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What are hot spots on dogs?

7 min read

What are hot spots on dogs?

Hot spots, also known as acute moist dermatitis, are one of the more distressing skin conditions in dogs, capable of causing significant discomfort and pain. These are inflamed, infected lesions that often appear as red, swollen, and moist patches on the skin, which feel hot to the touch—hence the name "hot spots”(Tilley and Smith 2015). The intense itchiness of these lesions prompts affected dogs to scratch, lick, or bite the area, which only serves to exacerbate the condition.

For dog owners, understanding the signs and triggers of hot spots is crucial. These lesions can begin as a minor irritation but quickly progress to severe complications if the initial signs are ignored. Proper and early identification followed by immediate care can prevent these spots from worsening, thereby keeping your pet healthy, comfortable, and free from the severe pain associated with this condition. Awareness of effective treatment options and preventative measures plays a key role in managing hot spots, ensuring they do not diminish the quality of life for your furry friend.

Signs, Symptoms, and Diagnosis of Hot Spots

Hot spots, or acute moist dermatitis, present distinct and often alarming symptoms in dogs. These areas are typically marked by intense redness, swelling, and noticeable hair loss. The affected skin may also ooze pus or emit a foul odor, indicative of a secondary bacterial infection(Hnilica and Patterson 2016). Due to the considerable discomfort and itching associated with hot spots, affected dogs may exhibit behavioral changes such as increased irritability or depression(Schwartz 2018). It is crucial for dog owners to monitor their pets closely for these symptoms, as well as signs of severe pain or aggression when the affected areas are touched, which necessitate immediate veterinary care.

Upon observing potential hot spots, a prompt consultation with a veterinarian is essential. The diagnostic process begins with a thorough visual examination of the affected areas. Veterinarians will often engage in a detailed discussion of the dog's health history to identify potential underlying causes or contributing factors. This history is crucial as it can reveal patterns or pre-existing conditions that predispose the dog to developing hot spots.

To ensure a comprehensive understanding of the situation and to rule out other skin conditions that may mimic hot spots, additional diagnostic tests may be employed. These can include skin scrapings to check for parasites or fungal infections, allergy tests to identify possible allergens that are triggering the skin reaction, and bacterial cultures to determine the type and sensitivity of bacteria involved(Muller et al 2012). This holistic approach helps in crafting a targeted treatment plan that addresses both the symptoms and the root causes of hot spots.

Accurate diagnosis and timely intervention are critical. They not only alleviate the immediate discomfort of the dog but also minimize the risk of complications, such as widespread infection or deeper skin trauma, which can result from the dog's incessant scratching and licking.

Treatment Options for Hot Spots

Effective treatment of hot spots in dogs begins with proper care and management of the affected area. Initially, the area around the hot spot should be carefully cleaned to remove any debris or contaminants that could exacerbate the infection. It's important to trim the hair around the lesion, as this increases air circulation to the spot, speeding up the drying process and reducing the moisture that bacteria need to thrive.

Topical Solutions to Support Healing:

  • Zarasyl: Zarasyl provides a protective barrier that adheres well to the skin, protecting open wound sites from further infection. Its semi-occlusive nature allows oxygen to reach the wound, which is vital for healing. The inclusion of silica, a key component for healthy connective tissue growth, further supports the healing environment(Chevalier and Pearson, 2023). Find out more here.
  • Herbal Remedies:Herbal treatments such as aloe vera, tea tree oil, or calendula can be applied topically to soothe the skin and promote healing. However, it's crucial to consult with a veterinarian before applying any herbal remedies to ensure they are safe for your dog.

Medicinal Treatments to alleviate discomfort:

  • Antibiotics: If the hot spot is infected, which is often the case, a veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics. These can be administered orally or as a topical spray or ointment to target and eliminate the bacterial infection directly at the source.
  • Corticosteroids: To control swelling and severe itching, corticosteroids may be used. These can be particularly effective in reducing the inflammatory response and providing quick relief from the intense itching that accompanies hot spots(Riviere and Papich 2017).
  • Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs):These are often prescribed to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. NSAIDs can help make the dog more comfortable during the healing process, preventing further irritation from scratching or biting(Plumb 2018).

Additional Supportive Care:

  • Elizabethan Collar (E-Collar): In some cases, an E-collar, commonly known as a cone, may be necessary to prevent the dog from licking or biting the hot spot, which can impede healing and lead to further infection. This device ensures that the area is left undisturbed, allowing the hot spot to heal effectively.
  • Regular Monitoring:Ongoing monitoring of the hot spot is crucial to ensure that the treatment is effective and the area is healing properly. Adjustments to treatment may be needed if the hot spot does not begin to improve within a few days.
  • Dietary Changes:Improving the dog’s diet can also aid recovery. Adding omega-3 fatty acids, for example, can help improve skin health and reduce inflammation(Case et al 2010).

Implementing a combination of these treatments under the guidance of a veterinarian can significantly improve healing times and reduce the discomfort associated with hot spots, helping your dog return to normal activity sooner.

Causes and Prevention of Hot Spots

Hot spots, or acute moist dermatitis, can develop in dogs due to a range of factors, each significantly impacting their skin health. Understanding these causes is crucial not only for treatment but also for prevention.

  • Allergic Reactions: Many hot spots arise from allergic reactions to food, environmental allergens, or parasites like fleas(Hnilica and Patterson 2016). These allergies cause intense itching, leading dogs to scratch or chew their skin, creating ideal conditions for hot spots to form.
  • Grooming and Care: Poor grooming can lead to matted fur, which traps moisture and debris against the skin, irritating it and potentially leading to infections. Regular grooming is essential, particularly for breeds with dense or long coats, to prevent such issues.
  • Infections: Ear and skin infections are prevalent triggers. For instance, an ear infection might cause a dog to scratch vigorously, potentially initiating a hot spot near the ear or neck. Active management of these infections is vital to prevent escalation into more severe skin problems.
  • Underlying Skin Conditions: Chronic skin conditions like eczema or seborrhea make the skin more sensitive and prone to irritation, thereby increasing the risk of hot spots(Muller et al 2012). Managing these conditions with appropriate medical treatments is crucial.
  • Behavioral Factors: Psychological issues such as anxiety or boredom can also lead dogs to excessively lick, bite, or scratch their skin, disrupting skin integrity and facilitating bacterial invasion(Lindsay 2001). Addressing these behavioral issues through environmental enrichment and, if necessary, behavioral therapies is important.
  • Environmental Influence: The environment plays a significant role in the development of hot spots. Hot, humid climates, in particular, can encourage the overgrowth of naturally occurring bacteria and yeast on the skin, while damp conditions post-swimming or bathing can also contribute if the dog is not properly dried(Colville and Bassert 2015).

Maintaining your dog's skin health is essential to prevent hot spots, and this starts with regular, thorough grooming. This practice helps remove irritants that can accumulate in the fur and cause skin issues. Effective flea control is also crucial, as flea bites are a well-known allergen that can trigger hot spots in susceptible dogs. Moreover, it's important to keep your dog dry and clean, particularly after they have been in water, to reduce the likelihood of hot spot development. Finally, providing your dog with sufficient mental and physical activity is vital. Engaging activities help deter the compulsive behaviors, such as excessive licking or scratching, that commonly lead to skin injuries.

By addressing both the direct causes and the environmental and behavioral conditions that contribute to hot spots, dog owners can significantly reduce the likelihood of their pets suffering from this uncomfortable condition.


Hot spots are a serious issue that can severely affect a dog's quality of life if left untreated. Understanding the signs and causes of hot spots, along with implementing effective treatment and prevention strategies, is essential. Dog owners are encouraged to consult with a veterinarian to develop an appropriate treatment plan that ensures their pet's health and comfort. With proper management, dogs with hot spots can recover fully and lead happy, healthy lives.

To find out how Zarasyl can help tackle hot spots on your dog, click here.


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  2. Hnilica, K. A., & Patterson, A. P. (2016). Small Animal Dermatology: A Color Atlas and Therapeutic Guide (4th ed.). Saunders.
  3. Schwartz, S. (2018). Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats (2nd ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.
  4. Muller, G. H., Kirk, R. W., Scott, D. W., & Miller, W. H. (2012). Small Animal Dermatology (7th ed.). Saunders.
  5. Chevalier, J.M. and Pearson, G.B., 2023. Amorphous silicate technology produces good results in equine distal limb wound healing.Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association,261(6), pp.1-5.
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  9. Lindsay, S. R. (2001). Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training: Procedures and Protocols (Vol. 2). Iowa State Press.
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