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Hot Spots on Dogs: Causes and Treatments

Written by FOTP Team


german longhaired pointer lying in grass

Does your dog have a raw, red patch of skin that he just can’t leave alone? It could be a hot spot, which is an irritation that has become infected. If it’s become painful it may require veterinary attention – here’s what to expect. 

What is a Hot Spot?

Just like humans, dogs can’t resist scratching an itch! Hot spots appear when your dog’s scratched, nibbled or rubbed at a bite, creating a raw patch on their skin. They look wet and red and might start to smell bad. If you find one on your dog, you’ll know you need to take them straight to the vet. Hot spots can be treated using antibiotics and steroids to prevent further irritation. 

What Can Cause a Hot Spot?

Hot spots start innocently enough – an insect bite, a small scratch, dry skin, or a cut. Maybe it’s in an irritating place, like your dog’s elbow, and can’t heal quickly. Naturally, your dog will turn their attention to it and start to nibble or scratch the area, creating a bigger patch of red skin. Because the dog keeps aggravating it, the wound doesn’t heal – and then becomes an infected ‘hot spot’. 

Also known as acute moist dermatitis, a hot spot can be the result of itching caused by fleas or skin allergies. It’s really important that you get an accurate diagnosis because allergies can cause repeated incidents. They aren’t usually dangerous but can be extremely uncomfortable for your dog. 

What’s the Treatment for a Hot Spot?

Hot spots should always be treated by a vet. If you can’t get an appointment right away, try to stop your dog from aggravating it

How can you do that?

You can use a collar if you already have one – a Buster anti-scratch collar, or one of those inflatable travel-pillow collars. (Choose depending on your dog’s character, and how likely they are to attempt to escape!)

Alternatively, you could simply cover up the hot spot. You can use a wound dressing and bandage or wound tape to cover it until you reach the vet (but this is a temporary solution, because a hot spot heals faster when it’s uncovered). 

Another idea is to use a dog onesie or t-shirt! Choose a snug-fitting style or one with snaps, so your dog can’t take it off. If your dog’s worn outfits before, they might accept this more happily.

Treatment At The Vet

  1. Clean the hot spot with a medicated cleanser. It’s important to keep it clean so that bacteria doesn’t linger.
  2. Carefully trim the fur around it, to prevent it from being covered or irritated – for speedy healing. 
  3. If necessary, your vet will prescribe antibiotics; it depends whether it’s become infected. (Infected hot spots have a thick or coloured discharge.)
  4. You might also be given anti-itch medication, such as steroids or a topical spray or cream, which prevent inflammation (swelling).
  5. If you don’t have a buster collar, your vet might provide one.

Caring For Your Dog At Home

  1. Keep the hot spot clean. If your vet didn’t prescribe a medicated wash then you can use warm water or saline water (500ml water with a teaspoon of salt stirred into it). Your dog will have to be very brave because salt water sometimes stings.
  2. Keep giving the antibiotic, if prescribed, and complete the course (because part-finished courses increase immunity against the medicine). 
  3. Stop your dog from scratching or chewing the wound – see above for your options!

Preventing Hot Spots on Dogs

Future prevention starts with an accurate diagnosis. It’s simple if you know what started the hot spot (like a bite or flea infestation) but can be more complicated if your dog has an undiagnosed skin allergy.

If you suspect a skin allergy, check your dog’s skin regularly for signs of irritation, and consult with your vet. Skin allergies are common in dogs and can be caused by the usual culprits: grass, pollen, dust mites, and some foods. You’ll notice your dog is itchy and develops red or flaky patches of skin. 

Diagnosing the cause of a skin allergy can be very difficult; start with a process of elimination.

  • First, ensure that your dog’s flea treatments are on-time and up-to-date. If they do get fleas, the eggs can stay in your home and re-infest your pets quickly. Keeping a punctual treatment schedule avoids a lot of trouble!
  • Next: if you think your dog seems itchy after a walk, grass or pollen could be causing a reaction. Prevention is your main strategy here (although in some cases the vet will prescribe a seasonal antihistamine). You can keep your dog indoors at times when the pollen count is raised, or avoid meadows and grasses if possible. 
  • Thirdly: Your vacuum is the best weapon against dust mites. Think about replacing carpet or rugs with hard flooring; and wash your dog’s bed frequently. You can use a steam cleaner to keep your home surfaces super-clear.
  • Finally, an ongoing skin allergy could be caused by your dog’s diet, and this typically emerges before your dog is a year old. If you suspect that certain food is the cause, test it by swapping your dog to a grain-free diet, or a food designed for sensitive skin. Dogs can be allergic to proteins (like beef or lamb), dairy (milk or yoghurt) or grains (wheat). When you’re changing their diet, allow about 3 months to see if it has affected their health – and be vigilant, making sure that family and friends don’t give your dog any unauthorised treats. 

Skin allergies are treatable and your vet can prescribe a course of steroids or antihistamines. Worried about keeping your dog on a lifelong prescription? At home you can bathe your dog using an emollient shampoo to soothe their skin. And don’t forget to add a supplement like Soothe/products/soothe, our skin superstar. It contains a triple dose of probiotics to deliver double benefits: improving gut health, and keeping your dog’s skin beautifully calm and balanced.