Signs and Causes of Hot Spots

Hot spots are common skin lesions usually caused by biting, licking or scratching.  They are localized areas of skin inflammation and infection also known as acute moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis. 

Hot spots are characterized by:

  • Rapid onset. A unique characteristic of hot spots is the suddenness with which they appear, often developing and enlarging within just a few hours. The spot appears as a moist, yellow lesion surrounded by a reddened ring of irritation. The spot feels warm to the touch, has a distinctive odor and is often very painful. Some dogs lick, chew or scratch at the affected area, causing further irritation.
  • Initial skin trauma. Hot spots are usually initiated by mild trauma to the skin, such as biting or scratching from fleas or allergies, an abrasion or a site of matted or damp hair. These conditions allow bacteria to grow, which leads to bacterial overgrowth and infection. Although hot spots can develop anywhere on the body, they are most common on the head, chest, behind or under the ears and around the hip.
  • Susceptible breeds. Hot spots are more common in long-coated breeds of dogs, in particular those with a dense undercoat. Examples include Collies, German Shepherds, Newfoundlands and Golden Retrievers. Some individual dogs are particularly susceptible and may suffer from multiple and recurrent infections.

Tips for Preventing Hot Spots

Frequent grooming and close attention to your dog’s coat can help to prevent hot spots from developing. Here are a few tips:
  • Regular grooming and bathing. Dogs that have repeated problems with hot spots often benefit from keeping their coats clean. Thorough grooming should include checking for matts, regular ear cleaning, and if needed, expression of the anal glands.
  • Proper drying. Make sure that you thoroughly dry your dog’s coat all the way down to the skin following a swim, bath or outing in the rain. This is especially important during periods of hot, humid weather.
  • Controlling allergies and external parasites. Because self-trauma can initiate or worsen a hot spot, controlling a dog’s overall itchiness and allergic responses can reduce your dog’s risk of hot spots. Adhere to an effective flea and tick control program to prevent parasite infestations, and monitor your dog for seasonal allergies. Ask your veterinarian about the best products to use for flea control and allergy management.
When to See Your Veterinarian

You should visit your vet as soon as you suspect (or find) a hot spot on your dog because even a small hot spot can enlarge rapidly and become infected and more difficult to treat. Treatment is directed toward cleaning the area and enabling fresh air to dry the surface of the affected skin:

  • Shaving and cleaning. The hair surrounding the lesion is clipped away and the skin gently cleansed with a non-irritating and drying antiseptic.
  • Medication. Since all hot spots are different, your veterinarian is the best one to determine if any topical or oral medications are needed.
  • Protective collar. If a dog continues to attempt to lick or bite the affected area, a protective collar may be recommended to prevent further self-induced trauma.