Why Does My Dog Have a Hot Spot?

Key takeaway

 Acute moist dermatitis is caused by a number of issues, including allergic reactions, fleas, boredom, and poor grooming. Hot spots can be treated at home with several different remedies, but if they increase in severity then a trip to the vet is necessary. Afterwards there are some preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of reinfection.

Has your dog’s constant fussing over an area on their body lead to an ugly wound? Do they constantly pick at a certain area until it is fire red? Or maybe you’ve been able to treat a hot spot but want to prevent it from coming back. Don’t worry. Hot spots are common in dogs and we’re going to give you information regarding their causes, symptoms, how to treat them, when you should get professional advice, and how to prevent them in the future.

What are hot spots on dogs?

A hot spot, or acute moist dermatitis in medical terms, is a skin disorder commonly observed in dogs. It is a localized area of skin inflammation and bacterial infection. Often, hot spots will start as a small red area that may look like a small wound or insect bite, but grow quickly into a painful, oozing lesion. Hot spots can be found anywhere on the body, but are most commonly found on the legs, hips, and forearms. So, what causes a hot spot, and what can you do about it?

Picture of hot spot on dog’s leg

Symptoms of Hot Spots in Dogs

To deal with a hot spot, you must first be able to find and diagnose the condition in your dog. Here are several symptoms which are, or may lead to, a hotspot on your poor pooch.

  • Lesions – will appear suddenly, and progress rapidly by growing in size.
  • Swelling – the skin around the hot spot will swell up or become inflamed
  • Crusting – Crust will form around an area, or scabs will form.
  • Matting of Hair – your dog may lose their coat’s sheen and become matted and dirty.
  • Pruritus – the medical term for itchy skin. If you see your dog constantly scratching or biting one singular spot, this might be why.
  • Mood change – your dog may show signs of aggression or lethargy because of the pain from the hot spot.
  • Fever- Caused by infection in the wound.
Symptoms of hot spots in dogs

What causes hot spots on dogs?

Hot spots can start from a number of factors. Anything that starts your dog on the path to licking or scratching a certain part of skin can be the catalyst for a hot spot.

  • Allergies – Any type of allergic reaction can cause skin irritation, whether this is a food, inhalant, or skin allergy.
  • Ear Infections – Irritating ear infections can lead to excessive scratching which can cause hot spots on the ear flap or neck.
Ear infections can lead to excessive scratching, which can cause hot spots on the ear flap or neck.
  • Poor Grooming – Tangled or matted hair will cause dogs to bite at it causing open wounds. Additionally, wet or dirty fur doesn’t get enough airflow leading to an ideal environment for the bacteria to grow and fester.  
  • Mental reasons – If your dog gets bored easily or has dog separation anxiety, it can lead to self-destructive behaviors such as constant licking or biting. Over time, this behavior can lead to hot spots.
  • Atopic Dermatitis – otherwise known as Eczema. Often a cause of itchy and dry skin in pets.
  • Skin Infections- ranging from Yeast Dermatitis caused by a fungus called Malassezia Pachydermatous, to a staph infection (Not so fun fact: staphylococcus can be spread between dogs and humans). There are many different types of bacteria or fungus that can be the cause of your poor dog’s skin infection.
  • Arthritis – If you see hot spots commonly form on your dog’s hips, then they may be a result of the arthritis from hip dysplasia. To comfort the pain in their sore joints, dogs will often lick causing a hot spot.
  • Anal sac disease- Anal sacs can easily be infected and form abscesses. This can lead to the dog biting or licking the area excessively, leading to a hot spot.
  • Contact irritants – Your dog interacting with different irritants on their skin which could range from pollen to poison ivy or salted roads.
  • Fleas- Dog allergies towards flea bites and saliva are one of the most common reasons for hot spots in pets.
  • Parasites – Fleas aren’t the only parasites which can cause a hot spot. Parasites such as ticks, lice or mites will often cause irritation and scratching (3)

How do Hot Spots Form?

When an itch or irritation starts on a dog’s skin for whatever reason, a dog will begin to scratch or lick leading to a secondary trauma of the skin, while the coat will trap moisture leading to a bacterial infection and a hot spot. If not treated, this hot spot will continue to grow and/or spread to other areas of the body.

According to veterinarian Andrew Hillier, “Basically, anything that can start an itch-scratch cycle can lead to a hot spot on your dog. The animal is generally so intensely itchy that an area is traumatized in a very short period of time; severe lesions can be induced within hours in some patients. One the damage is started; a self-perpetuating cycle of itching and scratching/chewing is initiated” 

Treatment for Hot Spots

Whether you are trying to treat your hot spot at home, or at the vet, there are several ways to deal with acute moist dermatitis.

At-Home Treatment Options for Hot Spots

Hot spots are painful, and it can be difficult even for experienced vets to properly clean and address them without causing discomfort. These home remedies should only be used until you can get into a vet’s office; always seek care from a professional, and don’t wait for things to get worse.

Before treating a hot spot at home, make sure that the fur is prepared beforehand. Make sure that you trim the hair around the area, at least an inch around the wound. Not only will this make it easier to treat and keep hair from getting in, but it may help prevent moisture from being trapped there later, possibly preventing a hot spot from occurring there in the future. Be sure to be gentle, the skin is damaged and further trauma will make it harder to heal. After the prep work is done here are several home remedies to try:

  • Clean the skin with a damp washcloth and mild antibacterial soap. Remove pus from a wound with warm water. This should be effective on small and mild hotspots, and you should see improvement in a few days.
  • Run a bath using cool/tepid water and soak the injury. Just like if you’ve ever had chicken pox, using something like an oatmeal bath can relax your dog and soothe their skin. Be sure to clean thoroughly and brush well. If there are other matted areas on the coat, it can lead to a spread of hot spots in that area as well.
 An oatmeal bath can soothe your dog’s skin, but you should consult with a veterinarian first

When to See Your Vet for Your Dog’s Hot Spots

At a certain point, a hotspot may need professional treatment. Watch for these warning signs to know when it is time to take fido to the vet. Go to the vet when the hot spot is:

  • Increasing in size, especially after treatment at home
  • Increasing in depth
  • Excreting colored discharge
  • Constantly bleeding
  • Beginning to smell
  • Seeing no improvement after a few days
  • Causing your pet significant discomfort or pain
  • Or you cannot prevent your dog from licking or biting it

If the hot spot gets to this point it isn’t likely to get better without prescription meds or professional treatment. On the other hand, if your dog continually gets hot spots, you may want to pursue veterinary treatment so that you can determine the underlying cause of the recurrent infections and find a way to prevent them.

Vet treatment options for hot spots

Depending on the severity of your pooch’s hot spot, a veterinarian may recommend any combination of:

  • antibiotics – topical or oral antibiotics may be prescribed. This treatment can last up to 4 weeks depending on the depth of the infection
  • anti-inflammatories such as NSAIDS.
  • allergy medications such as antihistamines can be prescribed to reduce itchiness
  • steroids - a corticosteroid may be administered to promote healing
  • an Elizabethan collar (or cone) to prevent further irritation
Dog wearing cone

Additionally, once your vet has determined the underlying cause of hot spots on your dog, they may prescribe flea prevention medication, allergy medication, ear medication, etc.

How to Prevent Hot Spots in the Future

If you are seeing more than one or two hot spots in your pet, it is time to try and find the underlying reason, and to also take preventative measures to try and keep them from popping up again.

  • Maintain your dog’s hygiene – A good cleaning regiment is crucial for keeping a hot spot from occurring. Make sure that your dog is regularly groomed and that the coat is healthy and clean because matted fur is a breeding ground for the bacteria which causes hot spots.
  • Change your dog’s diet - Try switching up your dog’s diet to see if it helps alleviate hot spots. Your veterinarian (and Dutch veterinarians) are the best source for nutrition recommendations.
  • Monitor vigilantly – Keep an eye on your dog. If you notice them starting to lick at a certain area, take the time to see to it before it becomes a hot spot.
  • Prevent parasites – flea hypersensitivity is a common reason for hot spots. A good flea preventative used year round medication may be necessary to prevent other breakouts.
  • Decrease stress and reduce boredom – try to keep your dog stress and boredom free by increasing the number of toys and chews at home. Take them on more walks and try to keep them active.
  • Follow up check ups – in order to make sure the underlying causes are treated it’s a good idea to get a professional opinion on it. If you can’t make it to the vet, Dutch provides telemedicine from licensed veterinarians who can provide their expert advice (5).

Hot Spots On Dogs: Frequently Asked Questions

Hot spots can be a complicated subject leading to a lot of questions. Here are some answers to questions that frequently come up.

Are certain dog breeds more prone to hot spots?

Longhaired and thick-coated breeds of dogs are often more susceptible. Breeds such as Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Saint Bernards, German Shepherds and Rottweilers seem to be predisposed towards hot spots(1).

What factors can make dog hot spots more likely to occur?

  • Environment/temperature - Areas with high temperatures or high humidity see an increase in hot spots
  • Season – hot spots more common in summer
  • Age – hot spots are more common in younger dogs
  • Breed- longhaired dogs are more likely to contract acute moist dermatitis
  • Allergies – If your dog has atopic dermatitis, which is where the dog’s immune system reacts strongly to environmental allergies like mold spores or dust. This leads to inflammation and itching.
  • Fleas – Many dogs are allergic to flea saliva which causes biting and licking.
  • Long coats- Having more hair is likelier to lead to hot spots as it leads to damp fur where the bacteria thrive.

Will a Hot Spot Go Away on its Own?

Unlikely. Mainly because dogs have difficult times leaving irritation alone. If you want a hot spot to heal without treatment, keeping the area clean is your best bet.

Can Benadryl Help With Hot Spots on Dogs?

Benadryl can be used to treat the allergic reaction which may be a cause of the hot spot. However, make sure that you consult with your vet before giving them any human medication. Its main active ingredient is diphenhydramine, which is an ingredient safe for your dog, so when shopping at the pharmacy, make sure that it is the only active ingredient. When using Benadryl, the tablet form is the safest, at a level of 1 mg of Benadryl per pound of body weight. If you are worried about the dosage, double check with your vet as an overdose can have several nasty side effects.

If you decide to go the self-medication route, there are some ways to go about treatment:

  • Start off small – Give them a small test dose to test if there is a reaction to the medicine
  • Use on a full stomach - Medicine on an empty stomach can cause nausea.
  • You may see side effects – Some common side effects of Benadryl in dogs include dry mouth, vomiting, diarrhea, retention of urine, drowsiness, and appetite loss.

As you can see, Benadryl can be effective in treating dogs, but there are definite drawbacks. Why not reach out to us at Dutch where we will not only have veterinarians on staff to give you professional advice, but we can also have pharmaceuticals delivered to your door that have, unlike Benadryl, been made specifically for pets(7).

Can I Use Human Hydrocortisone Cream on my Dog?

Human hydrocortisone cream is not approved for animals and not recommended for animals. If your dog were to accidentally ingest that cream by licking the area, serious side effects could occur like diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration.

There are, however, hydrocortisone creams which are prescribed for dogs. They have been known to be effective in treating pruritus, a chronic itch which can cause the development of hotspots. Make sure you talk to a veterinarian, either in person or online to get the right brand for you(8).

Do Hot Spots Hurt Dogs?

Yes, most of the time. A hot spot is a wound after all.

Are Hot Spots Contagious?

Generally, no. A hot spot is a description of a skin condition and not a diagnosis. However, according to the Khmer times “if the underlying cause is found to be of parasitic or fungal nature, it may be contagious to other animals in your household”(6).

When is a Dog Hot Spot an Emergency?

Most hot spots will not be an emergency, but if the wound looks infected, and is weeping pus or blood, you will want to take your dog to the vet. At that point it isn’t likely to get better without prescription meds. Additionally, if your dog continually gets hotspots, you may want to pursue treatment as well so that you can determine the underlying cause of the recurring injuries.

How Much Does it Cost to Treat Hot Spots?

If treated early on, hot spots are relatively cheap to treat. They can be dealt with common household items or medicine. However, if they become serious, then the veterinarian bill is going to be a significant amount of the cost. At the worst, the damaged skin can die and leave a wound which takes a significant time to heal and a massive increase in costs.

Final Notes

There are many ways in which hot spots occur in dogs, and the ways to treat them range just as much. If you have any questions or concerns about how you should treat your dog’s hot spots, or you want to prevent them in the future, consider joining Dutch, a company which provides telemedicine for pets. We pet owners like you to licensed vets, and provide the medicine your dog needs right to your door.

References

  1.  Hillier, Andrew. “ACUTE MOIST DERMATITIS IN DOGS.” Auburn Animal Hospital, http://www.rochesterhillsvet.com/articles/acute_moist_dermatitis_in_dogs.php.

  2. Diaz, Sandra. “Pyoderma in Dogs and Cats.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, Sept. 2020, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/integumentary-system/pyoderma/pyoderma-in-dogs-and-cats

  3. “Hot Spots on Dogs.” Small Door Veterinary, , https://www.smalldoorvet.com/learning-center/what-to-do/hot-spot-in-dogs

  4.  Aufox, Erin E, et al. “Acute Moist Dermatitis.” Cliniciansbrief.com, University of Tennessee, Sept. 2019,  https://files.brief.vet/2019-08/Acute%20Moist%20Dermatitis.pdf

  5. Racine, Elizabeth. “How to Treat and Prevent Hot Spots on Dogs.” American Kennel Club, 1 Sept. 2021, ,  https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/treating-and-preventing-hot-spots-on-dogs

  6. Khouri, Yulia. “Understanding Hot Spots on Dogs - Khmer Times.” Understanding Hot Spots on Dogs, Khmer Times, 13 Sept. 2018,  https://www.khmertimeskh.com/533170/understanding-hot-spots-on-dogs

  7.  Plumb, D. C. (2018). Plumb's veterinary drug handbook.

  8. Shores, Deborah. “Hydrocortisone Cream for Dogs: What Is It and When You Need It.” Top Dog Tips, 17 March 2021, https://topdogtips.com/hydrocortisone-cream-for-dogs/.