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Hot Spots on Dogs

Causes | Prevention | Will they go away? | Improve your dog's skin health | Recommended products

Most pet parents of pups have seen their dogs biting or scratching themselves to get at an itchy spot. But sometimes that itchy spot is more than just a skin prickle or a mosquito bite. Hot spots on dogs are wet, itchy, painful, inflamed sores that often come on the heels of a primary infection or irritation—and they can be both uncomfortable and long-lasting.  

If your dog can’t seem to stop biting or scratching a specific area, check for a seeping patch of skin under their fur. If you find one, your dog likely has a hot spot. As painful and irritating as these infections can be, they’re also relatively common and are usually simple to treat. As a pet parent, you have plenty of options for treating and preventing hot spots. 

What causes hot spots on dogs?

As far as skin issues go, hot spots on dogs are pretty common. This is due in part to the wide variety of factors that can contribute to their formation.  

  • Environmental allergies Dogs with seasonal or year-round allergies to environmental irritants can develop inflamed skin that supports the creation of hot spots. 
  • Food allergies Dogs with allergies or sensitivities to certain ingredients in their food or treats can manifest that allergy with hot spots on the skin.
  • Moisture If your dog is constantly in the water—whether going for a swim or receiving frequent baths—they might be more likely to develop hot spots. This can be a result of certain pathogens overgrowing in the moist environment or from motion causing irritation on the wet skin.
  • Flea and insect allergies Some dogs are allergic to the bites of fleas, ticks and other small insects, resulting in an itchy rash that can become a hot spots.
  • Licking or chewing Some dogs respond to boredom or stress by biting and licking their skin and fur. This can also occur if your dog’s coat is excessively dirty or matted, as dogs often lick and chew in an attempt to clean themselves. Dogs with joint pain and arthritis also tend to lick at painful areas. Whatever the cause, however, excessive biting and licking can leave skin wet, irritated and in need of dog hot spot medicine.  
  • Infections Irritated or inflamed skin is where hot spots typically begin. If your dog is prone to ear or skin infections, or if they’ve been exposed to a virus, parasite or bacteria, they may scratch to get some relief and leave themselves vulnerable to hot spot formation. 
  • Anal gland issues If your dog has an uncomfortable inflammation or infection of their anal glands—including anal sac disease—they may bite and lick around the anal area or the base of their tail, which can lead to hot spots. 

Dog hot spot symptoms often differ from other forms of dog dermatitis, eczema and other skin issues, although these conditions can sometimes create the environment where hot spots subsequently form. While eczema, also known as atopy, is typically characterized by dry, flaky skin, hot spots are wet and often oozing, and the sores can be quite large.  

Your dog may have one hot spot or multiple hot spots. You may also notice changes in your dog’s behavior or temperament because of the discomfort that comes with hot spots. Increased scratching and biting can reveal the site of the infection, but a visit to your veterinarian will confirm the diagnosis (or point to a different one).  

How to prevent hot spots

While most hot spots are highly treatable, preventing them from forming in the first place is usually much easier than eliminating the sores retroactively. Hot spots on dogs typically develop as secondary infections at the site of an existing irritation or infection. Taking care of these primary issues can aid in your dog’s hot spot prevention plan. Ways to help avoid these dog skin infections include:  

  • Providing high-quality nutrition Nutrients provided in a dog’s regular diet are critical for maintaining a healthy skin barrier to guard against hot spots and other skin conditions. 
  • Keeping up with flea prevention Fleas leave itchy bites that can cause your dog to lick and scratch at their skin. If you provide your dog suitable preventive flea prevention medication, you can help prevent one of the primary causes of hot spots. Plus, you’ll help protect your pup from a whole host of other flea-borne diseases.  
  • Identifying underlying conditions Finding out what’s making your dog’s skin vulnerable to hot spot formation will help you curtail future hot spots. Your dog might have eczema or an allergy that’s causing skin inflammation, or perhaps your home has an infestation of stinging or biting insects. If you can find and resolve what’s causing your dog’s skin inflammation, you may be able to avoid future hot spots.. Petco carries dog allergy medicine and itch relief treatments that can help ease your dog’s discomfort so they’re less likely to scratch. 
  • Drying your dog’s fur When your dog has a bath or goes for a swim, they must be completely dried off afterward. The more frequently your dog’s coat gets soaked, the more diligently you should look for hot spots. This is especially vital if your dog has thick fur that doesn’t dry quickly.  If you take your pet swimming in the ocean, ponds or other standing bodies of water, you should bathe them afterward with a dog shampoo to clean off any pathogens or contaminants on the skin and fur.
  • Grooming your dog’s coat Sometimes dogs inadvertently create or exacerbate hot spots while grooming. Other times, infrequently groomed fur can harbor bugs, pollen or grime that can irritate skin and lead to infection. In either case, you can contribute to your dog’s hot spot prevention strategy by frequently brushing and washing their fur. Just remember to thoroughly dry off your dog to avoid trapping moisture near their skin. 
  • Immune support Dogs who are in poor health may be more susceptible to hot spots. Incorporating vitamins and supplements into your dog’s daily diet may help give your dog the immune support necessary to effectively fight infection. Ask your vet what they’d recommend for your particular pup.

Will my dog’s hot spot go away on its own?

It’s unlikely that a hot spot will go away without treatment. Finding an appropriate dog hot spot treatment is often the only way to make sure your dog’s skin infection heals instead of spreading and worsening. Fortunately, there are effective dog hot spot medicine and treatment options to ease your dog’s discomfort and help heal their skin. If your dog develops a hot spot, consult your veterinarian to devise a treatment plan for your dog. Your dog’s hot spot healing stages may be aided by a combination of medical treatment and symptom relief, including the following: 

  • Fur trimming The fur around your dog’s hot spot will likely need to be trimmed to allow the infected area to dry and to allow for easier application of ointments. 
  • Topical medications Your veterinarian may prescribe a hot spot cream for dogs containing an antibiotic, antifungal or steroid to help heal the infection or reduce inflammation.  
  • Anti-itch treatment Your vet may recommend a dog hot spot spray containing an antihistamine to help relieve itching. 
  • Oral medication Depending on the severity, location and other factors concerning your dog’s hot spot, your vet may recommend  oral medications in addition to, or instead of, topical treatments. 
  • Hot spot dog collar An Elizabethan collar, also known as a cone, could keep your dog from biting at their hot spot while it’s healing.  
  • Pinpointing skin issues Your veterinarian may determine that an  underlying condition is causing your dog’s hot spots, particularly if these hot spots are recurring. Whether the problem is stress-induced biting, a flea allergy or insufficient coat drying, your vet will be able to get to the root cause of your dog’s hot spots to help prevent them from coming back. 

Don’t be surprised if your vet recommends a combination of treatments to battle your dog’s hot spots. It’s better to address hot spots swiftly than to hope they go away on their own because it’s unlikely that they will. 

How to improve your dog’s skin health

Maintaining your pet’s skin and coat wellness is one of the best preventive plans when it comes to hot spots on dogs. And there are plenty of other hygiene and health benefits that can come from paying proper attention to your dog’s skin and coat. You can help keep your dog’s skin in good condition through: 

  • Skin and coat supplements Dietary supplements that contain fatty acids can help improve and repair your dog’s skin barrier and coat health. Your dog might benefit from a dog skin and coat supplement to help keep their fur and skin in good shape. DHA and EPA for dogs can support supple skin. Just make sure you purchase dog-specific supplements such as those offered by Petco, as human supplements sometimes contain ingredients harmful to dogs. Ask your vet for specific product recommendations.
  • Proper grooming The way you groom your pup can significantly affect their skin health and help reduce hot spot symptoms. It’s important to brush and bathe your dog regularly to prevent matted fur or trapped irritants that can cause itching, infection or inflammation on their skin. Keep in mind that excessive washing can also irritate and inflame your dog’s skin, making it susceptible to disease. Petco carries a range of skin and coat shampoos formulated to support your dog’s skin and fur health. 
  • Nutritious diet What your dog eats can directly affect their skin health and the frequency of hot spots,especially if your pet has food sensitivities. Feeding your dog nutrient-rich food will help give them the building blocks they need for a strong skin barrier. 

While prevention is key, sometimes things happen so understanding the causes and signs of hot spots will allow you to catch them early. If you notice your dog’s behavior change, like licking and scratching a specific area more than usual, or if they have visible signs of hot spots, consult your veterinarian to develop a treatment plan. 

Recommended products for hot spots

Pet prescriptions available to order at Petco

Reviewed by Dr. Whitney Miller, DVM, MBA, DACVPM

As Petco’s Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Miller is the lead veterinary subject matter expert, overseeing the company’s standards of excellence in animal care and welfare, growth in pet services and much more. Dr. Miller leads Petco’s medical team, supporting over 200 full-service hospitals and mobile vaccination clinics operating in over 1,000 Petco Pet Care Centers nationwide