Hot Spots On Dogs Skin – A Guide On Treatment And Prevention

By Michael Tarran

December 28, 2021

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So you've noticed that your dog has been a bit more jumpy and jittery today. It keeps scratching and licking itself more frequently - and it turns out it's just a small scratch on its skin or a bug bite.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, that "small scratch" has swollen up and turned red in just a few hours, and your dog can barely resist scratching it and making it worse.

Where did all of this come from, and what's going on?

As scary as this predicament might appear, you're most probably dealing with a fairly common problem - a hot spot.

Here we'll be diving into a common problem for many pets and pet owners; we're gonna take a look at what these weird skin lesions are, and what we can do about them!

What Are Hot Spots (Acute Moist Dermatitis)?

Hot spots - also referred to as acute moist dermatitis, pyotraumatic dermatitis, or simply "summer sores" - are one of the most common skin conditions that can affect a dog's body.

So, what does a hot spot look like?

Well, hot spots on dogs appear as patches of inflamed, irritated skin, and are often followed by matted fur or hair loss around the affected area. They are also known to discharge pus and blood.

A hot spot will most often appear on a dog's head, limbs or hips; some breeds are even prone to develop hot spots on their abdomen.

Now, these skin infections can be quite problematic for our little buddies, and a hot spot could cause intense itching sensations and pain until fully treated.

Read More: Dogs With Atopic Dermatitis – What Does It Mean?

What Causes Canine Hot Spots?

When trying to get rid of an unpleasant sensation, dogs can sometimes damage their otherwise healthy skin barrier.

That can, in turn, cause the bacteria such as staphylococcus - naturally found in a dog's skin and mouth - to get inside a small wound or a cut, which leads to secondary infections such as staph infection.

Apart from running and playing around, these cuts and wounds can also be caused by an insect bite.

More often than not, there's an underlying cause for hot spots on dogs, which can actually lead to recurring hot spots if left unaddressed. That is why, when starting to treat hot spots on dogs, it's crucial to not only remedy the hot spot itself but the underlying cause too.

A dog's hot spot can develop very rapidly, seemingly overnight. The bacteria responsible for these infections might bring about an acute allergic reaction since they can't wait to have a field day given the right conditions. And when facing such a reaction, it's crucial to act quickly.

Let's discuss some common cases and situations where a dog might develop hot spots. I'll be going over several important factors, and discuss what you're gonna want to pay attention to here.

Remember, when in doubt, do not assume you know the best solution. Infections, however big or small, really shouldn't be taken lightly. The last thing we want is to add fuel to the fire here.

Boredom

If a dog is prone to anxiety and boredom, it can lead to excessive licking and biting. Such behavior can bring about unwanted harm, otherwise known as self-trauma. I mean, we all get itchy and fidgety when stressed, nervous, or just irritatingly bored; pooches are no different!

Allergies

Allergic reactions actually make up a large portion of dogs' hot spots incidents. They can often be an underlying cause for dog hot spots - be it either food allergies or a flea allergy.

Properly treating allergies requires consulting a veterinarian. After assessing the situation, they will prescribe fitting allergy medication and inform you of the correct dosage to use.

When left untreated, these reactions become a more and more common problem, so it's always good to know what your dog is dealing with and what precautions to take.

Ear Infections

dog ear infection

Bacterial infections in the ear canal can easily irritate dogs and cause them to scratch their ears, which as I've mentioned before, are a pretty common place for hot spots on dogs to develop. That makes ear infections become an even worse problem for your pup.

Contracting ear mites from other dogs causes nasty irritation, and your pet will frequently keep shaking their head as if they're trying to shake something off.

You might even notice an unpleasant smell around your dog's ears, along with either brown or black discharge around the area. Such symptoms also point toward an ear mite infestation as the underlying cause - and can quickly lead to infection.

Parasites

Mites and lice can cause skin infections in dogs, making them prone to excessive licking.

Tick bites can pose a big problem; it's imperative to remove ticks from your dog's skin properly. And you need to tend to the tick bite before the rascal does since they will scratch the bite until the tick is only partly gone - which is never recommended!

Fleas also produce saliva which can cause itching sensations on dogs skin. Furthermore, the presence of fleas poses the problem of a possible tapeworm down the road. Regular flea control and treatments are required in order to make sure your dog is healthy and parasite-free.

Flees themselves might not be present, but traces of their eggs can be found in quite a few places both at home and outside. That can lead to dogs becoming carriers for the eggs - which will eventually hatch and start causing problems.

Moisture

Moisture left in the coat after your dog swims or runs around can become a breeding ground for bacteria. It's always a good practice to pay attention to the parts of their coat that always seem wet or dirty - even after they're done running around.

That becomes especially important if a bacterial infection has already started, or is in the process of healing. So, be sure to check if your dog is completely dry after playing outside.

Speaking of wet and cheerful fur balls, there's one particular time of year when you want to be extra careful about the eruption of hot spots in dogs - summer.

I've already mentioned that one of the names for this infection is "summer sores," and, well, there's a reason for that:

You may have already guessed - summer means hot temperatures and lots of jumping and running around in the water to cool off. Now, although that's a good time for everyone, you should bear in mind that if your dog plays around water often, there's a bunch of it trapped in its fur, too.

Hot temperatures only increase the development and spread of all kinds of bacteria. So, if your dog has a scratch somewhere, remember to take additional precautions every time and go the extra mile when drying off!

Are Certain Dog Breeds More Prone To Hot Spots?

Some breeds are indeed more susceptible to skin conditions, including:

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

You'll notice that all of the above-mentioned breeds have reasonably thicker coats, which can both keep moisture on the skin and hide existing infections. Additionally, long fur can cover up areas that are affected by hair loss, making them that much harder to notice at first.

Do check your dog regularly for any abnormalities to make sure they're in healthy condition.

Treating Hot Spots On Dogs Skin

While there indeed are some over-the-counter (OTC) medications you can try, it's vital to know that some of those remedies can further irritate your dog's skin - and it's always good to seek professional help from a vet.

When you take your pooch to a vet, the first thing they'll probably do is carefully trim the hair around the affected area. Afterward, the vet can give some medication with anti-inflammatory properties and prescribe oral antibiotics and pain medications.

There's no ideal environment to fully prevent hot spots on dogs - but when appropriately managed, you can help prevent the appearance of chronic hot spots.

Natural Remedies For Treating A Hot Spot

When considering topical medication, Betamethasone and hydrocortisone - either in spray or cream form - are among the best remedies.

Fish oil is another natural remedy that contains lots of fatty acids that can alleviate inflammation - like DHA, EPA, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Home Remedies For Treating Hot Spots

dog wearing plastic cone

If you don't have the time to take your pooch to the vet right away, there are a few things you can do to treat hot spots at home.

For starters, you can trim the surrounding hair of the affected area. That will help in airing it out and keeping it dry.

Elizabethan collar or e-collar - which simply looks like a plastic cone - should prevent your pup from constant licking and causing further skin irritation during the healing process.

Even a thin layer of aloe vera on the affected area can be yet another simple home remedy. However, it can easily irritate a dog's stomach and lead to vomiting when ingested. For this reason, it's a good idea to accompany this treatment with an e-collar to prevent them from licking the wound where it's applied.

While some solutions listed here are generally harmless and common, it's very important that you consult your veterinarian before attempting to administer any gel or sprays on your dog's skin. Severely damaged skin demands great precaution - and you don't want to take risks.

A wrong approach can make matters worse, which will significantly increase costs of treatment, drug costs, and time needed for recovery.

How Do I Go About Preventing Hot Spots On Dogs?

Being mindful and preventing hot spots on dogs will save you and your pups a whole lot of time and trouble.

Routine grooming can play a big part in keeping a pup's skin healthy. Unkempt fur will trap lots of moisture - which will only increase the chances of further infection.

Checking for excess moisture and skin inflammation is another great way to prevent hot spots. Making sure they are nice and dry after a bath or after running around in puddles can go a long way - along with paying attention to other dogs your pet plays with, in case of transmittable bacteria.

With restless dogs or dogs with anxiety, it's good to let them take their energy out in healthy ways. If kept "static" for too long, that energy can be directed towards self-harm out of pure boredom.

Regular checking your dog for possible parasites or fleas, treating allergies and flare-ups can stop dogs from scratching themselves, too.

Conclusion

While there's a bunch of ways our little friends can pick up unwanted attention from insects and bacteria, keep in mind that there's always a solution.

A dog's hot spot can indeed be a common occurrence. Luckily, vets know how to deal with them.

That doesn't mean that you should be overprotective of your pooch; they're meant to run around and have a jolly good time! But as their guardians, it's up to us to keep them protected from all the pesky problems they might run into while having fun.

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Michael Tarran

About Me

I'm a devoted pet parent to two lovely creatures – Charlie the Cat and Jimmy the Dog – a full-time assistant pet store manager, and an animal shelter volunteer. I've gathered knowledge about pets for almost a decade, and it all started in a small store called Jack's Pets.

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