What Are Hot Spots on Dogs?

A hot spot is when a dog licks or scratches so vigorously, it creates an open wound. While not an emergency, the condition may require veterinary care.

Jun 7, 2024By Sara Payne
what are hot spots on dogs

If you’ve noticed a red sore on your dog’s fur, he or she may have acute moist dermatitis, also known as canine hot spots.

A hot spot is a skin condition where a dog reacts to an itch by over-scratching, creating a lesion that becomes infected. Read on to learn more about hot spots, what causes them, and how to treat this skin condition.

Symptoms of Hot Spots

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A hot spot or acute moist dermatitis looks like a bald patch with a red spot in the middle. The spot will usually look raw and may bleed. It will be moist and painful. Hot spots vary in size and severity. Minor hot spots may heal quickly, but more severe ones can lead to skin ulcerations and infection. Symptoms of this common skin condition include:

  • Hair loss
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Excessive licking or biting
  • Itching
  • Pus
  • Hair matting
  • Red paws (depending on the hot spot’s location)

Hot spots can develop on any part of the body, but the most common places are the hips, limbs, and head.

Double-coated dogs are more likely to get hot spots than their single-coated counterparts. Breeds such as Newfoundlands, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers are more prone to this skin condition.

What Causes Hot Spots?

dog scratching
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Dogs with hot spots usually have created an open wound from over-scratching. They are responding to an itch and continue to bite and lick the space until they cause a lesion. Some reasons for hot spots include:

  • Parasites, such as fleas and ticks
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Ear infections
  • Anal gland inflammation
  • Irritants
  • Boredom
  • Stress
  • A matted coat
  • Pyoderma (skin infections caused by bacteria or yeast)
  • Arthritis

Some of these conditions result from aging. For instance, a senior dog that’s unable to groom itself may develop hot spots from skin irritation. Other reasons for hot spots include a dog’s environment and diet.

Treatments for Hot Spots on Dogs

dog e collar
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While some hot spots heal on their own, if the condition lasts for more than a few days, consult your veterinarian. A medical professional will evaluate the condition’s severity and determine the best way to treat it. The vet will need to figure out the underlying cause of your dog’s itching and treat the cause to prevent hot spots from coming back.

Your vet will clip the hair around the hot spot and clean it with an antiseptic. Then, if the hot spot has caused a secondary bacterial infection, your vet will administer a topical or oral antibiotic. For inflammation, your vet may prescribe steroids. If the cause of the itching stems from allergies, your dog may need to be on allergy medication or switch foods.

dog sores near tail
Image credit: Park Road Veterinary Clinic

Other ways to treat hot spots include medicated wipes and bathing your dog in chlorhexidine shampoo, which will clean the area and help give the wound a chance to heal. Dogs who may not be able to resist scratching during treatment may need to wear an E-collar to prevent them from irritating the affected area further.

How Can You Prevent Hot Spots in Dogs?

interactive dog toy
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To prevent hot spots from occurring on your dog, be sure to groom them regularly, especially if they have thick fur or spend time swimming. Matting is one cause of hot spots because it traps moisture, causing itching and attracting pests. If you notice any matted fur, gently brush through the tangles. You can use a specialized dog comb or brush for this.

Another way to prevent hot spots is to keep your dog up to date on their flea and tick prevention. Hot spots often occur when a dog has allergies to flea bites. Regular doses of flea and tick medication keep your dog pests and itch-free. Keep your dog’s ears clean with maintenance ear cleansers to prevent ear infections and mites that might lead to hot spots.

Some dogs over-lick themselves because they’re bored. If hot spots are due to boredom, try leaving your dog interactive dogs while you’re away. You can also increase their activity while you’re at home with games, training, and breed-specific sports.

What Other Skin Conditions Affect Dogs?

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Some other skin conditions may have similar symptoms to hot spots. These include:

  • Ringworm, a circular rash on the skin that causes hair loss. It is caused by a fungal infection that affects the skin, hair, and nails. The fungus lives on dead hair and skin cells and is highly contagious. A dog with ringworm will have broken hair, dry skin, excessive dandruff, inflamed areas, itching, scratching, and brittle nails.
  • Mange, a contagious disease caused by mites. This skin condition develops once a dog has contracted the parasites. The mites burrow beneath the skin surface and cause the skin to thicken and form a crusty build-up. Your dog then becomes intensely itchy and will experience hair loss.

Both of these skin conditions need treatment by a veterinarian to get better.

Hot Spots Are Treatable with Veterinary Care

happy dog
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Hot spots can be painful for your dog and can lead to secondary infections. It is important to seek veterinary care to prevent the skin condition from worsening. Your vet will prescribe treatments to help both the underlying cause of the itching and any secondary conditions due to the scratching and excessive licking.

There are also ways to prevent hot spots in dogs such as giving your dog parasite preventatives, grooming them regularly, and keeping them mentally stimulated. With a little time, your dog’s hot spot will heal, and your dog will feel much better.

Sara Payne
By Sara Payne

Sara is a mother of two and a high school English teacher who rediscovered her love of writing during the pandemic. She has 5 rescue cats: Neville and Luna, who are white cats with black and grey spots, and Ginny, Blue, and Fairy, who are calicos. Besides taking care of humans and fur babies, Sara enjoys gardening, crafting, and spending time in nature.