What Is A Hot Spot On A Dog?

By Chyrle Bonk, DVM April 30, 2020

Is your dog scratching themselves by an abnormal amount? The answer to the question is answered when you notice an ugly, red spot amidst all of their hair. If this is your dog’s first hot spot, there’s no doubt you’re alarmed, and your dog may be as well. For more information on that ugly red spot on your dog, then read on to learn more.

What Is A Hot Spot On A Dog?

More formerly called acute moist dermatitis, hot spots are an irritation of the skin. Acute means they pop up suddenly, moist means there is usually some amount of discharge or oozing, and dermatitis means inflammation of the skin. There are many factors involved with the formation of a hot spot which indluces self-trauma from scratching and bacteria is always a part of it.

What Causes Hot Spots On A Dog?

The formation of a hot spot always begins with some kind of irritation to the skin. Nothing feels better on an itch than to scratch it, leading dogs to lick, chew, or scratch that irritation until it becomes even more bothersome and moist. Bacteria love a warm, moist environment so it doesn’t take long for an infection to follow. Common causes of skin irritation include:

  • Allergies

Environmental or food allergies can cause excessive itching anywhere on your dog’s skin or ears. Common allergens include fleas, pollen, grasses, dust mites, chicken, beef, or egg.

  • Ear infections

Ear infections are itchy and makes dogs shake their head and scratch. Hot spots may appear at the base of the ear, neck, or on the ear flap.

  • Matted hair

Tangles and mats pull at hair, collect dirt and debris, and irritate the skin possibly leading to hot spots underneath or near the snarl.

  • Moisture

Dogs with thick, wool-like hair coats have a hard time getting completely dry once they’re wet, especially in hard to reach places like the belly, groin, armpits, and under the ear flap. Prolonged moisture next to the skin sets up the perfect environment for irritation and bacterial infections. This means casual swims, baths, or even trips outside in the rain or snow can create a hot spot if your dog isn’t completely dry.

  • Skin infections

Any bacterial or yeast infections on the skin can lead to a hot spot from your dog’s scratching.

  • Allergic reactions

Bee stings, bug bites, fleas, or mites all irritate the skin. If that irritation is bad enough, a hot spot can occur next.

  • Pain

Dogs try to soothe their pain and discomfort from arthritis and injuries by licking. While licking may have some effect on decreasing pain, excessive licking can lead to hot spots.

  • Boredom, stress, or anxiety

Dogs like to have a job, even if that consists of just sitting on your lap. Dogs with too much free time on their hands can quickly turn that extra or nervous energy into excessive licking to calm or entertain themselves.

How Do I Know If My Dog Has A Hot Spot?

Once you’ve seen a hot spot, you won’t soon forget what it looks like. Most of the time, they seem to appear overnight and will occupy nearly every waking minute of your dog’s time. Hot spots may start off as a wet area of fur that feels a little bumpy. But that bumpy area will quickly turn into a red hairless area that may bleed, weep, and ooze. Hot spots will be tender to your dog when you touch them, and you may notice that they spread to the surrounding skin pretty quickly due to your dog’s continued licking.

You may be able to detect a hot spot when it is in the midst of developing before it fully breaks out. Observe your dog for excessive licking or scratching in one area on their body, and try to stop it before it becomes an open wound.

What Is A Hot Spot On A Dog?

What Are Ways To Treat Hot Spots On A Dog?

Treatment of hot spots involves a couple of different modalities. First of all, you want to stop the underlying cause, if possible. This may include using flea treatment and preventatives, proper grooming, antihistamines or anti-inflammatories for allergies, antibiotics or antifungals for skin infections, pain medications, or more exercise and mental stimulation. If you don’t know the underlying cause, see your veterinarian for help, advice, and further diagnostics.

Whether you get the underlying cause under control or not, you can treat the hot spot in order to relieve your dog’s discomfort and to keep the hot spot from getting bigger and spreading.

  • Home remedies for hot spots

In order to really get a hot spot under control and on its way to healing, you need to get your dog to stop pestering it. This may take some creative talent to cover it or block your dog from licking or scratching it. E-collars work for most hot spots, but clever dogs may still find a way.

Next, you’ll want to try to dry out the hot spot. Clip the hair around the wound to avoid trapping extra moisture. Then clean it with an antiseptic cleanser or shampoo. Pat dry and allow to air dry completely. You can apply triple antibiotic ointment to help speed healing as well.

  • Veterinary treatments for hot spots

If your dog’s hot spot is large, extra ugly or doesn’t get better within a couple of days of treatment, it’s time to see your vet. They will go through the above procedures if you haven’t already in order to allow the hot spot to dry, and then get it thoroughly cleaned. They may prescribe medications to help heal the hot spot and prevent further problems.

For minor hot spots, topical treatments such as an antibiotic ointment and a steroidal cream or spray will help clear up the infection while decreasing the irritation and itch. For more severe or stubborn hot spots, your vet may prescribe an oral antibiotic and an oral or injectable steroid or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory in order to clean the hot spot up from the inside out.

You’ll want to keep an eye on the hot spot to make sure it’s getting smaller and less red (angry) instead of the other way around. Also, be on the look out for hot spots popping up in other areas.

What Is The General Healing Time Of Hot Spots On Dogs?

Most hot spots will go away in about a week if given the proper treatment. The biggest concern is preventing further destruction from your dog licking and scratching it. This can come in the way of physically blocking the hot spot or by stopping the itch that’s causing them to scratch in the first place. Once the itch and infection are under treatment, the skin will heal pretty quickly.

How To Prevent Hot Spots On Dogs

Whether your dog has had them before or you have yet to witness your dog’s first hot spot, you can take action to prevent them. If your dog is a hot spot veteran, then chances are you probably know what their triggers are. If you do, avoid them!

For all dogs, take special care to groom often to decrease tangles and mats that can irritate the skin. Make sure your dog is completely dry following a swim or bath, especially in those areas that are prone like the groin, armpits, or under the collar.

If your dog has allergies, try to find out what the culprits are and treat or avoid them. Give your dog plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, and attention to decrease their stress or anxiety.

Regular veterinary visits will also help you to prevent hot spots or at least stop them before they get nasty. Your vet will provide you with advice on aging in older dogs in order to keep them comfortable and as pain free as possible. They can also treat skin infections, allergies, ear infections, and bug bites/reactions.

Finally, just get to know your dog. Being familiar with your dog’s personality and habits will clue you in early when something is wrong. Maybe you’ll notice that itch when it’s just an inkling rather than an all-consuming habit. You may also want to get more familiar with seasonal problems like allergies or moisture build up and be able to treat them before your dog takes the problems on with their own tongue.


Hot spots on dogs are a fairly common skin issue for any breed. They have many different causes, most of which can be prevented by knowing your dog and with regular veterinary care. However, if your dog still manages to get a hot spot, don’t panic. They may look ugly, but most can be easily and quickly treated with a little cleaning, clipping, and by stopping further destruction. Some repeat hot spots can be treated at home, but don’t hesitate to elicit your vet’s care when the issues become more than you want to handle or if your dog’s hot spots aren’t healing as planned. Look to your veterinarian to help you determine and treat underlying causes as well.

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