What to Know About Hot Spots in Dogs

golden retriever lying down and licking paw

There are a lot of things that can irritate our dog’s skin. Pests, allergies, dry skin, general sensitivity, and more can all make our dogs feel itchy. Hot spots are one of the common skin issues in dogs. Here’s what to know about hot spots in dogs:

What Are Hot Spots in Dogs?

Hot spots, also called acute moist dermatitis, are a common skin problem in dogs. They are itchy, irritated areas on your dog. They can appear suddenly and tend to become large, irritated, and red lesions in a short amount of time. They tend to be itchy, irritating, moist, and painful. Hot spots also tend to spread as your dog continues to scratch, lick, and chew the area to relieve itching.

What Causes Hot Spots in Dogs?

Hot spots can be caused by a variety of things that lead to a bacterial skin infection. Anything that causes irritation or itching can lead to acute moist dermatitis in your dog. Here are a few causes of hot spots in dogs:

1. Allergies

Seasonal allergies, food allergies, inhalant allergies, and more can all cause itching, which can lead to hot spots. Learning what your dog’s allergies are can help you prevent how often they are exposed to them. Depending on the severity of the allergies, your vet may be able to prescribe some medication to help ease your dog’s symptoms and reduce hot spots.

2. Insect Bites

Insect bites or stings often cause inflammation and can cause itching, which can lead to hot spots. Fleas, mites, wasps, bees, lice, mosquitoes, gnats, ticks, and other insects can bite your dog or infest your dog. By licking to relieve inflammation or scratching to relieve itching, your dog can cause hot spots to form around the affected area.

Preparing your dog for tick season and protecting them from fleas can help reduce the risk of issues of these pests. Monitoring your dog and checking them after they come in from being outside can help you keep pests off of your dog. It will also help you catch issues early and help your dog get relief from bites before they lead to hot spots.

3. Ear Infections

Ear infections or even just excess moisture or ear wax can be a big irritant to your dog. If your dog’s ears are so irritating that they scratch a lot, then hot spots can form on their neck, behind their ear, or on the ear flap itself.

Checking on your dog’s ears on a weekly basis is a good start. This, paired with carefully cleaning your dog’s ears as needed, can help prevent ear infections. Plus, if you see anything starting, you can get to the vet before it gets bad enough to cause hot spots or other issues.

4. Grooming Issues

One of the reasons it’s important to keep up with brushing and grooming your dog’s coat is to remove tangles regularly and prevent mats from forming. Although it’s not fun, it’s also important to monitor your dog’s anal glands and express them if needed. Your vet can help with this and so can many dog groomers.

Biting at Tangles

If a dog has a tangled coat, it could pull at the skin and cause irritation. In order to get relief, dogs will often bite at tangles to remove them. In doing so, they can cause wounds, which can then lead to hot spots.

Trapped Moisture From Mats

In addition to being uncomfortable and pulling at the skin, mats also prevent air from reaching the skin and will trap moisture. If a dog has matted fur and goes swimming or gets caught in the rain, the skin will stay wet and becomes a perfect environment for hot spots and other skin issues.

Inflamed Anal Glands

Inflamed, infected, or impacted anal glands are irritating, annoying, and painful to your dog. To try and relieve the irritation, dogs will often lick the area around it. This can cause hot spots to form on top of the tail or under it.

You’ll need to take your dog to the vet if this is happening. Depending on your dog, they may need to have their anal glands manually expressed on a regular basis to help prevent inflammation or impaction in the future. Your vet will be able to tell you what’s going on and what to do for your dog moving forward.

5. Boredom

Dogs can end up with a lot of bad habits if they are bored. Some of the signs your dog is bored are chewing and licking excessively. Often, the paws and legs are the targets of licking due to boredom because they are so easily accessible while lying down. This can lead to hot spots forming in these areas.

If you notice that your dog is licking or getting into trouble because they are bored, try giving them some more exercise, playing a game with them, giving them a mentally stimulating toy, or just spending more time with them.

6. Primary Skin Issues

If your dog already has a skin issue or infection, considered a primary skin condition or infection, hot spots can become a secondary issue. As your dog licks and chews areas to try and relieve pain or itching associated with the primary skin issue, they may end up causing hot spots to form.

The best way to prevent hot spots will depend entirely on the nature of your dog’s primary skin issue. If it’s a chronic condition, your vet will be able to help provide a treatment plan. If it’s a singular infection or wound, your vet will be able to provide a solution for wound care. Either way, you’ll want to make an appointment with your vet to figure out the best way to help your dog.

7. Joint Issues

If your dog has arthritis or joint issues, they will often lie down a lot to relieve pain. This could result in them lying on one side or in the same position for long periods of time. This can create pain over pressure points and even abrasions, similar to bedsores, over those points.

As your dog licks this area, it can create a hot spot. At the same time, excessive grooming is one of the signs your dog is in pain. So, dogs may lick or chew on painful joints, which can also create hot spots around those areas.

There are some ways you can help an arthritic dog, which may help reduce hot spots. But, your vet will be the most helpful resource for a long-term treatment plan to help alleviate this pain in your dog.

What Are the Signs Your Dog Has a Hot Spot?

If your dog is scratching, licking, or chewing on parts of their body more often than usual, you definitely want to check it out. It’s likely something is going on and they may also have a hot spot forming somewhere in that area.

Hot spots are characterized by raw and inflamed skin. They are often large areas that could be bleeding or oozing. It will definitely be red or bright pink and irritated. Because hot spots are bacterial infections, they also tend to be smelly.

If you see your dog acting like they are uncomfortable, especially when paired with excessive licking, look over the area for wounds or irritated skin. Whether you clearly see a hot spot or not, it’s worth a visit to the vet.

How Do You Treat Hot Spots in Dogs?

Generally, the fur is clipped away from the area to expose it to the air. This allows it to be cleaned thoroughly and to make ongoing wound care easier. Anti-inflammatory medications are often administered to relieve the intense itching and also to prevent secondary skin infection. Flea and tick preventives are also often administered if your dog is not up to date on them.

Protective collars are also often used. This helps to keep the dog from licking off any sprays or ointments on the area and to prevent them from making the hot spot worse or causing it to spread. Supplementary treatment and prevention will depend on the underlying cause of the hot spot.

These are just a few things to know about hot spots in dogs. Knowing what to look for and how to help can be a big relief for your dog. Plus, you can figure out how to prevent hot spots in the future for a happier, healthier, and more comfortable pooch.