How to Treat Your Dog’s Hot Spots: Easing the Itch!

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Dog Health By Kelsey Leicht 10 min read January 4, 2023

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hot spots in dogs

Knowing how to handle hot spots is a must as a pup parent, as these painful patches are one of the most common skin ailments in canines.

Even though hot spots are common in dogs, they’re not to be taken lightly. 

Hot spots require prompt treatment since they can spread fast, potentially leading to more serious issues like infection.

Below, we’ll explain what hot spots are and what causes them to occur, outline ways your vet may treat a hot spot, and share how you can prevent your dog from getting hot spots in the future.

What Are Hot Spots?

what are hot spots in dogs

Hot spots are a skin condition of many names, including pyotraumatic dermatitis, summer sores, and acute moist dermatitis. 

A “hot spot” is an area of skin inflammation and infection that begins as a small red patch of skin. At first, you’ll notice a red spot that many may confuse for a bug bite or scrape, but the area rapidly worsens to an oozing sore that itches or hurts. 

Your vet will need to assess the site and determine if it’s a one-off event or caused by a chronic condition that needs addressing, like allergies or a skin infection.

While hot spots are uncomfortable for your dog and require prompt care, they aren’t something you need to rush your dog to the emergency clinic for at 2:00 AM, so don’t panic. A next-day appointment with your vet will do. 

Just prevent your pupper patient from licking, biting, or scratching the area in the meantime with an e-collar (you can make your own DIY e-collar with simple things lying around the house).

What Causes Hot Spots in Dogs? 

causes of hot spots

Hot spots have a wide variety of potential origins, with many relating to excessive moisture or debris irritating the skin. They can also occur due to your dog scratching, licking, or chewing at an area repeatedly.  

Common underlying causes of hot spots include:

  • Parasites
  • Flea allergy dermatitis
  • Atopic dermatitis (aka doggie eczema)
  • Food allergies
  • Anal sac disease
  • Poor hygiene
  • Irritating or ill-fitting garments or accessories (harness, collar, etc.)
  • Skin infections
  • Ear infections
  • Excessive moisture
  • Boredom / Anxiety
  • Poor drying after bathing or swimming
  • Matted hair
  • Arthritis

With so many potential culprits behind them, seeing a vet for treatment is paramount in eliminating your dog’s current hot spot and potentially preventing the condition from recurring in the future.

What Do Hot Spots Look Like?

large hot spots
Image from Wikipedia.

As discussed above, hot spots – in their early stages – are easily confused with other common skin issues like bug bites or scrapes due to their small, scablike appearance. 

Usually circular, they begin as a red, inflamed portion of skin. Hair typically falls out surrounding the sore, and the wound appears raw and may bleed or ooze fluid. 

Sometimes hotspots become raised and look wet, which helps distinguish them from conditions like ringworm or mange that typically present with dry, flaky skin. 

Hot spots are commonly found on dogs’ heads, legs, or hips. The base of the ear, near the tail, and armpits are also problem spots, as these creased areas can trap moisture and bacteria. 

How Do You Treat Hot Spots on a Dog?

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The best treatment plan for hot spots involves a prompt vet visit.

While a hot spot doesn’t warrant a pricey trip to the emergency vet, it does need care as soon as your vet can fit you in. 

Home treatment isn’t always a good idea, as some hot spots are too painful to treat safely or compassionately. In some cases, it may worsen the hot spot. Your vet will examine the sore, pinpoint the cause, and recommend treatment.

Vet treatment of hot spots varies by the severity and underlying cause but typically includes:

  • Clipping or shaving hair surrounding the site to promote airflow
  • Cleaning the hot spot with an antiseptic 
  • Prescribing the appropriate treatment, whether it’s a medicated shampoo, topical medication, oral antibiotics, or steroids
  • Fitting your dog with an Elizabethan collar (e-collar) to prevent her from licking or scratching the site
  • Discussing a plan to treat the underlying issue that caused the hot spot (prescribing allergy medication, changing your dog’s food, implementing flea prevention, etc.)

Depending on the cause or severity, follow-up visits may be necessary. Never give your dog a medication intended for humans unless directed to do so by your vet.

Home Treatment for Dog Hot Spots 

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While visiting your vet is recommended, sometimes it isn’t an option. Maybe you’re traveling, or it’s a holiday weekend when a hot spot appears. In that case, prompt home care is a must to start the healing process and prevent spreading.

To treat your dog’s hot spot at home:

  • Shave around the hot spot with hair clippers to increase airflow and aid in healing
  • Gently clean the affected area with a mild, water-based antiseptic (Chlorhexidine sprays or wipes work best)
  • Mist the wound with a hot spot treatment spray like Vetericyn
  • Put an e-collar on your dog to prevent her from scratching or licking the area
  • Keep a close eye on the hot spot for signs of improvement, such as decreasing in size, reduced moisture, and less redness

Some owners also choose to opt for natural hot spot treatments like coconut oil, but such treatments can have mixed results.

If the hot spot doesn’t improve or seems redder, wetter, or larger, contact your vet for an exam. You should also mention the issue at future visits, especially if it is a recurring problem. Frequent hot spots can indicate an underlying issue like uncontrolled allergies.

Which Dog Breeds Are Most Susceptible to Hot Spots?

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While any dog can suffer from a hot spot, some four-footers are more likely to suffer from the condition than others. This can be due to everything from coat type to a predisposition to skin problems.

Thick-coated breeds with longer fur are particularly susceptible to hot spots, including:

  • Golden retriever
  • St. Bernard
  • Newfoundland
  • German shepherd

Dense coats are difficult to dry completely and can become packed with debris, leading to irritation. Regular grooming and proper drying practices are essential for these floofs.

Breeds with short coats can suffer from hot spots, too, such as:

These dogs may have short coats, but they’re often dense and can trap moisture and debris close to the skin. Some, like pit bulls and bulldogs, are prone to allergies and skin issues, which are risk factors for hot spot development. 

As with canines with longer coats, proper grooming and thorough drying practices are musts with these doggos, along with treating any underlying skin problems.

Preventing Hot Spots in Dogs: Things to Do

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Tackling hot spots isn’t fun, but the good news is there are ways to possibly prevent them from forming in the future. 

Consider the following to prevent your pooch from suffering from future hotspots:

  • Practice proper grooming: Regular brushing is a must to prevent and remove mats. It also removes everyday dirt and debris between baths. Keeping long coats trimmed or clipped also goes a long way in avoiding skin irritation or tangles that can harbor moisture. 
  • Bathe your dog regularly: Bathing removes grime from your dog’s fur and, more importantly, her skin. A clean canine is less likely to develop skin issues. That said, you shouldn’t wash your dog too often or use shampoo and other products that aren’t dog-friendly, or you may make the problem worse. You may also want to stick to a soothing, medicated dog shampoo if your sniffer’s skin is sensitive. 
  • Increase enrichment: A bored dog may practice overgrooming, leading to hot spots. To keep boredom at bay, up your dog’s daily physical and mental canine enrichment. Snuffle mats and stuffable toys like KONGs are top-notch choices for mental enrichment, especially for older dogs. Squeezing in extra walks is also ideal. If you work long hours away from home, a dog walker or doggy daycare can help.
  • Address anxiety: Anxious dogs tend to lick or chew themselves, so nipping it in the bark is a must to avoid future flare-ups. Sometimes this requires something as minor as introducing a white noise machine. Other times, prescribed dog anxiety medication may be necessary.
  • Use flea treatments: Flea bites cause skin irritation and can lead to allergic reactions, leaving your dog at risk of hot spot formation. Use a prescribed topical flea treatment or pill preventative to avoid these itchy instances as much as possible.
  • Dry properly after baths, swimming, and rain exposure: Excess moisture and hot spots go hand-in-hand. Always dry your dog entirely after baths and towel her dry after swimming or going out into the rain. Pay close attention to common hot spot sites around the ears, belly, and tail. Use a high-quality dog towel or a dog dryer to ensure your floof is free of trapped moisture.
  • Introduce a balanced blend of omega fatty acids: Omega fatty acids provide vital support to your dog’s skin and coat. Bolstering them can aid in a healthier skin environment and less irritation. They may even help with the aches and pains of old age. These nutrient-rich goodies are found in fish oil supplements, and most pups don’t mind the taste.
  • Treat arthritis: Dogs tend to lick at sore joints, which can trigger hot spots. Soothing these aches and pains starts with a vet visit to rule out other potential causes. Treatment may include a daily canine joint supplement or anti-inflammatory medications.  

These are potential aids in preventing hot spots, but some dogs may still suffer from them, especially if underlying issues remain untreated. Discuss your dog’s hot spot history and health with your vet to develop a prevention plan that works best for her.

Dog Hot Spot Treatment: FAQ

Hot spots are a tricky yet common canine conundrum. Let’s figure out the basics to set you and your sniffer up for success.

How can you treat dog hot spots at home?

Vet-administered treatment is always best when dealing with hot spots, but you can start care at home in a pinch if you can’t get to the vet.

Treating a hot spot starts with clipping the area short to prevent matting and promote airflow as the skin heals. This is especially important with long-haired dogs. You then want to gently clean the sore area with an antiseptic like chlorhexidine. Bathing your dog in a chlorhexidine shampoo may be necessary if your dog is suffering from multiple hot spots. After cleaning the area, treat it with a hot spot-specific spray, such as Vetrimycn.
After treatment, prevent your dog from licking or biting at the area with an e-collar. You should also follow up with your vet, as your dog may need prescribed medication, depending on the cause of the hot spot.

How long does it take hot spots to heal?

Healing depends greatly on how quickly care is administered and the root cause of the hot spot. In most cases, a hot spot clears up within seven days of treatment. Some dogs even see resolution in as few as three days.

Why do dogs get hot spots?

Hot spots are caused by skin irritation and infections. These afflictions can be triggered by everything from allergies to poor hygiene to stress. Your dog may also start skin irritation by repeatedly licking, chewing, or scratching an area due to boredom or anxiety. Other pups break out into hot spots after swimming or frolicking in the rain if not dried properly.

Can a dog’s hot spots heal on their own?

In most cases, no. Delaying treatment often leads to spreading hot spots that become larger and more painful for your pup. They can even lead to serious skin infections. If you suspect your dog has a hot spot, contact your vet.

Do hot spots spread?

Yes, hot spots can spread rapidly. A small, dime-sized circle can quickly become a large patch of sore skin. Paired with their penchant for popping up out of seemingly nowhere, hot spots are one of the more troublesome skin ailments in dogs. Prompt treatment is critical in preventing the spread and getting your dog on the path to wellness again.


Hot spots are a real pain for pooches, but with proper treatment, your pup will be feeling her best in no time. Best of all, with careful steps, you may even be able to prevent them in the future. 

Has your dog ever had a hot spot? Any tips or tricks for treating or avoiding them? Tell us about it in the comments. We’d love to hear.

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Written by

Kelsey Leicht

Kelsey is a lover of words and woofs. She worked hands-on with dogs for several years at a boarding kennel as a shift runner and office manager before venturing into the world of writing. She lives in New Jersey with her crew of crazy canines.


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