Hot spots in dogs

Hot spots in dogs are a type of skin condition and are more common during warmer weather. They are usually a minor problem, easy to treat, and can affect dogs of any age. 


Hot spots are localised areas of skin infection. The skin appears wet and red, and it can be painful. Hot spots are also known as acute moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis. They are usually caused by self-trauma (licking or biting) of the skin due to an underlying problem such as fleas or an allergy.



What are hot spots in dogs?

Hot spots are localised skin infections that can occur anywhere on the body, usually due to self-trauma.

  • They appear suddenly as moist, swollen, and painful areas of skin
  • Usually caused by biting or licking at an area excessively
  • Often start as a mild infection but can get worse and spread quickly if not treated promptly
  • A hot spot can be much worse than it looks; shaving the hair may reveal a larger area of skin that is affected.
  • Hot spots are often linked to allergies. Anything that causes your dog to itch can cause a hot spot.
  • They can happen at any time of the year but are more common in summer
hot spot in dogs skin infection
Hot spot on the back of the head

The most common causes of hot spots are:


Left untreated, hot spots can worsen and become harder to treat. Speak to a vet if your dog shows any signs of a hot spot. Our Joii team are available 24 hours a day for advice.


Symptoms of hot spots in dogs

Hot spots are usually localised patches of skin infection. They can appear anywhere on the body but are more common around the head, neck, and hips.

The skin can appear

  • Swollen and warm
  • Inflamed (red)
  • Moist, oozing, or wet
  • Painful
  • Smelly
  • Hairless
hot spot in dog moist skin discharge
Hot spot with discharge

Other signs include

  • Constant licking, scratching or biting at the affected area of skin
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced eating and drinking
licking at skin infection dog
Dog owners may see them constantly licking at the same area



Are some dogs at more risk of hot spots than others?

Any dog can develop hot spots but the following factors can increase the risk

  • Dogs with allergies. Includes English and French Bulldogs, Labrador Retrievers, Spaniels, Poodles, and West Highland White Terriers.
  • Dogs prone to ear or anal gland disease. Includes Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Springer Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, Retrievers, Poodles, Pugs, and French Bulldogs.
  • Long-haired dogs. Includes Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds
  • Obesity. Folds or flaps of skin trap moisture and increase the risk of a hot spot.
  • Dogs that swim and are not dried off thoroughly. Wet and matted fur traps moisture and increases the risk of a hot spot.



How are hot spots diagnosed in dogs?

Hot spots are usually diagnosed based on their appearance. Further tests may be needed if the hot spot is not resolving or if there is an underlying disease.

Tests for underlying conditions

  • Skin swab, scrapes, hair plucks, or biopsy
  • Ear flush and swab
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Intradermal skin testing for allergies
  • A strict food trial to check for allergies in the food
  • Imaging, such as x-rays, if pain is suspected


Vet treatment

Vet treatment for hot spots in dogs

Treatment of hot spots may include the following

  • Shaving the hair to evaluate how deep and how much skin is affected
  • Cleaning the affected skin with an antimicrobial solution
  • This may need sedation or general anaesthesia, depending on how severe the lesion is

Prescription medications include

  • Antibiotics: many different forms, such as tablets, liquids, injections, creams, or shampoo
  • Anti-itch medications: there are many different types of these, and your vet will work with you to find the best solution for your dog. Includes steroids, Apoquel, Atopica and Cytopoint.

Medications for underlying conditions include

  • Parasite treatments: for fleas and different types of mites
  • Antifungal medication
  • Ear drops for ear infections
  • Pain relief


Home treatment

How to look after a dog with a hot spot at home

Always seek advice from a vet if you suspect your dog has a hot spot; they can be much deeper than they look.

You can help at home by

  • Use a buster collar to prevent further self-trauma
  • Keep the affected area as clean and dry as possible
  • Use a special shampoo, mousse, or cream. Speak to your vet to find out the best products to use.
  • Use skin supplements containing omega oils. These can help protect the skin barrier.
  • Some ear cleaners that can also help with mild irritations or infections.
  • Do a diet trial with a novel or hydrolysed protein to check for food allergies. A novel protein is one that your dog has never eaten before. A strict trial lasting 6-8 weeks before assessing the results; cut out all other food and treats.
  • Treat all pets in the household with a vet recommended parasite control for fleas and mites.

Our Joii team can help with advice about diet, skin supplements, ear cleaners and shampoos that are best for your dog.



Tips on how to prevent hot spots in dogs

  • Use regular parasite control that covers fleas, mites, ticks, and worms.
  • Regularly clean your dog’s bedding, collar, and bowls.
  • Brush your dog and check for any abnormal areas of skin at least once a week.
  • Feed your dog high-quality, complete food for their age and lifestyle. Some brands also have a special skin care range with high omega oil levels.
  • Skin supplements containing omega oils are useful for dogs with skin diseases.
  • Some dogs benefit from regular bathing, shampooing, and ear cleaning. Follow professional advice for this, as bathing too often can also cause problems.
  • Get your dog checked over with a vet as soon as possible if they become itchy to help prevent self-trauma to the skin.
  • Prevent your dog from becoming overweight. Use our body condition scoring chart below.

Body Condition Score (BCS) is a scale that gives a practical evaluation of the fat coverage of your dogs body. By checking how easy or not it is to feel certain bony areas of the body, a score is then produced. There are several scales, from 1 to 5 or 1 to 9. The ideal body condition lies in the middle, so either 3/5 or 5/9.

The body areas normally checked for fat coverage are:

1. ribs and spine

2. hips and shoulders

3. waist

Body condition scoring (BCS) in dogs

Here are a few tips on how to do it.

With your pet in a standing position:

  • Place your hands on the rib cage and gently feel for each rib, without pressing too hard
  • Feel the waist and look from the top and the side (if you have a very furry breed, it may be harder to assess)
  • Feel the spine, which runs down the middle of the back
  • Feel the top of the hips and shoulders


Is my family at risk of catching hot spots?

Hot spots themselves are not contagious to humans. The common underlying problems, such as allergies, are also not contagious to humans. There are some lesser common causes, such as mange or ringworm, that may be contagious to humans. Seek help from your doctor if you have any concerns.


When to worry

When to worry about hot spots in dogs

Seek help from your local vet practice if

  • Your dog is extremely itchy
  • Your dog’s hot spot is not resolving after treatment

Call us and speak to one of our Joii Vets if

  • You have any questions about skin care products that you can use without a prescription
  • Your dog has a skin problem and you are not sure what to do
  • You need help to reduce your dog’s weight
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