How to Spot & Treat Hotspots on Dogs (Properly)

Updated November 18, 2021
dog biting and itching paw from hotspot

Skin conditions in dogs can be frustrating. If you notice your dog scratching and discover a weepy, red spot on their skin, they may have a hotspot. Discover how to identify hotspots on dogs, what you can do at home, and when to seek veterinary care.

What are Hotspots on Dogs?

hotspot on dog's paw close up

Hotspots, commonly referred to as pyotraumatic dermatitis or acute moist dermatitis, are open, weepy lesions on a dog's skin. These spots are spurred by localized irritation. Scenarios like a dog scratching an area due to fleas, inflammation from a bug bite, or a nick on the skin after grooming can lead to a hotspot. Unfortunately, most dogs cannot keep their claws or tongues to themselves, so they lick, chew, and scratch at the spot until it becomes a big, gooey mess.

Once the skin is broken, bacteria can easily make their way in to cause a secondary infection. If you feel that your dog's hotspot popped up overnight, you may very well be right. These superficial lesions can progress quickly; just a few hours of licking may cause an area to double in size.

Hotspots can occur anywhere on the body, but they most commonly appear on a dog's limbs, hip/rump area, and behind the ears. A dog's breed may contribute to their risk of developing these uncomfortable spots. Data suggests that German Shepherd Dogs, Rottweilers, and Golden Retrievers, among other long-haired breeds, could be predisposed. Summer tends to be the prime time for hotspots, as the warm weather exacerbates the inflammation associated with these moist areas.

How to Identify Hotspots

Hotspots don't always have a consistent appearance; they look different at the various stages of healing. Use these telltale indicators to help identify whether your dog has a hotspot.

  • Excessive licking or scratching in an area
  • Saliva staining on fur around area
  • Hair loss or matted hair around the sore
  • Weepy, red lesion
  • Raised red area
  • Patch of dry, inflamed skin

Tips to Manage Hotspots

dog laying on floor wearing cone

Although it's critical to address the underlying issue that led to the hotspot, there are ways you can provide your dog with relief and help promote healing.

  • Use the cone of shame. The first thing you should do as soon as you notice a hotspot is place a cone or Elizabethan collar on your dog to prevent further licking, chewing, or scratching. This cone will need to stay on until the hotspot is entirely healed.
  • Clip the area. If you have clippers, you can carefully trim the hair around the hotspot. Do not use scissors close to the skin, as these can cut and injure your dog.
  • Wash and dry. Gently wash the area and dry it thoroughly. Keep it dry and open to the air at all times. If you have a veterinary-approved antimicrobial/antiseptic scrub like chlorhexidine, you can use that to clean the hotspot. Do not use any other cleansers, hydrogen peroxide, or alcohol on the hotspot, as these will cause further irritation and damage the skin.
  • Avoid ointments. Avoid putting any ointments on the lesion. Ointments can attract debris and may not be safe if your dog licks at the site. It's also important to let the hotspot dry out rather than keeping it moist.
  • Keep an eye on it. Monitor the area for signs of infection. If the hotspot does not appear to be healing within a few days, you should see your vet.

When to Seek Veterinary Care

Anytime your dog develops a hotspot, it is best to have it evaluated by your veterinarian. They can identify the root cause of the hotspot (allergies, parasites, ear infection, etc.) and make recommendations to prevent future lesions. Depending on the severity of the spot, they may also recommend medication, such as an antihistamine, tapering dose of oral steroid, pain medication, or a topical spray for dogs.

A hotspot with a secondary bacterial infection will require antibiotic treatment. See your vet right away if you notice significant swelling or an opaque discharge from the hotspot.

Hotspot Prevention

Preventing hotspots is typically easier than treating them. Keep these strategies in mind to prevent your dog from developing these uncomfortable abrasions.

  • Keep your pet on a monthly flea preventative medication, as fleas are one of the most common underlying triggers associated with hotspots.
  • Groom your pet regularly and brush out any mats they may have.
  • Dry your dog thoroughly after baths or swimming to prevent moisture buildup on the skin -- this is particularly important in the summer and with long-haired dogs.
  • Maintain your pet's coat health with a nutritious diet. Ask your vet about whether your dog would benefit from a fatty acid supplement.
  • Address any food, seasonal, or environmental allergies your dog may have.
  • Prevent licking or chewing out of boredom by keeping your pup well-exercised and mentally stimulated.

Could My Dog Have Hotspots?

Hotspots are quite distinct from other canine skin conditions, given their oozy and weepy appearance. Catching these spots early can help prevent secondary infections. If you are worried that your dog has a hotspot, promptly identify the abrasion and prevent your dog from licking or chewing on it to start the healing process.

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How to Spot & Treat Hotspots on Dogs (Properly)