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What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?

hot spots on dogs

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What Is a Hot Spot on a Dog?

Dog hot spots may sound like trendy venues to hang out with your pooch, but they’re actually painful skin infections that can affect your furry friend. If you catch this common dog skin condition early, you might be able to treat it at home. Just be warned:  hot spots on dogs can turn into raw, infected wounds very quickly—and like many other dog skin conditions, require a visit to the veterinarian to properly treat.

What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?

To prevent hot spots on dogs, it helps to first know what causes hot spots on dogs. “Basically, a hot spot is caused by anything that makes a dog so crazy itchy that he bites or scratches himself raw,” says Betsy Brevitz, DVM, author of The Complete Healthy Dog Handbook. Common triggers include allergies, bug bites and even ear infections. Your dog’s constant gnawing and scratching at the itchy area damages the top layer of skin and causes a sore. “Then, whatever bacteria are on his claws and his mouth will cause the area to get infected,” she says.

How to Treat Hot Spots

If you catch the hot spot early enough—you notice your furball is scratching or biting in a particular place—you can treat it at home, says Dr. Brevitz. First, clip some fur away from your dog’s red skin; carefully avoiding the wound and surrounding area. “But only use a pair of clippers, never scissors,” warns Dr. Brevitz. “It’s too easy to cut an animal’s skin with scissors.” If you are not confident in clipping the hair, skip this step.

Next, wash the area with mild soap and water. You can also use a hot spot and itch-alleviating shampoo—like the Veterinary Formula Clinical Care medicated shampoo—for added relief. Once you’ve cleaned the hot spot, apply some cortisone cream or a spray, like the Veterinary Formula Clinical Care Hot Spot & Itch Relief Spray or Vetericyn Plus All Animal Hot Spot Spray. If you prefer an all-natural solution, use an aloe-based product, like DerMagic Hot Spot Salve. While some natural-remedy experts swear by coconut oil for dog hot spots, Dr. Brevitz recommends this rule of thumb: Don’t put anything on your dog that you wouldn’t use yourself, and don’t use something that will sting, burn or otherwise create more discomfort.

You also need to prevent your pet from licking or scratching the wound for 48 hours, says Dr. Brevitz. Your pooch will have to wear an Elizabethan collar or a recovery suit for a couple of days.

If you’ve noticed that the hot spot is not healing or getting worse, then it is time to visit your veterinarian. To clear up the infection, your veterinarian will give your pup antibiotics and a medication, like a short-acting steroid, to stop the itch.

Tips to Prevent Hot Spots on Dogs

Now that you know what causes hot spots on dogs, you can try to prevent them from happening. If your furball seems itchier in the spring and fall, you might talk to your veterinarian about giving her an antihistamine to prevent her from scratching. Never give your pup allergy medications without consulting your vet.

If you have a Golden Retriever, or any heavy-coated dog that loves to swim in the summer, make sure you towel her off soon after swimming to prevent her skin from turning itchy, recommends Dr. Brevitz.

Some breeds are more prone to frequent ear infections—one of the potential causes of hot spots on dogs. These include Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Goldens and Labrador Retrievers. To help prevent ear infections, you can try cleaning their ears out once a week so the debris that collects in the ear canal doesn’t turn into a breeding ground for bacteria, Dr. Brevitz says.

One thing to keep in mind is that “A hot spot has a definite trigger. Once the wound clears up, the dog stops licking, scratching and biting,” says Dr. Brevitz. If you find your dog is licking himself excessively, you must also consider that he may be anxious or bored—and may require another form of treatment. Seek help from your veterinarian to determine whether the underlying cause is physical or behavioral.