Hotspots explained – How to Treat by Dr. Sarah Martin

A hot spot (acute moist dermatitis) is a superficial skin infection that results when the normal skin bacteria overrun the skin’s defenses as a result of damage to the skin surface. This is most often started by the dog or, less commonly the cat, chewing or scratching at the site.  At first the skin becomes moist, inflamed (red), pruritic (itchy), and infected.  Pus oozes from the damaged skin as bacterial infection sets in. The dried pus and damaged skin surface from the infection will form a tightly-adhered crust, and the dog will lose hair over the infection site. This is very uncomfortable for the dog and can be extremely painful, depending on the size and the location. They are SO itchy!!!

Hot spots can enlarge rapidly, so early diagnosis – before your pet’s hot spot involves a large area of the body – is important. Both dogs and cats can get hot spots, although dogs with dense undercoats are more likely to develop the problem than smooth-coated dogs or cats are. Hot spots are more common during hot, humid weather, but can occur year-round, depending on the inciting cause.

What is the trigger for the excessive chewing or licking? Insect (flea/fly/etc.) bites, allergies, excess skin-surface moisture, heavy/dense hair coats, matted hair, skin scrapes, etc.  Saliva accumulation under a hair coat, as a result of the itchy pet chewing on himself, can result in hot spots.


The first step is to get air to the moist, infected area. At a veterinary clinic we would clip the entire area—sometimes it is much bigger than it appears, the infection can spread very fast.  We clip and clean the area and then treatment depends on the size and severity as well as the patients unique history. Often a hot spot will resolve well with a topical product that has an antibiotic and a steroid in it. YES- these pets need a cone (or a donut collar)! They are so itchy and they are spreading the infection!

Some infections are so rampant that the pet needs antibiotics (taken orally), a steroid (to reduce the itch and redness) and pain management.

Is there a home treatment?

Maybe. If you have a dog that gets recurrent hot spots then you may have topical medications on hand and a cone – you know the drill if it happens 2-4 times a year!

If it is the first time and the spot is very small you may be able to clear it up by clipping/trimming the hair all around it, cleaning it with antibacterial soap and, again, a cone. They must not be allowed to lick, then it will never dry up! But be cautious: hot spots can spread very rapidly and are usually much bigger then you think. They are very itchy and painful, your veterinarian can provide very fast relief. In addition, hot spots under the ears/on the cheeks, can get very deep and spread fast – in this location antibiotic therapy is almost always warranted.


Keep your pet’s coat as dry as possible. Remove any matts as soon as you find them. If he or she is really worrying an area, and especially if they are prone to hot spots, get that cone out and use it for 2-3 days, break the cycle! Talk to your veterinarian about underlying allergies, there may be management tools to diminish recurrence.