Does your pup suffer from hot spots, especially when the summer comes? You are not alone. Hot spots in dogs are a common skin condition among canines of all breeds and types.
They seem to appear out of nowhere and cause pain and irritation as well as stress for the dog and for the dog parents.
They can be a hassle to deal with, but there are ways to treat hot spots in dogs and to prevent them with the proper care.
In order to deal with the problem with hot spots in dogs, it is essential to understand what they are, what causes them, and how to treat and prevent them.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about this common skin condition which affects many pups.
What exactly are hot spots?
The scientific name for the so-called hot spots is acute moist dermatitis, but they are also often referred to as Summer Sores.
This is a localized area of the skin which has been inflamed and has a bacterial infection.
It often starts as what looks like an insect bite, but it will worsen and spread over time, and develop a hot, painful, oozing and red lesion on the skin.
These skin conditions are found in dogs and many other pets. They usually appear spontaneously without any apparent reason. They can spread to the surrounding area rapidly too.
Usually, the reason for the inflammation is a bacterial infection.
It can occur when a certain bacteria overpopulate a certain skin area. This may be due to the dog’s immune system being down, or something else going on in the body of the pup.
Usually, the reason for this weakening of the immune system is due to food sensitivity, an underlying illness or periodontal disease.
The solution for hot spots is the immediate treatment of the sore itself, but at the same time giving the immune system a boost. Along with these two actions, you should work with your vet to uncover the underlying health problem which your pup may have.
In some cases, the location of the hot spot can help the vet determine the underlying cause for the inflammation. If the sore is in the hip area, this could indicate that the pup has an anal gland infection, a flea infestation or arthritis in the area.
Hot spots located near the ear could indicate an allergy, an ear infection or a dental problem.
Hot spots start with the skin becoming red, moist and itchy.
Usually, dogs only make matters worse with the hot spots. They will scratch, chew and lick the affected area which can traumatize the skin and cause pus-forming and oozing out of the wound.
After this, the damaged skin surface and the dried pus will form a crust which is pretty painful to the pup. The area may also lose its hair.
The good news for dog parents is that hot spot infections are usually superficial and can easily be treated if timely actions are taken.
What are the causes of hot spots in dogs?
The main causes for the appearance of hot spots are usual insect bites, allergies, too much moisture on the skin, matted hair, heavy and dense coats, excessive humidity, skin scrapes, and in some cases – stress or pure boredom, which makes the dog lick, bit, and gnaw on the area.
Sometimes, too much moisture on the skin after a walk in the rain or a bath can cause a hot spot in dogs.
In most cases, a hot spot will appear on dogs with a weakened immune system or an underlying disease.
These summer sores are triggered by the dog incessantly licking, scratching or chewing the area. As a result, trauma to the skin is inflicted which is commonly inflamed due to bacterial infections.
The self-trauma gets worse, as the irritation continues, which is why treating the sore should start as soon as possible.
Most of the bacteria causing the inflammation of the hot spot in dogs can be eliminated via topical and oral antibiotics.
It is advisable that you let your vet treat the hot spot, and especially the hair clipping around it, as it can be pretty painful for the dog and cause further trauma to the skin if done by an inexperienced owner.
The hot spots in dogs can increase in size and spread pretty quickly, so starting treatment immediately is a must.
The most common causes of hot spots in dogs are:
- Parasite infestations
- Insect bites
- Cuts or abrasions
- A foreign object under the skin such as a thorn or splinter
- Flea allergy
- A food allergy or sensitivity
- Pollen or other environmental or seasonal allergies
- Atopic dermatitis
- Skin or ear infections
- Pyoderma caused by bacteria or yeast
- Anal sac infections and inflammations
- Contact allergy
- Stress or boredom
- A dirty or matted coat
- Moisture trapped on the skin after bathing, swimming or rain
- Saliva trapped under the coat
- High humidity of the air
- Breeds with thick coats
- Sore joints, hips, knees and other orthopedic or back problems which cause the dogs to lie down a lot
The hot spots happen due to an imbalance of the normal skin bacteria caused by one or more of the above reasons which lead to the incessant licking and biting. As the bacterial infection grows, so does the itchiness, inflammation, the pain and the distress of the animal.
Many of these conditions can lead to chronic and recurring hot spots if not managed properly, which is why you should always address the underlying cause for the hot spot rather than just treating the infections.
Breeds with thick coats and those that love swimming, such as St.Bernards, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers seem to be predisposed to getting hot spots more often than dogs from other breeds.
The most common symptoms of hot spots in dogs
Since many skin conditions in dogs have similar symptoms, it is essential that you take the dog for a checkup at the vet to get confirmation that the dog has a hot spot and not another skin infection or irritation.
The hot spots usually appear out of nowhere and tend to spread pretty quickly.
They usually affect the head, hips or limbs of the pups.
You will notice that the affected area is red, moist and discharges fluid or puss. Gradually the sore will start developing a crust, and the hair on top of it might fall off, while the surrounding hair will become matted.
These summer sores are both itchy and painful, and the more scratching, biting and licking the dog does, the worst the trauma of the skin will become.
Some of the telltale signs that your pup has a hot spot include:
- An itchy and painful patch of skin
- Continuous licking, chewing or gnawing on the area
- Abnormal aggression when you try to touch the painful spot
- Inflammation, swelling, and redness
- Oozing sores or crusted scabs
- Dry and scaly skin in the affected area
- Hair loss
- Moist and matter fur surrounding the hot spot
- A foul smell from the wound
Treatment for hot spots in dogs
Rarely will the hot spot get well on its own, as the dog will continue causing further damage to its skin as the irritation and the pain increases.
This is why you should seek veterinary care or start home treatment of the hot spot as soon as possible.
It is essential that the underlying cause of the hot spot is also determined, in order to prevent reoccurrence of the problem.
The vet will perform a thorough physical examination of the dog and might take skin scrape samples which will be examined under a microscope for parasites.
Once the vet has placed a diagnosis, the treatment for the itching and the infection will be prescribed.
The idea of the treatment is to stop the irritation and thus stop the dog from causing further trauma to the affected area.
The typical treatment for hot spots in dogs includes:
- Clipping the matted hair around it – this should be performed carefully so as not to induce further trauma or pain to the pup
- Cleaning the area with chlorhexidine or another gentle topical antiseptic
- Prescribing oral or topical antibiotics for the infection
- Prescribing oral or topical steroids to reduce the itching and control the inflammation (prednisolone)
- Prescribing antihistamines (Benadryl, Zyrtec, Reactine or others)
- Cleaning the area gently with medical wipes on a daily basis, or more often
- Placing a cone or Elizabethan collar on the dog’s neck to prevent it from scratching, biting and licking
- The area can be covered with a bandage or sock to protect it from further trauma and infections
- If the condition is caused by a flea bite or infestation actions for flea preventions will be taken immediately, and should continue for several months
- In case the underlying cause is anal gland related, they will be expressed by the vet
- If arthritis is causing the hot spots, your vet may prescribe NSAIDs or pain medications for the pup
- If the underlying cause for the skin problem is a food allergy, the vet may recommend you start an elimination diet to determine the allergen and remove it from the dog’s diet completely
- In the case of environmental allergies, antihistamines can be prescribed
- If the dog has an ear infection – the bacteria or yeast causing the problem will be treated
- If the problem is due to poor grooming, a professional groomer should be used to put the coat in order – in case the grooming is painful, the dog may need to be sedated during the procedure
- In case the dog is causing its own hot spots due to stress or boredom, special training, exercises and even antidepressants could be the best solution
- You may resort to natural remedies to alleviate the itching and help reduce the inflammation too
Your vet will ask you to perform a follow-up examination of the dig depending on the severity of the wound.
In order to help the dog recover faster from the hot spot, you should give your dog hypoallergenic dog food, if the itchiness is due to a food allergy.
If your pup is doing it out of boredom or stress you should introduce new toys and chews, and remove any stressors such as loud music or noise.
The healing of the hot spot can continue for a couple of weeks. The fur on the area should start growing back in about 3 to 4 weeks. Scaring is not common except in very severe cases.
Your vet may ask to go for further examinations to determine the underlying cause for the hot spots after the discomfort has gone and the dog is healed.
Diagnosing the cause for the appearance of hot spots is essential for being able to prevent it from happening again in the future.
Preventing hot spots in dogs
The best way to prevent chronic and reoccurring hot spots in dogs is to correctly identify the underlying cause for them and to address the problem itself.
Proper parasite prevention – both internal and external is essential to prevent parasite infestations and bites which are often the culprit to developing hot spots.
Also, regular grooming and maintenance of the dog’s coat is a must. Some dogs with thick coats may need to be clipped or shaved, especially in the summer when hot spots are more likely to appear.
If you live in an area where the weather is hot and humid, you should be especially cautious about moisture getting trapped under the coat and on the skin too.
In case your dog loves swimming, or after each bath, you should make sure that the skin is properly dried, so that no moisture is left trapped under the coat.
If the dog is biting, scratching and licking its skin out of stress or boredom, you should address these issues by removing the stressor, and providing enough physical and mental stimulation for the pup so that it doesn’t get bored and resort to this unwanted behavior.
You can get your dog fun toys, puzzle toys or engage them in interactive games to keep them happy and mentally stimulated.
Giving the dog omega 3 fatty acid supplements or natural ingredients rich in omegas is a great way to prevent skin irritation and itching. The omega fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, and also help create a protective skin barrier which will make it less prone to infections and to allergens.
You can use aloe vera to apply on the irritated skin, but make sure that the pup doesn’t ingest it because it can cause digestive problems such as diarrhea and vomiting.
If the dog has a food allergy or sensitivity causing the skin irritations, it is vital to determine which allergen is causing the adverse reaction and removing it from the dog’s diet.
This can be done through an elimination diet, by feeding the dog with limited ingredients, and very slowly reintroducing more ingredients one by one. By monitoring the reactions of the dog to the different foods you can determine which food it is allergic or sensitive to, and remove it from its diet to prevent future allergic reactions. In many cases, the allergy is to grains or gluten, but the dog may have an allergy to different veggies, fruits, proteins, dairy, eggs or other foods too.
In case your dog is diagnosed with environmental or seasonal allergies, proper treatment with antihistamines and other actions to prevent allergic reactions will be prescribed.
You can also add probiotics or prebiotics to the dog’s food in order to help improve its gut flora balance. The healthy gut has an enormous impact on the immune system of the dog. The stronger its immune system, the less likely it will be that hot spots appear and get infected.
If the underlying reason for the hot spots is a more serious disease, your vet will prescribe medications or treatment of the general health condition. This will hopefully reduce the risk of the appearance of hot spots.
Some of the underlying conditions can include arthritis, ear infections, anal gland problems, Cushing’s and many others.
What if you prefer to take care of the hot spot yourself?
Some dog parents do not feel comfortable giving their pups antibiotics or other strong medicaments which can have a short or long-term harmful effect on the overall health of the pet.
If you prefer to treat your pup’s hot spot at home and without antibiotics, you should be warned that this could lead to a deepening of the bacterial infection in some more severe cases.
Here is how to go about treating the hot spot of your dog on your own and without antibiotics:
- Clip away the surrounding skin very gently with dog clippers, and disinfect the wound with a natural gentle antiseptic. You can use diluted iodine, which you can later wash away with some green tea
- If the wound continues oozing liquid or puss, repeat the procedure with the antiseptic every 2 to 4 hours
- You can apply a moist and warm compress on the area 3-4 times a day for 10 minutes in order to sooth the skin, keep it clean and encourage proper circulation
- Treat the wound with a natural anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory solution, such as the gel from an aloe vera plant, or apply some manuka honey on the wound
- If the hot spot is on the foot of the dog, it is best to put a sock and tape it on to prevent the dog from continuing to lick and bite the area. You can use a cone collar to prevent the pup from hurting itself even further too. But do not bandage the area tightly, because it needs to “breath”
- Help improve the dog’s gut flora and thus boost the immune system by adding brewers yeast, kelp, spirulina, cod liver oil or vitamin E to the dog’s food – following the guidelines for doses in accordance with the body weight. You can also add some pure yogurt or kefir which are rich in probiotics. These will improve the biome which has a direct link to the immune system of dogs.
- Keep the teeth of your dog clean by brushing them or giving the dog chewy treats. Clean and healthy teeth can also boost the immune system
You need to remember that if you decide to treat your dog for hot spots at home, you should always use pet-approved products. Some human topical ointments can be toxic for canines, so stay away from them – especially zinc oxide, or others.
Treating the irritation and the underlying causes of the hot spot with natural remedies
If you are worried that the conventional medicines will simply suppress the symptoms of the hot spot but without addressing the underlying issue causing it, there are some safe and natural ways to help treat the underlying health issue and reduce the risk of the hot spots reoccurring:
Calendula can be used in the form of a cream, lotion, oil, tincture or tea. It can help reduce the inflammation and the itching and will promote faster healing of the wound and the skin.
Calendula is safe for the dog, but you should not use a tincture which has alcohol in it, because it will sting the pup, and alcohol is toxic for dogs too.
You can apply the calendula on the hot spot and repeat as often as you want to safely.
You can make your own calendula hot spot remedy by mixing a ¼ tablespoon of table salt, a cup of filtered water and add 20 to 40 drops of calendula tincture. This recipe works well on all kinds of wounds.
It is the other name of St. John’s Wort and is an excellent natural remedy for treating hot spots in dogs.
You can mix it with some diluted calendula tincture and treat the hot spot with it. 12 to 15 drops of each tincture should be added to a cup of warm water and mixed well.
Then you can apply the solution on the wound gently, and make sure you dry it after that by soaking up any leftover liquid.
This a very effective antibacterial wash for hot spots in dogs and will also soothe the itching and the pain.
Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides and has anti-fungal properties no matter whether it is applied topically or ingested.
Coconut oil added to the dog’s food can help prevent or alleviate yeast infections.
You can alternate by feeding the pup a teaspoon of coconut per 10-30 lbs. of its weight per day. On the next day, you can alternate by giving the dog omega 3 oils.
One excellent natural hot spot cream with coconut oil can do wonders for soothing the itching and helping the wound recover faster.
Here is how to prepare the coconut oil and oregano cream for hot spots:
Blend 5 tablespoons of coconut oil with 5 drops of oregano, and apply the cream on the hot spot gently once a day.
You can apply a back of black tea which has been steeped and has cooled down on the hot spot to help dry it down and heal it. You can also apply the black tea gently with a cotton ball and hold it on the spot for a few minutes.
If you are a fan of homeopathic remedies, there are many of them used for hot spots in dogs such as Apis, Pulsatilla, Aconite, Mercurius, Graphites, Arsenicum, Rhus tox and Bach rescue remedy.
To be efficient for helping treat hot spots, opt for homeopathic remedies with a 30 to 200C potency. Those with 1M potency can be used if your dog is extremely distressed.
You can give the homeopathic remedies by dropping them directly inside the mouth of the dog (on its cheek), or dilute them in water and use a dropper to apply the remedy. Repeat the procedure 4 times every 30 minutes to once an hour for the 1M potency homeopathic remedy.
If the hot spot is getting worse, dose the dog again until it shows improvement on the next day. Continue until you see improvement.
When should you seek a vet for help with hot spots in dogs
Even if you have applied all the natural remedies and taken proper care to clean the wound from the hot spot, about 30% of all pups will have an underlying condition causing the hot spots which needs to be addressed.
The best idea is to take your dog to the vet for an examination and for diagnosis of the cause for the hot spot.
Also, in case the wound is painful and big enough that it requires sedation for the dog to be clipped and cleaned, you should definitely go to the veterinary clinic.
Another reason to seek professional veterinary help is the risk of the development of a deeper skin infection which usually requires antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications.
Your vet will know how to best treat the hot spot depending on its severity and on the medical history of your pup.
Plus, by diagnosing the cause for the hot spot, the vet can help you manage the underlying health or behavioral problem so that you can prevent the reoccurrence of the nasty hot spot altogether.
Treatment of chronic hot spots in dogs
In case your pup seems to be getting hot spots too often, your vet will recommend that further tests are made in order to rule out all possible reasons for the appearance of this skin irritation.
As mentioned previously, you can help prevent the reoccurrence of the hot spots by eliminating the allergen causing the itchiness, the infection which could be leading to it, the moisture getting trapped on the skin of the dog, or deal with the underlying psychological reasons for the dog causing itself this painful condition.
By treating the main cause of the itching, you will help reduce the risk of chronic hot spots in dogs, and you will be helping improve the overall health and wellbeing of your pup as well because many of these diseases or conditions can lead to other symptoms and further problems for the fur baby.
You should feed your dog healthy and well-balanced meals every day, keep its coat clean and trimmed or brushed, make sure that the skin is dry after a bath or swim, and help boost the dog’s immune system and gut health so that it is healthy and strong to fight off the adverse reactions causing the skin irritations in the first place.