Canine Hot Spots
Canine hot spots (acute moist dermatitis) can be a painful skin problem for dogs. Hot spots cause dogs to constantly lick, scratch, and bite the areas, resulting in secondary bacterial infections. This page looks at the symptoms, causes, and treatment of hot spots in dogs.

If you have a dog, you probably have had the nasty experience of dealing with hot spots on your dog.

A hot spot, medically known as “Acute Moist Dermatitis”, is a warm, moist, swollen, and often painful circular lesion that is about one to four inches across. When it is seriously inflamed, pus will form and the spot will give off a bad odor.

A dog with hot spots will lick, bite, and scratch the affected areas, causing loss of hair in the areas and further inflammation.

Canine hot spots usually occur in dogs with long hair or thick undercoats, just before shedding when dead moist hair gets trapped next to the skin.

Although they can occur on any part of the body, they are usually found on the head (e.g. under the ear flaps), over the hip and along the side of the chest. They often occur in more than one place.

Hot spots in dogs can appear suddenly and grow large rapidly, often within just a matter of hours.

Canine Hot Spots

Symptoms of Hot Spots

Hot spots cause sudden intense itchiness, making the dog scratch, bite, chew, and lick incessantly.

Hot spots are also extremely painful, making the dog agitated and more likely to be snappy and aggressive. Even a normally gentle dog may turn into a nasty beast, so beware!

The lesions are red, moist and oozing, and there is likely to be hair loss.

Causes of Canine Hot Spots

Hot spots in dogs are often the result of a local allergic reaction to a specific irritant, such as flea or other insect bites.

Other possible causes include:

  • Skin allergies (e.g. contact allergic dermatitis, atopy)
  • Mites
  • Ear infections (especially if the lesion is below the ear)
  • Anal gland infections (especially if the lesion is near the hip)
  • Other irritant skin diseases
  • Grooming problems (e.g. matted, tangled hair)

In some cases, hot spots in dogs can also be the result of some form of psychological problems, such as anxiety and boredom.

Treatment of Canine Hot Spots

As mentioned above, hot spots are very painful. Therefore, for the initial treatment or for conditions that are serious, sedating or even anesthetizing the dog may be necessary. (Especially if the dog is uncooperative.)

Conventional treatment involves treating the lesions to stop them from worsening, and identifying and addressing the underlying cause.

To treat the hot spots, the vet will clip off the hair around the affected area(s) so that the hot spots are exposed. He will then clean the areas with a non-irritating solution, such as a shampoo containing diluted povidone-iodine (Betadine) or a chorhexidine shampoo (Nolvasan). The skin will then be allowed to dry.

The vet will most likely prescribe an antibiotic steroid cream or powder (e.g. Panolog), and tell you to apply the cream to the hot spots twice daily for about 2 weeks.

In more severe cases, the vet may also prescribe some oral antibiotics, and painkillers and/or oral corticosteroids to ease the pain and relieve itchiness.

To prevent the dog from biting and scratching the lesion, you may need to use an Elizabethan collar (the cone of shame!) on your dog.

Home Remedies

If the hot spots are not so serious, you may want to first treat the problem at home. Take extra precaution to handle your dog especially if he is snappy and irritated!

Here are some products that are effective in treating canine hot spots.

Prevention of Hot Spots

We can greatly reduce the occurence of dog hot spots by doing the following:

Regular Grooming

Regular grooming such as daily brushing can help the skin breathe, and prevent the formation of matted hair. This will make it harder for bacterial infections to start and hot spots to form.

Flea Control

As flea bites can easily result in hot spots through constant biting and scratching, a strict flea control program is needed to ensure that fleas are kept at bay.

Keep the Coat Dry

In hot humid weather, drying the coat of your dog thoroughly immediately after a bath or a swim is important to prevent hot spots from developing.

Eliminate Other Underlying Causes

If your dog’s hot spots are regularly caused by a specific cause (e.g. ear infection), then it is important to eliminate that cause if possible. Regular ear cleaning (if ear infection is the underlying cause), or anal gland expression (if anal gland infection is the cause) can be most helpful.