How to Treat Hot Spots in Dogs

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Hot spots often appear spontaneously, but they quickly become a painful nuisance to your pet.  Whether you call them summer sores, lick granulomas, acute moist or acral lick dermatitis, a  hot spot by any name is unpleasant and often difficult to heal.

Typically, they start as a small irritation, but from there your dog could develop OCLD (Obsessive Compulsive Lick Disorder) and they can become inflamed and infected.  Rarer in cats, veterinarians often cannot prescribe a specific cure because hot spots go down to the base layer of the skin, where microscope pockets of bacteria and any combination of broken hair follicles, plugged and scarred oil glands and dilated and inflamed capillaries are present.  If the tissue is surgically removed, the pet then licks at the sutures or incision line creating a brand new granuloma, and the cycle repeats.  

Hot Spots in Dogs

Hot spots occur when an animal itches, scratches or licks himself or herself excessively - forming a wet opening on the skin. Anything that makes him or her itch can lead to the formation of a hot spot; grass, trees, dust mites, food allergies, fleas, insect bites, thorn punctures and other skin cuts or scrapes.  Some dogs however, chew and lick purely out of boredom, or to relieve separation anxiety. 
Normal, healthy bacteria are always present on your pooch’s skin, but once your dog bites and breaks the surface, the perfect environment for bacterial contamination exists.  

How to Prevent Hot Spots in your Dog

Hot spots often form on the top of wrist joint and paws, both of which are easy-to-lick spots.  They can also be found on the hind legs and ear flaps, particularly in breeds with floppy ears. These sores occur more often when the weather is humid.  They can also occur after a doggie bath, or when your pet walks in the rain. It is vital that you keep pets clean, dry and well-groomed.  Take note of even the smallest sores, since just a slightly oozing wound can provide enough moisture for bacteria to take hold.1 Irritation from matted fur, especially in dogs with dense undercoats, can also cause a hot spot to erupt should the licking and chewing begin.    

Signs & Symptoms

Here are a few signs and symptoms of hot spots you can watch for in your pet:

  • Compulsive licking and chewing at a particular body part
  • Reddish-brown saliva staining around the hot spot site
  • Swelling and/or raw-looking skin
  • Oozing 
  • Foul smell coming from the hot spot site
  • Pain and visible discomfort

What Can You Do?

Like most things in life, hot spots may be less complicated to care for when small and treated quickly. 

First Aid for Hotspots on Dogs

Consider the following tips in regards to first-aid treatment for hotspots on your dog:

  1. Always consult with your vet prior to treating your pet.
  2. It might be recommended by a vet that you gently trim the fur around the hot spot with blunt nosed scissors.  By exposing it to air, it may help it dry.2
  3. Your vet may suggest cleansing with a mild water-based astringent or antiseptic spray, even pure saline, and gently dry with a soft cloth.3
  4. After speaking with your vet directly, they may suggest applying an antibacterial spray, or applying a black or green tea bag (tannic acid is a natural astringent that dries and heals) 3–5 times per day. The tea can brewed in hot water but let it cool to room temperature and gently squeeze before applying to your pet’s skin. 
  5. Speak to your vet directly regarding any available alternative options. They might recommend applying apple cider vinegar (the unadulterated organic kind containing sediment) directly to the hot spot 4 times daily.  Apple cider vinegar has both anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.  Hydrocortisone spray or cream may also stop the itching and help promote healing, but NEVER apply ointments to a hot spot as these products tend to seal in infection, and do NOT use medications containing alcohol which will burn the exposed tissue.4
  6. Prevent your dog from licking, chewing or scratching the affected area. An Elizabethan or cervical collar might be needed to prevent him from reaching the injury.  You can also try a T-shirt, sock or doggie onesie, but make sure the wound is getting ventilation to dry and that the pet is not making the fabric wet. Talk to your vet to see what option is best for your dog.
  7. After you seek veterinary care, continuing to check that the hot spot doesn't worsen or spread is important. Carefully follow your veterinarian’s advice.  A topical medication, usually in the form of a Gentamicin/Betamethasone spray, as well as oral antibiotics may be prescribed. It’s possible the vet may also give the pet a cortisone injection to jump start the healing process.5

No matter if pesty insects, humidity or boredom are the cause, hot spots are not cool and are easier to prevent than cure.  Teach your pet “leave it” in regards to licking, and understand patience is key to helping your best friend heal. 

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Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances. 

  1. How to Treat Hot Spots on Dogs, PetMD, Heather Hoffman, 2020
  2. Dog Hot Spot 101: What Are They And How Should I Care For Them?, Dr. Marty Pets
  3. First Aid for Hot Spots in Dogs, VCA Animal Hospital
  4. How to Treat Hot Spots on Dogs, PetMD, Heather Hoffman, 2020                               
  5. How to Treat Hot Spots on Dogs, PetMD, Heather Hoffman, 2020