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Hot Spots on Dogs: Causes + Home Remedies

Dogs love to lick, but when you see your dog furiously and repeatedly licking the same area of their body, it can quickly turn into the dreaded dog hot spots or acute moist dermatitis. Learn more about this common skin infliction and the common causes and treatments of dermatitis in dogs. 

Dogs will lick just about everything within their reach, and they often lick themselves as a simple self-grooming technique.

Sometimes though, a dog's itch or anxiety causes their licking habits to grow out of control, and you might start to see hot spots on dogs' tail areas, paws, or other parts of the body. 

These red skin irritations, also called moist dermatitis, can be inflamed, infected, and can often need treatment. Your dog only needs a few minutes of intense licking to inflict some severe damage to their skin!

Find out more about the causes of hot spots in dogs, how to treat hot spots on dogs, and important considerations for preventing hot spots at home!

What are Hot Spots on Dogs?

  • A hotspot is an infected, inflamed, and red area that can appear on any part of your dog's skin. 
  • Dog hot spots have an angry look to them and are usually moist and oozing with fluid or blood. Sometimes, the area's hair falls out, so the hot spot may be bald or still contain fur.
  • Its technical name is moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis. It occurs when a dog's skin bacteria grow out of control, which causes the skin to itch - a dog then continually licks, chews, and scratches the area, causing surface damage and a moist, open wound over time.
  • Hot spots cause our pups a lot of pain, making your dog sensitive to touch and exhibit some other out-of-character behaviors. 

Be aware and watch a dog prone to hot spots - dogs are such effective lickers, they can cause a hot spot to form in just a few short minutes. 

What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?

The causes of hot spots are varied, and many - and not all of them are caused by an actual physical condition. 

Here are the most common causes for the development of puppy hot spots:

  • Allergies. Any environmental or food allergies can cause a dog's skin to become itchy and irritated. 
  • Fleas or Mites. Any surface parasite will make your pup's skin itch as they crawl around between their fur. 
  • Insect Bites or Wounds. Skin damage itches due to inflammation and as a part of the normal healing process but, unfortunately, dogs don't understand these wounds need to be left alone. 
  • Bacterial Infection. Dogs can pick up staph or other bacterial infections in the same way as humans, which causes irritation and itch.
  • Boredom or Stress. Licking is a self-soothing habit, so if your dog feels emotionally unsettled or restless, they may begin to start licking in overdrive. 
  • Ear Infections and Anal Gland Inflammation. These infections are relatively painful and itchy, which can cause excessive licking and hot spot development. 
  • Excessive Skin Moisture. If your pup swims all the time, the extra moisture on their skin may lead to infections and extra itch.

How Can you Find Hot Spots on a Dog?

Sometimes, hot spots can be hard to spot, especially in extra-furry, long-coated fur babies like German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Labs, Golden Retrievers, and Saint Bernards.

They tend to develop more often in hot weather months when the skin sees more constant moisture, which helps bacteria quickly grow out of control.

The most significant signs you'll see if your dog develops a hot spot are:

  • Excessive and almost aggressive-looking licking and chewing; 
  • Your dog may seem to be in pain and whine more often, or exhibit some significant changes in their behavior, like becoming aggressive to your touch.
  • The area may be wet with pus or a dried crust, and the site may have lost all fur, or the wound may be underneath a thick layer of hair, making it harder to spot.
  • You may also notice a funky odor coming from your pup as the infection grows out of control.

Hot spots quickly develop into more significant lesions when left untreated, so it's essential to do a complete body exam if you suspect your pup has a hot spot. 

How to Treat Hot Spots at Home

Depending on the severity, you may be able to treat your pup's minor hot spots at home. 

Here's a rundown on what you should for effective hot spots on dogs treatment:

  1. Consult your vet before beginning any treatment (Read more below about possible vet treatments).
  2. Clip the fur around the area with clippers, not scissors, to minimize accidental skin wounds. 
  3. Place a plastic cone on your pup's head as needed - they'll hate you for it, but you need to ensure they stop licking the area immediately. You can remove the cone whenever you're able to keep an eye on your dog to prevent licking. 
  4. Apply a clean, warm, and moist washcloth to the area for 5-10 minutes, 3x per day, until the wound heals. The compress will soothe pain, increase circulation, and promote faster healing. 
  5. Use pain treatments, hot spot sprays, or ointments only as directed by your vet. Keep the wound open and exposed to the air at all times - do not bandage, as it will trap moisture and slow healing. 

Look Into Underlying Issues

If your dog's hot spot doesn't heal on its own or it keeps recurring, there is likely an underlying condition - around 30% of dogs with hot spots have another skin disease or more serious infection. 

Take your pup to the vet in the case of large, extra-painful hot spots you can't easily treat without sedation, and if you suspect your dog has another issue that needs resolving. 

Your pup may require pain medications, anti-inflammatories, or oral antibiotics to treat the issues. 

Final Notes: How Do You Prevent Hot Spots on Dogs?

Now that you're armed with the simple knowledge to treat your pet's hot spots learn how to prevent them and avoid some future stress for both of you!

Ensure you have a proper flea control program in place, and always dry your dog's coat well after swimming, especially in the hot, humid summer. 

Bathe, groom, and trim fur often to avoid bacterial buildups - if bathtime is a struggle for you two, learn how to bathe a dog with ease.  

Keep your pup's boredom and stress at bay with lots of attention and playtime, and feed your doggo foods high in fatty acids that will keep their skin and coat in good health!

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