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Your Dog’s Unseen Adversary: The Hot Spot Challenge

Join the fight against the invisible nemesis that preys on our canine companions, causing untold misery.

hot spots dogs


  • If your dog has a hot spot, it means she has an itchy, inflamed area of skin that she’s obsessively scratching, licking, and/or biting, creating an open sore
  • Hot spots can develop very quickly (e.g., within hours), and are irritating and painful for your dog and sensitive to the touch
  • Treating a hot spot effectively means not only healing the wound, but also healing the underlying cause to prevent recurrence

Dogs can develop a number of different skin conditions such as rashes, scabs, lumps, bumps, and general irritation, but one of the most common is the dreaded hot spot.

Hot Spots Are Unmistakable

Hot spots are raw, painful areas of red, inflamed skin. The fur over and around the spot is often missing, having been licked, rubbed, or bitten off. The area may also be crusty, with an unpleasant odor.

The medical term for hot spots is pyotraumatic dermatitis, acute moist dermatitis, or superficial pyoderma. But hot spot is actually a better descriptive term for your poor dog’s itchy, inflamed, infected skin.

Hot spots can develop anywhere on a dog’s body, but are most often found on the face, neck, limbs, or hips. The size and appearance of the lesions can vary depending on where they are, but most are unmistakably hot spots. They appear quickly and grow much larger in a matter of days.

Hot spots can come on so quickly, in fact, that you might leave your perfectly comfortable dog one morning to go to work, and by the time you arrive home, he’s obsessed with an area of skin that has become irritated, inflamed, and oozing — seemingly out of nowhere.

Hot spots, while irritating to dogs and a challenge for dog owners to treat, are typically relatively minor and heal quickly. However, they have the potential to cause more serious issues, such as widespread infection or significant skin ulcerations.

Causes of Hot Spots

Anything that causes your dog to scratch, lick, or bite at an area of skin, such as flea bites or seasonal allergies, can set the stage for a hot spot.

Hot spots can also develop when a dog’s gut-skin microbiome axis is unbalanced, leading to natural bacteria that overpopulates areas of his skin. An infection arising from a dog’s own bacteria almost always suggests a root cause, such as an underperforming immune system or gut dysbiosis. Once the skin is red and raw, it’s primed for infection, which creates a vicious cycle of itching, scratching, and further trauma to the skin.

Any dog can develop the condition, but it’s most commonly seen in dogs with gut disease, thick coats, dirty and/or moist skin, and dogs with allergies, including flea allergies.

Treating Hot Spots

  • Step 1: Shave — Shave the hair on, in and around the affected area. The thought of this might make you cringe a bit, but if you don’t take off the hair, it will become trapped in the wound by pus, and you’ll have a much harder time healing the hot spot. In fact, hair in and around the affected area can create a perfect environment for the wound to enlarge and the infection to get worse. So, I recommend you shave the area of the hot spot, and then mark the edges of the lesion with a Sharpie type pen so you can tell if the infection is expanding.

    If the infection continues to spread, you know you’re not treating it effectively at home and you should get your dog to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

    Some hot spots can result in fever and serious underlying skin problems, so if you see the wound getting worse instead of better after a couple of days, it’s time to seek veterinary care.

    Once you’ve shaved the area and identified the margins, clip the hair back until you see healthy skin.
  • Step 2: Disinfect — Once the hair has been shaved, you can begin gently disinfecting the wound with a solution that will remove bacteria. I recommend using povidone iodine (brand name Betadine). It’s organic, has no side effects, and is effective at controlling most skin bacteria. Dilute the solution with purified water until it’s the color of iced tea. Apply it to the wound using a soft washcloth or gauze.

    For the first couple of days there will probably be quite a bit of oozing from the wound, so you’ll need to repeat the disinfecting procedure as often as necessary to keep the area clean, dry, and pus free. Initially, you might need to disinfect the wound as often as every two hours. Depending on the severity of the infection and the amount of pus, disinfecting two times a day should be an absolute minimum.
  • Step 3: Soothe — After you clean the wound, I recommend applying a topical solution like colloidal silver, raw aloe, a thin layer of manuka honey, or hold a cool chamomile tea bag against the wound to provide a soothing effect.

    Be sure not to use anything that might aggravate an open, raw wound. Solutions like vinegar or tea tree oil have antimicrobial properties, but can cause significant pain when applied to an open sore.

    Repeat the disinfecting procedure and application of a light, natural topical soothing gel afterwards three times daily until the wound shrinks in size, the infection clears, and your dog is no longer obsessing over the hot spot.
  • Step 4: Protect — Ensuring your pet leaves the hot spot alone is critical to healing. If she continues to re-traumatize the wound, the infection won’t clear up and the hot spot will get bigger.

    You’ll probably need to put an E-collar on your dog to prevent her from licking and biting at the affected skin. An alternative might be to apply a light wrap or put a t-shirt on her. Just make sure she can’t get her mouth or paws on the wound. After addressing the wound(s), begin investigating why your pup developed the lesion(s).

What’s Causing Your Dog’s Hot Spots?

To help your furry family member heal and prevent future hot spots, it’s important to try to find and resolve the root cause.

  • Food allergies can cause hot spots. If you notice that each time your dog eats a certain type of food he gets a hot spot, or has been fed one type of pet food and has recurrent hotspots, there’s a very good chance he has an allergy to an ingredient in the food. If that’s the case, you’ll want to evaluate the ingredients in the food and make adjustments as necessary, as dictated by food hypersensitivity diagnostics. I recommend stopping ultraprocessed food altogether and trying a novel protein, fresher food diet.
  • Environmental allergies can also cause hot spots. Ragweed, grasses, pollens, and molds are typical allergens; so are polluted water and dirty air. You’ll need to evaluate not only your dog’s diet, but also her environment to search for sources of allergens that could be causing hot spots, including dust mites.
  • Flea allergy dermatitis is also a major reason why animals get hot spots. You might not even be able to see the fleas, but if your dog is sensitive, the bite of just one flea can cause a raging hot spot. Check your pet with a flea comb for fleas and flea dirt regularly.
  • Underlying painful conditions can cause hot spots. For example, if you have an older dog who has never suffered from hot spots but suddenly starts bothering the skin over a hip joint, it could be a response to arthritis pain. If your pet has sciatica, which is an irritated, tingling nerve pain, you might notice him chewing on an ankle or a toe.
  • Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency. Marine-sourced DHA and EPA are called “essential” fatty acids because they must be supplied in your dog’s diet. Sadly, these physiologically required fatty acids aren’t required by AAFCO, the organization that sets pet food minimum nutritional requirements. Supplying sustainably sourced krill oil (or other clean source of DHA and EPA), helps reduce chronic skin inflammation and the need for atopy drugs.1
  • Sometimes there are underlying mental or emotional causes for a dog’s hot spots, such as a compulsive disorder, separation anxiety, or even boredom. Behavioral issues can cause licking and chewing which creates hot spots.

As you can see, it can be very challenging to discover the cause of your dog’s hot spots, but if you treat only the wound and don’t find the source of the problem, there’s a good chance the condition will recur. If you need help discerning the underlying reason why your dog acquired a hotspot and don’t have access to a proactive, wellness, or integrative veterinarian in your area, consider a telemedicine consultation.

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