hot spots
Dog health

What are hot spots? Can you help your dog?

hot spots
Hot spots can be miserable for your dog.

What is a hot spot?

Hot spots are caused by skin irritation, also called moist dermatitis or pyoderma in technical terms. These painful sores plague some dogs from time to time, but you can help your dog heal more quickly with good care. You may even be able to prevent future sores.

I found out a whole bunch about hot spots when our elderly Australian Shepherd rescue, Janey, came into our lives. Janey was a nervous wreck when she came to us and constantly licked herself. Her fur was unkempt, she had ear infections, her feet were reddish and irritated, and she was about 10 pounds overweight, but that’s another story.

A couple of weeks after she arrived, she developed a large, reddish, oozing, smelly sore area on her hip.  It was so sore that she would cry whenever anything touched it.  We took her to the vet, of course. But I also started looking online.  I wanted to prevent another hot spot or at least be sure I could recognize it right away if it came back.

Here’s some of what I learned.

hot spots
This is one example, cleaned up.

What do hot spots look like?

The process goes something like this;

  • The area gets irritated, maybe by a bug bite, an allergic reaction, matted fur, etc.
  • Your dog licks the area, trying to get relief.
  • The site stays moist.
  • Bacteria infect the area, often overgrown bacteria that naturally occur but aren’t usually a problem.
  • Hair falls out, scabs develop, and the area starts to smell bad and ooze.

It can happen pretty quickly.  Your pup can go from perfectly fine to raging hot spots in a matter of a few hours.

Most of the time, the affected area gets inflamed and feels warm, thus the term “hot spot.” These skin sores show up more in dog breeds with longer, thicker coats and can be pretty much anywhere on your dog. As in Janey’s case, they are usually painful.

What causes hot spots?

Skin irritations, caused by several possible factors, develop into hot spots by adding moisture (licking, swimming, and rain).  The skin irritations could be caused by

  • allergies
  • insect bites
  • matted or dirty fur
  • medical conditions like hypothyroidism
  • boredom licking
  • any one of a number of other causes, the list is LONG.
hot spots
You can help your dog when they get these painful skin issues.

What do you do about them?

In Janey’s case, we went to the vet.  We wanted to find out what was causing the hot spot and, of course, help relieve her pain. Finding the root cause can be really important in deciding on treatment and preventing future problems.

The general process for treating hot spots is this; first shave or closely clip the site.  This can be tough since the area will be very sensitive, but it’s important to get the hair out of the way, so it isn’t aggravating the sore.

Next, clean and disinfect the sore.  The vet used a betadine mixture. There are natural remedies available, but you should research a bit.  You want to keep the area pretty dry, so oils or other moisturizing products could slow healing. Clean the area several times a day to help it heal.

Once the site is cleaned, apply a product like hydrocortisone spray or colloidal silver to help with healing and decrease itching. A cold laser can also help speed healing and decrease discomfort. Read my post about cold lasers here.

Your dog will want to lick the area constantly since it’s still going to be uncomfortable, so you’ll need to prevent that with a cone or other type of barrier.

Finally, you’ll want to figure out the cause to see if you can prevent future hot spots.

Preventing the return of hot spots

The vet and I determined that, most likely, Janey’s problem was the state of her coat (matted and unkempt) in combination with allergies.  Janey had been on cheap, store-bought kibble for years.  She had chronic ear infections and sores on her feet as well, probably also allergy-related. Read my post about allergies in dogs for more.

We made many changes in her diet and condition over several months.  Unfortunately, Janey isn’t with us anymore. She was a fourteen-year-old dog with severe arthritis that we eventually couldn’t help her tolerate. See my post about saying goodbye for more on this subject. However, Janey had a much more comfortable last few months of her life and didn’t develop any more hot spots, thank goodness!

For more information, has a great article about this problem.

Have your dogs had hot spots?  If so, what was your experience and what did you do about them?  Let me know in the comments below.

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