Normal or Not? – Dogs and Hot Spots
Reviewed for accuracy on December 20, 2019 by Sarah Wallace, DVM
Normal dogs will scratch and groom themselves intermittently as they see fit. However, some dogs will excessively itch or chew on themselves to the point of self-trauma. When the itchy area becomes red and wet, a condition called “acute moist dermatitis” has developed – more commonly known to pet parents as “hot spots.”
What are hot spots?
Hot spots are most commonly recognized as areas of red, inflamed skin but can be more severe to the point of damaging the skin – called ulceration. As the skin becomes inflamed, the local blood supply allows blood and immune cells out of the blood vessels into the area of concern. This migration accounts for the redness of the skin that develops and the increasing warmth of the area. This warmth is how they earned the name “hot spots.”
Overwhelmingly, the most common causes of body itchiness and hot spots are environmental allergies, other types of allergies, and fleas. Dogs will chew, rub and scratch at one area to try to relieve the itch. However, the more the dog scratches and chews, the itchier the area becomes. The wet and inflamed or broken skin that results creates an opportunity for bacteria to enter and reproduce, creating more inflammation and more itchiness. Hot spots can develop anywhere on a dog’s body, but are most commonly found near the ears, back end, or back legs.
Signs of hot spots include visible cues on the dog’s body as well as behavioral cues.
- Excessive scratching, licking, and biting at a certain area
- An area of matted fur may be a hidden hot spot
- An area of missing fur with a red wound, a whitish or yellowish wound, or a scab in the middle
- Severely infected hot spots can produce a foul-odor as well
Treating hot spots in dogs
Because your dog’s chewing and licking only makes the issue worse, it is important to prevent your dog from accessing the area. Use a cone that reaches past your dog’s snout, cover the affected area with loose clothing (such as a sock if it is on the dog’s leg or a T-shirt if the spot is on the dog’s chest or belly), or keep close watch on your dog.
- Trim the hair around the hot spot to reveal the extent of the infection. This will allow you to properly clean the wound (and keep it clean). Please do not use scissors to trim your pet’s fur.
- Clean the hot spot multiple times per day during the first few days with warm water and a gentle, antibacterial soap such as Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Baby Unscented soap or antiseptic solution like chlorhexidine (diluted 1:10). Make sure to pat dry after cleansing.
- Apply a cool compress two to four times a day with a washcloth run under cold water and then placed into a plastic bag or zip lock bag – the cool temperature will feel nice without adding moisture to the wound.
- Medicate the area. There are a number of over-the-counter topical sprays, medicated shampoos, and herbal therapies available to treat hot spots. Call your vet for a pet-safe recommendation.
- For severe or reoccurring cases, visit your dog’s veterinarian. Your pup may need oral antibiotics or anti-inflammatory injections prescribed and administered at the veterinary hospital.
How to prevent hot spots
- Talk to your dog’s veterinarian about addressing the cause of the itchiness behind the hot spots.
- Use a monthly, year-round flea preventive.
- If your dog has environmental allergies, daily medications or immunotherapy can be used to decrease your dog’s itchiness.
- Brush and groom your pet regularly, especially if he or she is a long-haired breed.
- Dry your dog immediately after any swimming or bathing to prevent bacterial infections. Regularly inspect your dog’s skin for any cuts, ticks, or fleas. Apply anti-bacterial ointment or spray to any small cuts; seek veterinary care for larger lesions that may require stitches.
Hot spots can manifest quickly, and the bacterial infection can take weeks to heal, even if treated immediately. Proper cleaning and application of an anti-bacterial product can stop a hot spot in its tracks. Be especially aware of hot spots during the summer! With loving care and a watchful eye, your dog can recover from a hot spot with no problems.