Help! My Dog Has A Hot Spot

What is a hot spot?

If you are a dog owner, there is a good chance you have already had to deal with a hot spot on your dog. Hot spots, also called acute moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis, are a red, swollen, oozy skin lesion that is caused by excessive scratching. Typically, a dog will start scratching, chewing or licking a spot, this will damage the skin and the dog will continue to scratch, chew or lick the skin. This irritates it further and the lesion begins to leak fluid or pus which causes hair to become matted. This traps heat and moisture against the skin, further exacerbating the wound and trapping the dog in the itch-scratch cycle.

A brown dog is lying in grass and scratching at its side with a back leg

 A hot spot may start out as a small, red bump that can be mistaken for an insect bite but it will spread quickly as bacteria entering the wound makes it even itchier. If left untreated, the bacterial infection will spread deeper into the skin and the lesion can become thick and take on a plaque-like appearance. Hot spots can appear anywhere on a dog but typically affect the head, neck, legs, hips and rump.

Two dogs are running down a dirt road together

What causes hot spots?

Hot spots typically develop due to an underlying cause such as:

  • Flea infestation
  • Flea allergy dermatitis
  • Ear infection
  • Allergies
  • Impacted anal glands
  • Stress or boredom
  • Dirty or matted coat
  • Excessive moisture trapped in coat from frequent bathing or swimming
  • Arthritis
  • Poor grooming
Certain breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Rottweilers, German Shepherds and St. Bernards are more prone to developing hot spots due to their thicker coats. Warm and humid weather also contributes to the development of hot spots.

A close up photo of the side of a St. Bernard

How do you treat a hot spot?

A vet will diagnose a hot spot on your dog by its distinct appearance (moist lesion, slimy discharge, matted fur, red and swollen skin), rapid spread and excessive itching, chewing or licking of the area. Your vet may suggest taking a skin scraping to investigate if there are any other parasites present that may be causing the excessive itchiness.

A brown dog is sitting besides long grass on a dirt road

Typically, treatment of a hot spot will involve some or all of the following:

  • Trimming or clipping away the fur of the affected area which will allow the skin to dry out
  • A thorough clean with an antiseptic – this may need to be performed under a general or after administration of a local anaesthetic as the lesion can be quite painful and sensitive
  • Your vet will often prescribe a topical or oral antibiotic to treat the bacterial infection, an anti-inflammatory to reduce the swelling and something to alleviate the itchiness such as a steroid or antihistamine
  • While the lesion is healing you may be instructed to clean it daily with a medicated solution or wipes
  • Most importantly, your dog needs to stop itching, licking or chewing the affected area, so they may need to wear an e-collar/cone or have the area covered with a bandage to prevent them from irritating the area further
Hot spots typically resolve within 3-7 days after starting treatment.

A photo of a Labrador puppy with a red collar

How do you prevent a hot spot?

Treating the underlying causes of hot spots are key to preventing them from occurring.

Your dog should:

  • Be regularly treated with a flea preventative
  • Have their ears thoroughly cleaned to prevent ear infections
  • Be routinely groomed, especially during warm and humid weather
  • Have their coat thoroughly dried after bathing or swimming
  • Be exercised more or have their play time increased to alleviate boredom
  • Have their allergies and skin infections managed through veterinary intervention
A photo of a dog next to a swimming pool. The dog is soaked in water and has obviously just gotten out of the pool.

The sooner you commence treatment for a hot spot, the sooner it will be resolved. You should always examine your dog thoroughly if they start to excessively scratch, lick or chew a particular area, and if in doubt, always consult your veterinarian.

Need to keep the fleas away? Check out our range of flea treatments for your dog here.
Not sure how to clean your dogs ears properly? In this video, VetShop Australia head veterinarian Dr Mark shows you the proper way to clean your dogs ears.

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