Hot Spots

Reference the term “hot spot” these days and one thinks about a point of Internet access. Not so for veterinarians who reserve the term “hot spot” for a common skin problem capable of causing canine misery, particularly in the spring and summer when allergies and fleas make a comeback from their winter dormancy.

Acute Moist Dermatitis

The more technical name for a hot spot is “acute moist dermatitis”, a localized skin eruption that appears very quickly (sometimes in a matter of hours), hence the term “acute”. “Moist” is included in the description because, invariably the sores are wet and messy. Lastly “dermatitis” refers to inflammation of the skin.

What causes them?

Technically speaking, the cause of a hot spot is whatever incites the initial skin irritation, such as a fleabite, trauma to the skin, or allergies. Truth be told, it is the dog’s incessant licking, biting and scratching in response to the irritation that actually creates the hot spot. This self-trauma begets more inflammation which begets more self-trauma- a classic vicious cycle.

For the dog, the end result of all that scratching, licking, and chewing is a cesspool of bacteria, damaged skin and pus hidden beneath a wet covering of densely matted fur. The person discovering the hot spot is invariably surprised because of the seemingly sudden onset and camouflage beneath the hair coat.

For unknown reason, Golden Retrievers and Saint Bernards are particularly predisposed to developing hot spots.


While successful treatment of most hot spots requires help from a veterinarian, milder cases can be successfully managed at home. The key is to clip the hair away from the site of inflammation. Bacteria thrive in a moist environment and, until the hair is removed, the hot spot will remain wet and actively inflamed. For some dogs, the hot spot is so painful that sedation is required for the clipping process (always surprising given that, left to his or her own devices, the dog will aggressively scratch, lick and chew at the site). Invariably, the clipping reveals a skin sore far larger and uglier than what was imagined when the site was covered by hair. If you are performing this step at home, please stick with clippers only. Attempting to get the job done with scissors on a wiggly, painful dog is an accident waiting to happen (now the vet must treat a laceration in addition to a hot spot).

Once the site is clipped it should be gently cleansed with an antibacterial product. It’s often not possible to remove all of the crusting and debris during the first go round and the cleansing must be repeated a couple of times daily. Following cleansing, the area should be gently dried with a towel or hair dryer set at a medium or cool temperature.

Clipping and cleaning are all that is necessary for very mild hot spots. More severely affected dogs should receive oral or injectable antibiotics to eliminate the bacterial infection. Antibiotic ointments applied directly to the site are usually avoided, as they tend to keep the healing site too moist.

Antihistamines and/or cortisone may be prescribed in order to “cool off” the inflammatory process and/or treat any underlying allergy.

If fleas are a factor flea control products are recommended for use on the individual with the hot spot as well as all of the other dogs and cats in the household.

Lastly, it is super-important to put an end to the self-trauma. This usually involves use of an Elizabethan collar (the “cone of shame”) and careful supervision for the first several days.

Has your dog ever had a hot spot? Were you able to treat this at home or was a veterinary visit necessary?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.






Be Sociable, Share!

10 Comments on “Hot Spots

  1. I have used black tea with great success. The site is clipped and washed with Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap first, and dried. Just make a cup of regular, organic, of course, black tea, cool the bag and hold it on the hot spot a few minutes. The second treatment of the day is usually an application of aloe vera. I just cut a piece off the plant I have on hand for burns, etc. Also, I figure if the dog is prone to hotspots, the chi must be blocked, so off to the holistic vet for accupuncture/chiro. Luckily, do I dare say it? We have not seen a hot spot on any of our dogs in years. Fingers crossed I did not just jinx someone.

  2. My golden got his first hot spot a little over a year ago (at age 6). It was about two to three inches off the base of his tail. I clipped his hair (trying to dry it but also trying to preserve his precious tail feathers.) As I only use the Elizabethan whenever it cannot be avoided, I sacrificed a sock with the toe cut off and attached it to a pair of little boy boxer briefs (which I had previously used when my dog was neutered) turned backwards. It worked like a charm — allowing the spot to heal quickly and he was much happier than in the Elizabethan collar. The funny picture I took was just a bonus!

  3. As a vet tech for 20+ years I would ask clients if their dog was recently groomed/bathed and 9 times out of 10, I was told “yes” which made me think perhaps the dog wasn’t rinsed properly and the left over soap caused the itching and thus the hot spot. Just my observation…

  4. I also cut the hair away with scissors, but I use NFZ Puffer, which I purchased at the Tractor Supply. It’s a powder and I lightly puff it onto the hot spot so that I can see it but not so it’s heavily covered. It does take away the itching and by the next day, there is a nice scab.

  5. Lots of good comments but one solution not mentioned. The Golden Retriever, sometimes under my care, had re-occurring hot spots on the upper hind leg/hip area. After adjustments from a wonderful animal chiropractor, Kelly Mackay, this dog got almost immediate relief that lasted longer than any other remedy. First time I thought it was just a fluke but months later it worked again so, at least for this dog, I’m a believer.

  6. I have Bichons and I got this tip from my trusted groomer years ago and it is my no fail treatment. Mix half green alcohol and half white alcohol in a jar. Fill with cotton balls and store in the fridge. At the start of an itch just rub on affected area and it works great. If on a hot spot I trim the hair first and apply 3x per day. Also works well on my bug bites.

  7. Our dog was diagnosed last week with a nasty “lick granuloma” on his rear hock….and the area seemed to get bigger by the minute. The area was shaved and we were given antibacterial ointment and told to wash first with peroxide. Did that for the first day with very slight improvement, then switched over to povidone (betadine) solution for cleansing, followed by ointment. Affected area could look improved one minute and then bad again the next minute….depending how how often we could distract him from licking.
    A friend called and I explained the problem. She told me of a product she used called VETERICYN with good results over the years. Our local Tractor Supply carried it. We LOVE this stuff! Clear spray….SAFE….no reaction from dog…..drying up the lesion practically overnight. I urge anyone to at least look into it. It was about $22 for a small bottle. Definitely something to keep on hand for sudden flare-ups or possibly other emergencies.

  8. We find that working livestock protection Kangal Dogs with their thick undercoats will often develop hot spots in the spring when they are shedding their winter undercoats. A particularly common spot that we have learned to watch is under their collars, where the undercoat forms humid mats if not brushed out.

    Once the collar is removed and the area cleaned, we often can simply apply sulfur powder mixed with vaseline once a day for two or three days to resolve the problem.

  9. Jasmine had a hot spot on her cheek twice, with a year apart. Caught early, required only topical/local treatment. Did go to the vet either time anyway, though.

    I remember, the first time, we were just going for a camping trip, I was so worried she was going to get it full of sand. And she did, within first five minutes. Amazingly, it formed this crust and when it fell of, the area was completely clear and healthy.

  10. Yes, I have done exactly what you suggest here except I have cut the hair gently with scissors, with well behaved dogs. I give them Benadryl to help alleviate the itching and make sure the area stays dry. Usually within a day or two it goes from red to pink and I know it’s healing.

    But if it looks infected or is larger than a couple of inches, I go to the vet. I only treat at home when I catch it early.

    Seems like some dogs get frequent hot spots and some never seem to get them.