Hot Spots

November 15th, 2008

This article first appeared in the November/December 2006 issue of Dogs Life.

Does your dog suffer from allergies and skin irritations? Sometimes they can become serious and cause your dog a lot of pain and discomfort. Michelle Minehan finds out how to treat hot spots and prevent them from re-occuring in the future.


A hot spot is a descriptive term veterinarians use to describe a very sore, weeping, ulcerated infection of the skin. Dogs Life spoke to veterinarian Dr Mark Allison from Balgownie Veterinary Hospital in Wollongong, NSW, about hot spots and how they can be treated.


Hot spots are a localised area of skin inflammation and infection on your pooch, explained Allison. They can appear on any part of the body and are made worse by the dog scratching or licking the area.

Hot spots are a common skin problem for dogs, he said, but that does not mean they should be overlooked or ignored.

The initial damage is caused by dogs excessively licking or scratching an area of inflammation, said Allison. The bacteria in the mouth jump onto the damaged skin surface and establish a base for multiplying and getting into the deeper skin layers. This is known medically as pyoderma.

The infection causes even more inflammation and itchiness and as the dog licks the area more and more, the condition becomes a vicious cycle, he said.

Painful for dogs

These troublesome sores are extremely irritating and can get quite painful for dogs; they also spread extremely quickly. This means that once they are noticed, it is vital treatment takes place immediately, stressed Allison.


There is not one individual cause for hot spots. Hot Spots are very common as there are many possible causes for dogs to lick or scratch, he said. For example, flea allergy, insect bite, infected ear, blocked anal glands and arthritic pain.

Although the causes of hot spots do vary, with many different triggers, it is important to discover the underlying problem so it can be prevented from happening again in the future.

Hot spots common when warm

Hot Spots can happen at any time of the year in any environment, howe’ver they are more common in the warmer months of the year when:

         Bacteria find it easier to live on the skin surface or deep in warm, humid ear canals (especially when swimming).

         There is not enough shampooing of susceptible pets with high-quality medicated shampoos, eg. Dermcare range.

         Fleas are much more common.

         There are more pollen, moulds, fungi, weeds and grasses in the air and environment.

Identifying a hot spot is pretty easy, as from the moment they first occur, they develop rapidly and grow much bigger by the hour, pointed out Allison.

However, if your dog has long or matted hair, it can be difficult to recognise the hot spot and in that case, it is important to know the signs.

The first sign of a hot spot is the dog licking itself excessively, says Allison A close look shows hair matted with fresh and dried pus. When parted, there is an area of intense skin inflammation, which is the pyoderma.

Treatment of hot spots

A dog with a hot spot must see a vet as soon as possible as the irritation can easily double in size every six to 12 hours and cause lots of pain to the dog, Allison said.


If you notice your pooch has a suspicious skin lesion that looks like a hot spot, the best thing to do is take him to the vet. This is extremely important if its the first time you notice one. They can look quite scary and in the future, you will know how to prevent them from occurring.

If the hot spot has been left for too long, the vet may need to sedate and sometimes anaesthetise the dog to properly clip and scrub the hot spot, said Allison. Many different things can trigger hot spots, so its important to prevent this from occurring by giving your pooch all the medications and preventatives necessary.

High-quality flea prevention and medicated shampoos are essential for prevention, he added, but get advice from your vet as to the best products for your particular dog.

Allison pointed out that if there is a history of arthritis, the vet may wish to try some of the newer anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the heat and the swelling.

Treatment for hot spots

The first thing to do is speak with your veterinarian. Due to the quick spread and possibility of deeper skin infections, it is wise to start treatment with your vet, Dr Allison told Dogs Life.


Treatment for hot spots usually involves:

         Clipping the hot spot and scrubbing it with a soothing anti-bacterial shampoo or wash this exposes the bacteria to sun and air.

         Performing skin scrapes to rule out any mange (demodex) mites.

         If an ear infection is present, examining a swab to determine which bacteria/yeast are the culprits.

         Dispensing medications to lessen the pain and itchiness, including:

         Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) the vet may wish to check the kidney or liver function before using NSAIDs or steroids, especially if its an older dog.

         Steroid-based drugs; for example, cortisone tablets or injections.

         Treating the underlying disease; for example, flea preventatives, anti-arthritis medications, mange treatments, etc.

         Broad-spectrum antibiotics; for example, cephalosporins and clavulinic acid, for a minimum of 10 to 14 days.

Hot spots seen in certain breeds

Hot spots are not breed specific, howe’ver some dogs do tend to get them more than others, said Allison. Hot spots are seen in any breed of dog, but more commonly in thick-coated breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers and German Shepherds, he said.


Warmer, humid climates also pre-dispose dogs to hot spots. Untreated hot spots get bigger and bigger and can even affect most of the body, causing large amounts of pain and unnecessary suffering, he said. Remember, if seen by a vet as early as possible, treatment will be less involved, less expensive and much less painful for the dog.

If the underlying cause of hot spots is:

Tangled or matted hair: Put the dog on a regular grooming schedule either at home or at your local grooming salon. Certain long-haired breeds, such as Sheepdogs, Collies and Shih Tzus, are more susceptible as they have hair that tangles easily. These breeds should be groomed at least twice a week so that mats do not form. Never bathe a dog with matted or tangled hair. Make sure you comb all the knots out first and if you cannot comb them out easily, clip them or get them clipped by your groomer.

Allergies: Begin a campaign to rid your home and yard of fleas or whatever it may be that your pooch is allergic to. Your best bet is to talk with your vet about the best plan to reduce allergy triggers for your dog. Household dust, plant pollen, lawn chemicals and diet can all cause allergies. Frequent vacuuming and cleaning of the house and dogs kennel or sleeping area can help reduce the threat of causing an allergic reaction. Medicated shampoos with oatmeal, aloe or jojoba can help too.

Behavioural: If your pooch doesn’t have allergies, fleas or a more serious skin condition, but is bored, stressed or lonely, this can trigger excessive and constant licking and/or scratching. This means that the cause of the hot spots is simply behavioural and small changes need to be made to ensure your pet is happy and content. It means your dog may need more exercise, playtime and, most importantly, attention. This can be the easiest or hardest treatment to act on because there is no quick-fix, and hard work and consistency need to be implemented.


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