How to Treat Hot Spots in Dogs

A hot spot, or what veterinarians term “acute moist dermatitis,” is a painful and inflamed area of the skin that is often accompanied by discharge and a bad odor. Hot spots occur via allergic reactions to bacterial skin infections often caused by a lesion or wound. Skin breaks, lesions, and wounds can have a variety of causes, including flea bites, scratches, scrapes or nicks, anal gland problems, and underlying allergies. Dogs often itch and scratch skin breaks and wounds to such an extent that wet scabs form on the fur.[1] Hot spots can be painful for dogs and can become very large quite quickly. It is important to seek prompt and adequate treatment if you notice a hot spot on your dog.[2]


EditIdentifying Hot Spots

  1. Watch your dog. Notice if your dog scratches or licks a particular spot constantly. This is usually a sign that he is suffering from some sort of skin irritation.
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  2. Part and inspect your dog’s fur. Examine more closely the problem area you have identified. Hot spots can be difficult to see with the naked eye because they tend to spread under the cover of the dog’s fur. Usually by the time you notice them, hot spots are well established and growing rapidly. [3]
    Treat Hot Spots in Dogs Step 2 Version 2.jpg
  3. Identify that you are dealing with a hot spot. Hot spots are red, moist, hot and irritated rashes. Other identifiers of hot spots include discharge and an unpleasant odor.[4]
    Treat Hot Spots in Dogs Step 3 Version 2.jpg
    • Hot spots are most commonly found on a dog’s head, hip or chest area.
    • Dogs with long hair and thick coats are most commonly affected.
    • Dogs who are not groomed regularly and have matted coats are also prone to developing hot spots, as are dogs who swim or are frequently in the rain.[5]
    • Dogs with hip dysplasia or anal sac disease are also more likely to suffer from hot spots because they tend to lick the skin on their hind end.[6]
  4. Check areas surrounding the hot spot. If you do identify a hot spot, take some time to carefully check the rest of the dog’s skin. Part the fur in the area surrounding the hot spot and examine for any other moist or reddened areas. All spots need to be treated immediately and, if possible, you should try to ascertain the underlying cause of the hot spot (flea bite, scratch, allergy, etc.).[7]
    Treat Hot Spots in Dogs Step 4 Version 2.jpg
  5. Contact your vet. If this is your dog’s first hot spot, seeing a vet is crucial. Your vet can give you an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.[8]
    Treat Hot Spots in Dogs Step 5 Version 2.jpg

EditCleaning the Affected Area

  1. Trim or clip the hair from the surface of the hot spot. Exposing the hot spot to air will dry out the moisture and help speed up the healing process. Be careful not to pull the hair, irritate the skin or cut your dog’s skin.[9]
    Treat Hot Spots in Dogs Step 6.jpg
    • Disinfect your scissors or clippers before clipping. In cases where there is a lot of discharge emerging from the hot spot, you will need to clean your clippers frequently while removing hair. Otherwise, the clippers will become plugged with debris. Remember to clean and disinfect the instrument after use.[10]
    • Have your dog sit or lie down for this process. Get a second person if you need help keeping the dog still.
    • To avoid accidentally cutting your dog’s skin, don’t cut too close to the skin itself and instead leave a quarter inch of stubble.[11]
    • If the affected area is too large, shave it.[12]
  2. Clean the wound. Use an antimicrobial shampoo that you can purchase at a vet’s office or a pharmacy for humans.[13]
    Treat Hot Spots in Dogs Step 7.jpg
    • A good product will contain chlorhexidine as an ingredient.[14]
    • You can also clean the area with a mild, water-based astringent or antiseptic spray.[15]
    • Consult your veterinarian before use of any product on a hot spot.[16]
  3. Leave the antimicrobial shampoo on the dog for 10 minutes. This will allow the medication in the shampoo to settle into the affected area and begin working. Rinse thoroughly after 10 minutes and dry the affected area completely.[17]
    Treat Hot Spots in Dogs Step 8.jpg
    • If using an alternative solution, read and follow the accompanying instructions on how to apply.
  4. Apply an antibiotic ointment or spray. Your vet will usually prescribe a topical medication, such as a Gentamicin or Betamethasone spray. Your vet may also recommend oral antibiotics, depending on the situation.[18]
    Treat Hot Spots in Dogs Step 9.jpg
    • You can apply an antibiotic treatment on the wound up to three times per day.[19]
  5. Keep the area dry. The air will help the wound heal more effectively, whereas more moisture will facilitate the wound’s growth.
    Treat Hot Spots in Dogs Step 10.jpg
    • Keep in mind that hot spots can’t be covered with a bandage because this traps moisture in and thereby worsens the wound.[20]
  6. Inspect the wound twice daily. If there is a buildup of discharge, repeat the shampoo process (shampoo, rinse, dry) to keep the wound clean.[21]
    Treat Hot Spots in Dogs Step 11.jpg
  7. Check the dog’s entire body for any new or developing hot spots. This check should be done daily, particularly if it is hot or humid out.
    Treat Hot Spots in Dogs Step 12.jpg

EditPreventing Further Injury

  1. Stop the itch. Hydrocortisone spray and Benadryl tablets work well. The appropriate dosage is 1 tablet per 50 pounds.
    Treat Hot Spots in Dogs Step 13.jpg
    • Your vet may also prescribe steroids. Steroids work well for severe spots, but may cause side effects and can be harmful in the long-term. In addition, if the steroid is stopped before the spot is completely gone, the hot spot may come back and be worse than before.
    • Avoid using creams on the hot spot. Creams keep moisture in the area, and the spot needs to dry completely before it can heal.
  2. Use an Elizabethan collar if your dog keeps licking or biting the lesions. The cone-shaped collar will restrain your dog’s reach, making him unable to further irritate the wound.[22]
    Treat Hot Spots in Dogs Step 14.jpg
    • An Elizabethan collar should not be used as the sole means of treatment for hot spots. Collars don’t treat the hot spots but prevent your dog from making the lesions more severe. Untreated lesions will only grow and become more serious, in addition to being painful for your dog.[23]
    • You can wrap a sock around one of the dog’s rear feet and tape it into place if the hot spot can be scratched by a rear foot.
  3. Trim your dog’s toe nails. This keeps your dog from having a ready way to scratch the area and spread the infected discharge.[24]
    Treat Hot Spots in Dogs Step 15.jpg


  • Prevent hot spots. Make sure your dog is regularly groomed and that his hair is clipped short, particularly during the warm seasons. Be sure as well to follow a flea control program as advised by your vet. As a general rule, promptly treat any scratches, nicks or cuts and inspect them daily until they are fully treated.[25]
  • A number of conditions can cause a dog to develop a hot spot, but you can try to mitigate these conditions. For example, if your dog has a particular allergy or a food sensitivity, work with your veterinarian to decrease symptoms and flare ups.[26]


  • It’s a good practice to have your vet diagnose any and all skin rashes, abnormalities or wounds on your dog.
  • In severe cases, hot spots can do serious damage to the skin of a dog. Though scarring is rare, it can sometimes be a consequence of hot spots.[27]

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