What to Do If Your Dog Has a Hot Spot

Is your dog suffering from hot spots? If he can’t stop licking, biting, or scratching an itchy red sore, your pup may indeed have a hot spot, also known as moist dermatitis or “summer sores.” Read on to learn what hot spots are, how to identify them, and most importantly, how to treat them.

What is a hot spot, anyway?

Hot spots are inflamed and/or infected lesions on your dog’s skin that crop up when skin irritation or a small wound is moist. Often, hot spots look like a wet scab; they ooze. Hot spots are painful for your dog, and bacterial infection can spread easily. Because skin irritations are hard for dogs to stop licking, scratching, or biting, it can be hard for them to heal on their own.

Risk factors for hot spots

What causes hot spots, and why do some dogs suffer from them more than others? Your dog is more likely to get hot spots if she has allergies, fleas, or other parasites; frequent skin or ear infections; or a long coat or a double coat. Water-loving pups also carry a higher risk factor, because damp fur is an ideal place for hot spot-causing bacteria to grow.

How to treat a hot spot

Because hot spots can be painful, you need to be very cautious if treating them at home. Some dogs also need prescription antibiotics if the infection is severe. Therefore, it’s always best to have a hot spot evaluated by your veterinarian.

If you can’t make it to the vet right away, however, there are a few “stop-gap” measures you can try at home to give your pup some relief. Here’s a thorough five-step process for treating hot spots:

  1. Carefully trim the fur around the lesion. If you’re using scissors, be sure to hold them so the blades are parallel to your dog’s skin, so that you don’t accidentally cut your dog if she jumps or moves suddenly. If the affected area is large, consider shaving it. Fur traps moisture against your dog’s skin, which needs to be dry to heal. (You may need to have a veterinarian shave or clip your dog if her hot spot is especially painful.)

  2. Clean the affected area with warm water, and gently pat dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.

  3. Apply a small amount of an over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment to stop itching and aid healing. However, be aware that OTC medications are not as effective as vet-prescribed hydrocortisone sprays and creams, so if your dog doesn’t seem more comfortable in a day or two, a trip to the vet may be in order.

  4. Prevent your dog from biting, licking, or scratching the hot spot. Hot spots heal better when they are clean and dry, so you’ll want to avoid bandages—exposure to air is good. However, that means a plastic cone, or Elizabethan collar, will probably be necessary. (Our apologies to your dog!) In some cases, your vet may prescribe a short course of an allergy medication or an anti-inflammatory to make your dog more comfortable.

  5. Be vigilant and keep an eye on the hot spot. If it spreads, your dog may need to visit the vet for oral antibiotics, another topical medication, pain medications, or allergy medications.

A hot spot is easier to prevent than to treat, so try to keep your dog free of hot spots by grooming her regularly and keeping her up to date on flea and tick medication.

How long does it take for a hot spot to heal?

It often takes about a week after treatment begins for a hot spot to dry out and begin to heal. Once a hot spot is dry and no longer oozes, continue to keep the area clean and dry. In about two weeks, your dog’s fur will begin to grow back. Consider consulting with your veterinarian about dietary supplements that contain essential fatty acids to help hair grow in and reduce itching.

Can a dog’s hot spot go away on its own?

Unfortunately, a hot spot won’t go away on its own, especially since dogs have a hard time leaving their irritated skin alone.

A hot spot is easier to prevent than to treat, so try to keep your dog free of hot spots by grooming her regularly and keeping her up to date on flea and tick medication. If your dog likes to go swimming, do your best to make sure she’s completely dry as soon as possible after leaving the water, especially if she has long hair or a double coat.

Is apple cider vinegar good for dog hot spots?

Apple cider vinegar is not a scientifically tested hot spot treatment. Some people claim that apple cider vinegar causes a cooling sensation, and thus may be appropriate for small topical problems, such as hot spots. Unfortunately, it will sting an open wound, which isn’t cooling at all!

The best course of action: as soon as you identify a hot spot on your dog, head to the vet clinic. Following a veterinarian-prescribed treatment plan will knock your dog’s hot spot out cold, and help her feel cool as a cucumber.

Our medical experts

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