.

cone of shame to heal hot spots on dogs

Natural Hot Spot Remedies

Remember when we talked about how important it is to catch hot spots early on? Here's why. Many hotspots can be treated all naturally at home, so long as they haven't developed into a full-blown issue.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Many pet owners have found great results from treating their dog's hot spots with apple cider vinegar. Simply dilute ACV with 50% warm water and spray directly onto the hot spot 2-4 times a day.

apple cider vinegar for dogs

Antibacterial Soap

Antibacterial soap is a great tool if you catch the hot spot early on. If the wound is already raw or oozing, it's likely too late for a simple antibacterial wash.

Oatmeal Baths

Dog owners can give their pup an oatmeal bath every day until the hot spot goes away. Experts recommend giving the oatmeal bath in the evening so that it can work its powers overnight.

Tea Tree Oil

Essential oils, particularly tea tree oil, are effective for combating a slew of ailments, including hot spots. Tea tree oil has anti-bacterial, anti-itch, and anti-viral properties that, when applied topically, can help cure the hot spot.

Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel is an all natural astringent that pet owners can dab onto the hot spot with a cotton ball.

Vitamin E

Many experts in the field of holistic health and wellness refer to vitamin E as nature's Neosporin. Pet owners can simply cut vitamin E capsules in half and rub the oil on their dog's wound.

Coconut Oil

Finally, coconut oil! Coconut oil has powerful anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties that make it a safe and effective way to alleviate skin problems.

Preventing Hot Spots

Once you've cured your dog of their first hot spot you'll want to do everything you can to prevent another one from developing the future.

Regular Grooming

Regular baths and grooming are necessary for keeping your dog's skin healthy and hot spot free.

Flea & Tick Preventing

Whether you choose a monthly medication or an all natural alternative, flea and tick prevention is essential if you live in an area where the pests run rampant.

A Wet Dog = A Hot Spot Waiting to Happen

Bacteria breeds in wet places. Whenever bathing your dog, make sure they are dried fully and don't start licking or overgrooming themselves!

Physical and Mental Stimulation

Additionally, boredom may seem like an easy fix... and it is. Yet, many pet owners may overlook how important it truly is. Make sure that you're doing all you can to provide your dog with plenty of mental and physical stimulation during the day.

CBD Infused Coconut Oil

By now, you likely know all of the incredible discussion around CBD. You're also probably familiar with the wonders that coconut oil can have for your dog's skin problems. Well, the masterminds at Honest Paws took it one step further... They created CBD Infused Coconut Oil. The coconut oil can be applied topically or given orally and is sure to be loved by your furry companion.

    coconut oil for dogs

    We are over the moon about this new product and we hope you will be, too.

    Hot Spots on Dogs: The Bottom Line

    At the end of the day, we understand how frustrating hot spots can be. At Honest Paws, we are all dog owners and have dealt with our fair share of hot spot annoyances over the years. Thankfully, hot spots are one of only a few ailments that veterinarians don't consider to be harmful to Fido's health. With that said, treating the hot spot as soon as possible is paramount in preventing any potential damage from developing.

    Furthermore, by understanding why and how hot spots develop, pet owners can ensure that they are doing all that they can to prevent them from occurring in the first place and trust us... you'll want to prevent them!




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