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How to treat hotspots on dogs

Approx. 6 minutes read

It’s tough to watch as your dog constantly licks, bites and scratches himself. There are many reasons why your furry friend would chew on himself or scratch himself all the time, and none of them are pleasant. What’s more, those bites, scratches and licks can become infected and your pup could develop what’s called a hotspot. Consider this your introduction to canine hotspots, so you can recognise the signs and ensure you get proper treatment for your dog as soon as possible.

What do hotspots on dogs look like?

The medical term for a hotspot is acute moist dermatitis, which better describes the inflamed, oozing skin lesion or sore that can appear on a dog’s head, legs or other parts of his body he’s able to reach with his mouth or nails. A hotspot can also have a foul odour, as it’s an inflamed, moist, infected wound. Hotspots are painful and itchy, so your dog is likely to keep scratching and licking the wound to try to find relief.

What causes dog hotspots?

If you’ve ever noticed your dog scratching more than usual, or wondered why your dog is so itchy, this could be the starting point for a hotspot. It doesn’t just appear on its own; it’s the result of a cycle of scratching an itch, which causes skin trauma (a wound), which itches even more, causing more scratching until your dog’s scratching infects the wound, and so on. The triggers for the scratching could be any of the following:

  • bites from parasites
  • skin allergies from food or the environment
  • excessive scratching, licking or chewing because of boredom or anxiety
  • contact dermatitis
  • ear infection (can cause the dog to persistently scratch his head)
  • impacted anal sacs, which can cause the dog to bite and scratch at the base of the tail

Any of these triggers can cause an itch, which can lead to the cycle of scratching, licking, infecting; scratching, licking, infecting, etc. Other causes for hotspots include:

  • a coat that is dirty and doesn’t circulate enough air
  • a wet or moist coat that hasn’t dried thoroughly after getting wet (from weather or swimming)

It’s clear that a hotspot is a symptom of an underlying problem. Solve the problem and you remove the risk of a hotspot forming.

Are certain dogs prone to hotspots more than others?

Long- and short-coated dogs can both develop hotspots, especially if there’s a lot of licking and scratching going on. However, dogs with longer, thicker coats, whose skin doesn’t dry off as easily as short-coated dogs, may be more susceptible to developing hotspots. This is especially true in humid climates, and when they retain moisture within their coats, against their skin. Golden and Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, rottweilers, St Bernards, border collies – their thick fur can trap moisture, creating the pawfect conditions for a hotspot to occur, with even a single scratch.

How to treat hotspots on a dog

Do dog hotspots heal on their own? It’s very unlikely that a dog hotspot will heal on its own. Since the cycle of itching, scratching and infection generates an oozing, inflamed wound, the bacterial infection will need to be treated first before the wound can be given a chance to heal. If you suspect that your dog has a hotspot, take him to the vet to get it checked out and diagnosed. The vet will also try to identify the behavioural or medical cause of the hotspot and suggest a treatment plan to stop your dog from itching and scratching in the first place.

Treat the bacterial infection

Depending on the severity of the infection, the vet may prescribe an oral or topical antibiotic, as well as an oral or topical steroid to help bring down the inflammation and itching.

Disinfect the wound as it heals

If the hotspot is under a lot of fur, this fur will need to be trimmed away to ensure the hotspot has the opportunity to dry out. It will need to be regularly disinfected and cleaned with a fit-for-purpose, gentle antiseptic. Depending on the size and severity of the wound, your vet may also recommend antiseptic wipes to keep the area clean. It’s impawtant that you understand this process of how to clean hotspots on dogs, as you will need to keep up regular cleaning of your dog’s hotspot until it has fully healed.

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Keep your dog’s mouth away

Your dog will need to stop biting and scratching the wound to give it the chance to heal and clear up. This may mean that your pup wears a protective collar (an Elizabethan collar or ‘cone of shame’), especially to stop him from ingesting any topical medication.

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How to prevent hotspots on dogs

The only way to prevent hotspots on dogs is to tackle the underlying cause before the hotspot has a chance to develop. The most common cause of a hotspot on a dog is a flea bite, so the obvious solution would be to ensure you maintain an effective regimen of parasite control.

Cause: Bites from parasites

Prevention: Keep tick and flea medication up to date

Cause: Skin allergies from food or the environment

Prevention: Work with your vet to find a solution to your dog’s food allergies, as well as a skin-calming regimen such as medicated shampoos and walking your dog when there’s the least amount of allergens floating around.

Cause: Problem chewing and scratching

Prevention: Address the causes of your dog’s boredom and/or anxiety to stop him from scratching in the first place. Keep him active by taking him for walks, spending time on training, and offering him puzzle toys, lick mats and other activities to keep his brain and body busy.

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Cause: Ear infection

Prevention: Keep your dog’s ears clean and dry, especially if he’s a swimmer or if you live in a humid environment. Regularly clean your dog’s ears with a doggy ear cleaner and make sure they dry properly afterwards.

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Cause: Impacted anal sacs

Prevention: Some dogs are prone to anal sac impaction. If you’re not too squeamish, ask your vet to show you the safe way to express your pup’s anal sacs, which you can do at home when you bath him. If it’s beyond your scope of at-home grooming, be sure to take your dog to the vet for regular anal sac expression and treatment. Not only will this ensure your dog is more comfortable, but it will prevent secondary issues like hotspots.

Cause: Long-haired coat

Prevention: If your long-haired furry friend is a champion swimmer, make sure he is thoroughly dry after each romp in the water. Regular brushing and grooming will keep his coat in good condition, encourage air circulation, and it will give you the opportunity to regularly check the condition of his skin.

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How to treat hotspots at home

If you’ve noticed your dog is scratching or licking a particular spot on his skin, it’s important to act immediately – before any skin infection occurs. If it’s more than a day since you first noticed the hotspot, it’s time to go to the vet, as the longer it’s left, the more chance there is that your dog has a bacterial infection. An effective dog hotspot home remedy is to first ensure your dog can’t continue to scratch and lick the hotspot (attach an Elizabethan collar to make it physically impossible for your dog to access the area). Then gently clip away any hair in and around the hotspot – this will give you easier access to the hotspot. Plus, a clean, clipped area has a better chance of healing well when applying antiseptics, sprays and creams. Wear gloves so that you don’t introduce bacteria to the lesion. Follow the instructions on the product packaging, or phone the vet for advice on your dog’s condition.

How long do hotspots last on dogs?

A hotspot is not a simple self-healing issue, and it shouldn’t be left to just go away on its own because it definitely won’t. When a hotspot is identified and treated early, it can take a week or two to dry out and clear up. You may also notice your dog’s hair growing back if home treatment is successful. Keep in mind that it may take a bit longer to clear up if you try to treat your dog at home, compared to treatment from your veterinarian.

Will a dog hotspot come back?

Often dogs will have recurring hotspots, especially if they are young dogs with long coats and a ton of energy. With this in mind, take all of the preventative steps to change your dog’s behaviour and self-injury habits, and check his skin regularly to ensure his skin is healthy, dry and thoroughly groomed.

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