Hot Spots in Dogs

Acute Moist Dermatitis (often called Hot Spots) are bacterial infections that form underneath the fur. They are usually red, raw, irritated, and very itchy. Hot spots are an extremely common condition, particularly for dogs in warm and humid weather. In this article, we will examine the nature, causes, and treatment of hot spots.

Hot spots are itchy, red, moist lesions under the skin which result from licking or scratching. They can manifest in a single area—often very large—or several lesions on different parts of the body. A hot spot develops when the P.H. of the skin changes, causing skin infection and the resulting itch-scratch cycle. In other words, moisture or humidity forms under the skin, which causes a favorable environment for bacteria.

This bacterial infection is very itchy and uncomfortable for your dog, which leads to your dog scratching. However, this reaction only makes the problem worse. Scratching leads to more infection and more itching, which leads to even more scratching as the infected area(s) grow larger and redder.

So how exactly does this vicious cycle start, and how can we prevent them? There are many underlying causes for hot spots. These include allergies, biting or itching from fleas, clipper burns from grooming, or and humidity or moisture under the fur. Identifying the cause of the hot spot is the key to preventing them from forming in the future. If a hot spot is caused by an underlying allergic condition, addressing that allergy will prevent future occurrences.

Though it’s important to identify the cause of hot spots for preventative purposes, the actual treatment for hot spots is the same, regardless of their origin. Treating a hot spot flare-up centers on changing the PH of that area, fighting the infection, and preventing licking/scratching. Here’s how your veterinarian will help address all three:

  1. A member of the veterinary team will very gently clip the fur away from the lesion, allowing the area to breathe and remove any excess humidity or moisture under the skin. After the lesion is clipped, a thorough cleaning will be performed with an antibacterial surgical scrub.

  2. The area is dried and allowed to air out. An E-collar is critical to help prevent your pet from licking, and if needed, a soft T-shirt can be added to help protect from scratching. This way, when your pet goes to scratch the area, they will instead hit the hanging portion of the T-shirt.

  3. Antibiotics are an important part of treating hot spots to eliminate the resulting infection on the skin. Your veterinarian will help choose the right antibiotic for your pet.

  4. Depending on the particular case, your veterinarian may recommend pain or itch relief medication to help your pet feel more comfortable during the healing process.

Treating Hot Spots on Your Dog

Fortunately, hot spots look a lot worse than they are, and most will heal quite well with a comprehensive treatment plan as outlined above. During your visit, a member of our World of Animals’ Veterinary Hospital will also discuss the underlying causes of hot spots and attempt to identify their underlying cause. Hot spots can be big, red, scabby, and rather unpleasant in how they look and how they feel on your dog. But with a little veterinary care and medication, we will have your pet’s tail wagging again and back to its happy self.


Jeffrey Stupine V.M.D.

Medical Director

World of Animals Veterinary Hospitals