Hot Spots on Dogs: Causes, Treatment & Prevention [Vet Expert Guide]

Hot Spots on Dogs: Causes, Treatment & Prevention [Vet Expert Guide]

Alpha Paw Sale
Dec 10, 2020

Hot spots, otherwise known as acute moist dermatitis, are a common skin disorder in dogs. They can appear suddenly and have the potential to grow into very large, red, and irritated lesions if left untreated. Dogs will often continue to bother the area by licking or chewing, which irritates the skin and makes the area moist, leading to painful infections. Hot spots can be found anywhere on the body of the dog. If left untreated these areas of irritation can get worse and may become very painful. If you find a hot spot, the best thing to do is book an appointment with your veterinarian.  Your veterinarian will examine the area and prescribe appropriate treatment to help it heal more quickly.


Common Causes for Hot Spots


Hot spots can be caused by a myriad of things. Allergies are a common underlying cause for skin conditions and may include food or environmental allergens such as pollens. You may see red skin and hair loss. The irritation from the allergy can cause the dog to continue to lick these areas and create further infections. Treating allergies may involve switching foods, stopping your dog from licking the area, and using prescription medication from your veterinarian. In dogs with allergies, the paws and front legs are commonly affected areas, because these are the easiest places for the dog to reach and lick.

Licking can also occur due to boredom or anxiety.  In these cases, giving the dog more exercise and mental stimulation such as food puzzles can help. Another common course of treatment is to use an Elizabethan collar – also known as an e-collar or cone – to prevent the dog from being able to reach the inflamed area. Using the Elizabethan collar will give the area time to heal while the underlying cause of the itching is diagnosed.

Bites from parasites such as mites and fleas can also cause inflammation of the skin and itching.  This will make the dog lick and scratch the areas, causing trauma to the skin that can lead to a hot spot.  Hot spots may also form around the ears due to ear infections.  As the dog scratches at the infected ear, trauma to the surrounding skin can put the dog at risk for yeast and bacterial infections that then become hot spots.

Skin and ear infections in dogs should always be treated under the guidance of your veterinarian. It is important to have appropriate treatment prescribed so that the infection does not get worse.  Depending on the reason for the ear infections, it’s possible that frequent ear cleanings will need to be done to prevent any further infections. Keeping the ears dry during bathing or after swimming is also recommended to prevent ear infections that form due to moisture becoming trapped in the ear.

Anal gland inflammation or impacted anal glands can create sores next to and around the anus.  Affected dogs will often lick the area in an attempt to express their anal glands to get some relief. If the infection worsens, iit can cause anal glands to rupture.  In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove the glands and address ongoing infection. If anal gland impaction is a continuous problem for your dog, then frequent expression of the glands may be necessary.

Poor grooming from either old age or not being brushed enough can trap moisture and bacteria against the skin and cause inflammation and discomfort. This can create an open sore and allow bacteria to penetrate the skin and create a secondary infection. These infections can happen anywhere on the body where a matt or tangle forms in the fur. These can be treated by clipping the fur from the area and cleaning the area really well. Your veterinarian can also prescribe a topical anti-inflammatory for you to apply at home, which will help soothe the skin and allow it to heal more quickly. These kinds of hot spots can heal just as quickly as they are formed. Keeping the fur groomed and maintained can prevent these kinds of hot spots.

Hot spots can also be formed where there is a decreased amount of muscle mass from old age such as the hips, knees, and elbows.   Laying on these areas can cause a pressure sore which the dog will start to lick, leading to a hot spot. Pain in a joint may also cause a dog to start licking the affected area and create a hot spot. This pain is best dealt with by the help of a veterinarian who can prescribe medication such as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to alleviate the pain in the affected joint. You should never give over the counter human medications to an animal unless directed to by your veterinarian.


Treatment for Hot Spots


The treatment of a hot spot is often depending on the underlying cause of the issue. If the hot spot is due to an underlying health condition such as impacted anal glands or orthopedic problems, then the best course is to treat the underlying condition. Consulting with your veterinary team to diagnose the reason for the hot spot is the best place to start. They will usually clip the fur from the affected area which allows them to see the size and degree of redness and irritation from the hot spot. They may also apply a topical anti-inflammatory or antibiotic ointment to help the area heal faster. Depending on the severity of the hot spot, oral pain and antibiotic medications may also be prescribed. Hot spots can heal in a matter of days if treated correctly.


Prevention of Hot Spots


Preventing another hot spot depends on the reason for the hot spot. If poor grooming is the reason behind the hot spots, then keeping the dog well-groomed and the fur maintained will prevent any future hot spots from forming due to moisture getting trapped between the skin and fur. Maintaining the grooming of the fur will allow air to move between the fur and the skin which will keep the skin dry and not allow moisture and bacteria to become trapped there.

If it is discovered that an underlying health issue is the reason, such as sore joints or parasites, then those should be treated separately. Always discuss treatment of a hot spot with your veterinary team to ensure that they are treated correctly, and a plan is formed to prevent any future ones that can arise.


Hot spots are a very common skin disorder in dogs. They can occur secondary to many other conditions, such as allergies, parasites, ear infections, impacted anal glands, orthopedic problems, or poor grooming. All of these reasons will need a slightly different treatment to address the hot spot. Often additional diagnostics may be needed to identify and address the underlying condition. The good news is that hot spots are relatively easy to treat with the help of your veterinarian.  If you notice a hot spot on your dog, contact your veterinary team to have the problem addressed so your dog will be happy and comfortable once more.

Alpha Paw Sale
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Dr. Sarah Jane, Vet Tech

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Sara Jane Hales is an ALAT (Associate Laboratory Animal Technician)-certified Veterinary Technician who works at The University of Utah. She’s been a Veterinary Technician since 2013, and she’s extremely passionate about veterinary medicine. She’s a pet parent to several pets and a loving mother to two wonderful children. In her spare time, SarahJane adores reading, hiking, and playing with her children and pets.

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