Skip to main content
Hot Spots and Your Dog

Hot Spots and Your Dog

By Mark Hale DVM

Bolivar, MO


            A "hot spot' is a localized area of skin inflammation and infection. Other common names for this condition include moist dermatitis or acute moist dermatitis. These skin lesions are usually worsened by biting, licking, or scratching. This very common problem, especially in the summer months, can be caused by any number of things. The most common cause, however, is allergies. This may be a local allergic reaction, such as an insect sting. Or it may be a more generalized allergy, such as is seen with flea bite dermatitis. Small wounds or scrapes, as well as a tick bite may also induce formation of hot spots.

            Signs of a hot spot include redness, pain, and itchiness. Hair loss usually follows. Sometimes the hair can mat over the lesion, obscuring the size and severity of the problem. These lesions can appear suddenly, and grow rapidly. It is common for an owner to notice a small area of inflamed skin in the morning, and come home from work to find a large area the size of your hand. The dog is usually highly agitated and may even snap if the area is touched. In thick coated breeds such as Chows or Malamutes the lesions can quickly become severe and sometimes have maggots present by the time they are discovered.

            Treatment of hot spots includes three things: cleaning the exudates, anti-inflammatories, and promoting drying of the area. Usually the best results are achieved by clipping and bathing the affected area, including a margin of normal skin around the periphery. This is followed by some type of cortisone, either injectable or oral. Several different sprays are available that can help dry the lesions as well as kill surface bacteria. If the infection is very deep in the skin, an antibiotic is also advisable. One word of warning is that since these areas are so painful, a normally placid pet may bite or refuse treatment. It is sometimes necessary to sedate a pet to do a thorough job clipping and bathing.

            Prevention of moist dermatitis includes anything to help control allergies. Since fleas and ticks can be the most common causes, using a good preventative year round is best. Frontline Plus is, and has been, a great product for flea and tick control. If you are using a good product such as Frontline or Advantix and are still seeing fleas, then the environment is to blame. These products are killing the fleas but new fleas are getting on your pet just as quickly. This scenario can usually be avoided by treating all pets all year.  Skipping doses allows fleas to feed and lay hundreds of eggs to hatch later. A new prescription flea tablet, Comfortis, has shown great results in flea allergic dogs because it kills the fleas so much faster than other products. Other preventive measures include frequent brushing and grooming to avoid mats. Also having long haired dogs clipped during warmer months can sometimes help.

            If your pet is biting and scratching itself more than usual, check its skin thoroughly. If he/she continues or has any spots you question, please make an appointment with your pets' veterinarian. Early diagnosis and treatment may help prevent a worse condition and help give you and your pet some needed relief.