What is a Hot Spot on My Dog?

Posted by Lianne McLeod D.V.M. on

What is a Hot Spot on My Dog?

It is no secret that dogs tend to itch and lick themselves on any given day. However, in some instances, the licking and itching may be excessive, causing your canine companion discomfort or even pain. In such cases, your dog could likely be battling hot spots.

Hot spots, also known as acute moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis, refer to a common skin infection that affects dogs of all breeds and sizes. These painful and itchy lesions form on different parts of a dog's body but are more common on the head, ears, hips, and thighs.

As the name suggests, hot spots can cause significant discomfort for your furry friend due to the warmth from the inflammation. However, with proper care and attention, they can be managed effectively.

This article will explore the causes of hot spots on dogs, what they look like, the treatment and healing stages, when to call your vet, and how to prevent acute moist dermatitis.

white dog with a red hot spot

Causes of Hot Spots on Dogs

A vital part of ensuring that your dog remains free of hot spots and other skin infections is to first understand the causes. Various factors can cause a hot spot, including:

Skin Irritation

Hot spots on dogs often begin as areas of skin irritation. This irritation can result from numerous factors such as insect bites, contact with irritants from certain plants or chemicals, or friction from collars and harnesses.


Reactions to food allergies, environmental allergens like pollen or dust mites, or contact allergens from some grooming products can lead to intense itching and scratching, which can create hot spots on dogs.

Flea Infestations

Flea bites are a common cause of dog itching and irritation. Moreover, the constant scratching and biting on flea bites often lead to the formation of hot spots. To make matters worse, in some instances, a dog's immunity may be compromised due to an infestation, resulting in a flea allergy.


Excessive moisture, such as from rain, swimming, or even over-bathing, can weaken the healthy skin barrier. This makes your dog more prone to irritation and infection, which may trigger a hot spot. Although hot spots in dogs occur throughout the year, they are more common during hot weather.

When your dog's ears get wet from swimming or playing in the rain, there is an increased risk of contracting an ear infection if not properly dried. Consequently, this leads to the formation of canine hot spots under the ears, commonly referred to as summer sores.

Underlying Infections

Sometimes, a yeast or bacterial infection may develop on the skin. These infections usually cause discomfort and itching, leading your dog to excessive licking and scratching of the affected area. Ultimately, this results in a hot spot. For example, canine atopic dermatitis, which is the equivalent of eczema in human beings, is a common skin infection affecting 10% of all dogs.

Skin Trauma

Any form of skin trauma, including cuts, abrasions, or even excessive routine grooming, can break the skin's protective barrier. When this happens, it creates an opportunity for a hot spot to develop on your dog's skin.

Matted Fur

Tangled or matted fur on your dog can trap excess moisture and prevent air from reaching the skin, creating an ideal environment for skin infections to thrive. This is usually an underlying cause of hot spot formation.

Stress or Anxiety

Emotional stress or anxiety in dogs can lead to compulsive behaviors such as excessive licking or biting at their skin. This self-trauma could initiate hot spots.

spotted dog with a hot spot

What Do Dog Hot Spots Look Like?

Hot spots are distinctive and relatively easy to identify. These lesions usually appear as:

Red, Inflamed Patches: Hot spots are characterized by red, swollen, and irritated skin.

Moist or Oozing: The affected area is often moist or oozing pus and may have a foul odor.

Hair Loss: Due to excessive licking and scratching, hair loss is common in and around the hot spot.

Intense Itching: Dogs with hot spots will frequently lick, chew, or scratch the affected area, making it even more uncomfortable.

dog sitting with a red hot spot

How to Treat Dog Hot Spots at Home

Although it is advisable to consult your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment of a dog's hot spot, there are some home remedies you can practice to alleviate your dog's discomfort:

Trim the Fur - Gently trim your dog's fur around the hot spot to expose it to air and keep it clean.

Clean the Area - Wash the hot spot with a mild, pet-safe antiseptic solution to remove debris and bacteria. Pat it dry with a clean, dry cloth.

Topical Treatments - Apply a pet-safe, over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or spray to reduce itching and inflammation.

E-Collar - To prevent further licking and chewing, consider using an Elizabethan collar (E-collar) until the hot spot heals.

Keep It Dry - Ensure the hot spot stays dry. Avoid allowing your dog to swim or get wet around the open wound.

Dog Hot Spot Healing Stages

The healing process for a dog's hot spot typically follows these stages:

Initial Care

After initiating home remedies and keeping the area clean, you should see a reduction in redness and irritation within a few days. Follow the steps below:

Identify the hot spot - Begin by locating the hot spot on your dog's skin. Hot spots are usually red, moist, and inflamed areas that can be painful for your dog.

Clip the fur - Gently clip the fur around the hot spot to expose the affected skin and allow it to breathe.

Clean the area - Carefully clean the hot spot with a mild antiseptic or saline solution to remove dirt, debris, and bacteria. Pat the area dry with a clean, soft cloth.

Scab Formation

A scab will eventually form as the hot spot begins to heal. Avoid picking or scratching the scab, as it protects the healing tissue underneath. During this stage, it's important to prevent your dog from licking, scratching, or biting the affected area, as this can delay healing and cause recurring hot spots.


Over the next couple of weeks, continue to monitor your dog's hot spot for signs of improvement. As the scab matures, the infected area will gradually heal from the inside out. Remember to keep the area clean and dry to facilitate the healing process.

Your veterinarian may prescribe or recommend a topical spray or ointment such as hydrocortisone or an antibiotic cream to soothe the hot spot and prevent further infection. Monitor your dog's progress and follow your vet's instructions for any follow-up care.

It's important to note that healing times can vary depending on the severity of the hot spot and how well it's managed. If you notice any signs of worsening or if your dog's condition doesn't improve, consult your veterinarian for further guidance and treatment.

Additionally, addressing the underlying cause, such as allergies or skin infections, is crucial to successfully treat hot spots.

dog poking its head up with a hot spot

When to Call Your Vet

Although most dog hot spots can be effectively managed using home remedies, there are instances where veterinary intervention is necessary. Contact your veterinarian if:

  • The hot spot is large, deep, or doesn't show signs of improvement within a few days.

  • Your dog's condition worsens, or they become lethargic or lose their appetite.

  • Secondary infections develop.

  • Your dog repeatedly experiences hot spots, as this may indicate a critical underlying cause.

Treatment for Hot Spots in Dogs

The best treatment for hot spots in dogs includes the following:

  • Topical Medications - Veterinarians often prescribe topical treatments with anti-inflammatory properties, such as medicated sprays, creams, or gels, to help soothe hot spots on dogs.

  • Oral Medications - In some cases, oral antibiotics or oral steroids may be prescribed to address the underlying cause of the hot spot or to control severe inflammation.

  • Allergen Identification - If allergies are suspected as the trigger, your vet will possibly recommend allergy testing to identify the allergen and develop an appropriate management plan.

  • Dietary Changes - In cases of food allergies, changing your dog's diet to a hypoallergenic one may be required. A good place to start would be to eliminate dog foods and treats with potential allergens such as those that are high in grains and proteins.

  • Environmental Management - If environmental allergies are the issue, making changes to your dog's environment to minimize exposure to parasites can be helpful.

  • Hydration and Nutrition - Ensure your dog remains well-hydrated and receives a balanced diet to support their overall health and recovery. A balanced diet includes protein, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats such as fish oil.

  • Follow-Up Care - Regular follow-up visits with your veterinarian are essential to monitor progress and adjust the treatment plan as needed.

Remember, hot spots can worsen quickly, therefore it is crucial to promptly seek veterinary counsel.

puppy with a hot spot

How to Prevent Hot Spots on Dogs

Preventing hot spots is vital to ensuring your dog's long-term comfort and well-being. Here are some preventive measures you can take:

  • Routine Grooming - Brush your dog's coat regularly to remove loose fur and prevent matting, which can trap excessive moisture. This is especially crucial for breeds with thicker coats such as Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. In addition, thoroughly dry your dog's ear flap to prevent any infection from forming in the ear canal that eventually leads to hot spots.

  • Flea and Tick Control - Use appropriate flea and tick prevention methods recommended by your veterinarian. For example, use a mild soap or antibacterial shampoo to wash your dog regularly. In addition, wash your dog's bedding in warm soapy water on a weekly basis to keep ticks and fleas at bay.

  • Allergy Management - If your dog has allergies, work with your vet to identify triggers and manage them effectively. This may include the use of allergy medication over a short course.

  • Dietary Considerations - Provide a well-balanced diet with high-quality food that meets your dog's nutritional needs. In some cases, dietary allergies can contribute to skin issues.

  • Keep Your Dog Dry - Whenever your dog swims or after baths, ensure that you dry them thoroughly, especially on the areas prone to hot spots such as the head, ears, hips, and legs to prevent ear infections and skin irritations. Moreover, be keen to check under your dog's tail because the continued chewing and licking could result in the anal glands getting infected.

  • Stress Reduction - Minimize stress for your dog, as stress can exacerbate itching and scratching. Engage your dog in regular exercise by taking walks and provide mental stimulation by playing games such as "fetch".

dog sitting cutely with a hot spot

The Bottom Line

Have you ever wondered why in certain seasons and under particular circumstances your dog itches more than usual? Chances are that your furry friend is suffering from hot spots. But what exactly is a hot spot and how does it differ from other skin conditions?

A hot spot on a dog is one of the most painful and bothersome skin conditions that can manifest as a lesion or sore. They often result in intense itching and hair loss, causing discomfort for our canine companions. It is crucial to have a proper understanding of hot spots on dogs for responsible pet ownership because prompt recognition and treatment not only provide relief but also prevent further complications.

Hot spots typically arise from a combination of factors. For instance, they may stem from allergies, flea infestations, matted fur, or even stress-induced licking or scratching. The underlying cause often involves excess moisture, which creates an ideal environment for bacterial growth. This microbial invasion leads to the characteristic redness, swelling, and oozing discharge associated with hot spots.

Treating hot spots promptly is pertinent to prevent their escalation and the potential for secondary complications. Hot spot treatment involves careful cleaning and shaving of the affected area to promote airflow and drying. Veterinarians usually prescribe antibiotics to combat the bacterial infection, while topical medications and anti-inflammatory drugs help reduce discomfort and itching.

Furthermore, it is essential to identify and address any underlying causes of hot spots, such as ear infections or allergies. With regular grooming and flea prevention, you will significantly reduce the likelihood of hot spots on your dog. 


  1. NRDC. (Smith-Janssen, 2016). Non-Toxic Ways to Protect Your Pet. Retrieved from https://www.nrdc.org/stories/nontoxic-ways-protect-your-pet

  2. University of Nottingham. (n.d.). What Is Canine Atopic Dermatitis? Retrieved from https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/research/groups/itchy-dog/what-is-canine-atopic-dermatitis/what-is-canine-atopic-dermatitis.aspx

  3. VCA Hospitals. (n.d.). Hot Spots in Dogs. Retrieved from https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/hot-spots-in-dogs

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Lianne McLeod, DVM, is a former writer for The Spruce Pets, contributing articles for 11 years. Before Dr. McLeod began writing about pet care, she worked several years in small animal practice. She has written extensively about the care and keeping of exotic pets and pet health care. She now researches water quality and chronic disease at the University of Saskatchewan. Lianne McLeod earned her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. She also received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Simon Fraser University. She continued her education and received a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Now, she splits her time between her family, research and writing about pet health for all the animal lovers out there.
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