If you’ve got a dog with hot spots, these are the 10 most important things you must know before doing anything else.
What Are Dog Hot Spots?
A dog hot spot (also called acute moist dermatitis) is an area of inflamed or infected skin. It starts out as a small irritation and quickly grows into a bacterial infection that can become very painful for your dog. Oftentimes the dog himself causes the hot spot to grow when he obsessively scratches, licks and chews on the skin. It’s this manic behavior that usually alerts you about the hot spot that needs to be treated.
What Do Dog Hot Spots Look Like?
A dog hot spot starts out as a small, red, wet-looking area. Sometimes it’s as small as the size of an insect bite. But it can grow to an area of 6-7 inches wide in just a few hours because it’s an irritation that your dog just can’t stop licking and biting. Depending on the severity, it can look red, swollen and inflamed, and sometimes oozes pus or blood. Many times, the affected area will lose hair and develop a crust.
When your dog goes after the hot spot, incessantly licking and biting the area, she inadvertently makes the situation worse, generating a secondary bacterial infection.
What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?
When your dog seemingly spontaneously develops a dog hot spot, you may ask, “Why did this happen? Where did this come from?”
There are several causes:
- Most hot spots develop as a result of allergies to food or environmental factors (like pollen, grass and pesticides).
- Any kind of skin infection can develop into a hot spot.
- Flea allergy dermatitis or other parasitical infections (like scabies and mites) may lead to hot spots.
- Seasonal changes with their related coat changes may contribute, since a thick, matted area of coat that needs to be shed may develop moisture build-up and clogged pores – a perfect hot spot environment.
- Older dogs with weakened immune systems are targets for hot spots.
- Boredom, loneliness or stress can be the culprits. Large dogs, in particular, may “entertain” themselves by obsessively chewing, biting or licking at little spots on their bodies such as minor insect bites, and the hot spot cycle begins.
Where Do Dog Hot Spots Form?
Hot spots can appear anywhere on a dog’s body, including the back, belly, legs, feet, and face/ears. Even though they can be located in different places, they always look similar – a red, raw wet-looking area that’s inflamed and itchy.
How To Treat Hot Spots on Dogs
If you think your dog has a hot spot, take her to the veterinarian for diagnosis. Don’t wait – delaying treatment will only make it worse and harder to get rid of. And don’t try to diagnose it yourself – as you read above, there are many underlying causes for dog hot spots, and treating a hot spot effectively requires that you know what caused it.
What a Veterinarian Will Do
The veterinarian will conduct a complete physical exam on your dog and may do a skin scrape to see if the issue is parasites. Then the vet will clip the hot spot to prevent matting, clean the area with an antiseptic solution, and if there’s a severe secondary bacterial infection, prescribe a topical or oral antibiotic. In some cases, the vet will also prescribe a topical or oral steroid to soothe the itch and inflammation. And, of course, the Elizabethan collar (or “cone of shame”) will keep your dog from getting at the area while healing.
In addition, if your veterinarian diagnoses the cause of hot spots to be allergies, he/she will help you devise a strategy to help your dog avoid the allergens.
How To Clean Dog Hot Spots
First, if you feel confident that you can do it without accidentally injuring your dog, trim the area around the hot spot. For small areas scissors will likely work; however, if you use scissors, do not use regular scissors, use grooming scissors that have blunt ends. If the area is large, you may shave it. This will expose it to the air and help dry it out.
Then, to clean the hot spot, use a mild, water-based astringent or antiseptic spray – something like Banixx Pet Spray, Betadine or Chlorhexidine – to wipe off any discharge, blood or pus. We recommend that you don’t use anything that contains alcohol or vinegar – the acid will burn and hurt. And we also don’t recommend anything with moisturizer, like coconut oil – the last thing a hot spot needs is more moisture.
Just dip some gauze into the solution, clean the hot spot gently, and pat it dry. These solutions will not sting your dog and add to his distress. If you continue to see an oozing discharge, repeat the cleaning every few hours or several times a day.
How to Treat Using Banixx Pet Care Spray
Many veterinarians recommend using the Banixx Pet Care spray for disinfection and treatment of dog hot spots. It has anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties, so no matter what the cause of the hot spot, it is effective. In addition, unlike so many of other home remedies and human over-the-counter medications on the market, it is not toxic if ingested, doesn’t sting or burn upon application, can be used around the eyes, and can be used frequently without worrying about overdosing.
To apply: Using the spray (or if your dog doesn’t like a spray, you can soak a gauze pad), saturate the entire affected area, including the surrounding immediate skin, since the hot spot is probably bigger than it first appears. Treat the area 2-3 times a day for a few days; oozing may continue for a couple days as part of the healing process. The hot spot will start to dry up and scab over. Make no attempt to remove the scabs, as they are Mother Nature’s band-aids, so removing them will not only be painful for your dog but may lead to a re-infection.
If your dog is inclined to lick Banixx, distract him or her with a walk or play time. You don’t need to worry about toxicity of your dog ingesting Banixx but if the Banixx isn’t in contact with the hot spot, it can’t work properly. Owners have had good luck applying peanut butter to the roof of the pup’s mouth as a distraction. Another method is to apply peanut butter to the inside of a Kong® or similar toy that keeps your dog amused for a while. Alternatively, take your dog for a supervised walk or play ball with her. Vets may recommend an E-collar, or you can also try tying a light wrap over the affected area. Some people also improvise by having their pets put on tee shirts to prevent them from accessing the wounds on their body.
Other Home and Natural Remedies
Many dog lovers want to treat their dogs with natural or home remedies rather than antibiotics and other medications, and indeed, there are many topical sprays, shampoos and herbal remedies on the market. Sometimes people think, “Well, it works for humans – will it work on my dog?” Ask your vet before using human products on your pet – they may be toxic if licked off and taken into their system; we recommend strongly that you always use a product that is pet-approved/pet safe.
Following is a list of common remedies that people think about using on their pets:
Essential oils are compounds that are extracted from plants through distillation or cold pressing. They’re mostly used for aromatherapy, where a “patient” inhales the scent to gain its beneficial properties. Essential oils are not meant to be ingested.
Some are also touted for their anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties, and which encourages home remedy proponents to use essential oils on their pups for wounds and infections like hot spots. The main thing to remember about essential oils is you have to be careful where you buy them – make sure you’re educated about purity, strength and directions for use – and there is very little research that proves its efficacy.
Some of the essential oils often cited as being possibly useful for healing dog hot spots are lavender, oregano oil, chamomile and tea tree oil. Essential oils must almost always be diluted with water or other “carrier” oils, as they are toxic and only meant for external use.
For instance, tea tree oil is known for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. It contains chemicals called terpenes that make it effective against bacteria and fungi – but they are also highly toxic to animals. Whether taken orally or through the skin, terpenes are rapidly absorbed by your pet – and the toxic effects can be quite serious. We do not recommend the use of tea tree oil to treat dog ear infections, for example.
Coconut oil has soothing properties and contains lauric acid, which has antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. That’s why some owners see it as a possible home remedy to reduce the itch and swelling of hot spots. The typical treatment with coconut oil involves spreading the oil on the dog’s hot spot, reapplying, as necessary. When it works, the hot spots will usually begin healing within a few days.
However, it tastes good, so your dog will love licking it off. Small amounts are not toxic for your dog, but large amounts can cause problems. And if it’s licked off, it may require many re-applications. Licking the area was part of the problem in the first place…
And coconut oil is a great moisturizer, as many people will attest. But the last thing a dog hot spot needs is more moisture – you are trying to dry it up.
Finally, lauric acid is not a broad-spectrum anti-bacterial agent, so it could eliminate good bacteria that are fighting the bad bacteria causing the hot spot. There is however not much research on the effectiveness of coconut oil in treating dog hot spots.
Your dog’s skin is delicate – it’s actually not as thick as human skin and very sensitive to bacteria, fungus and insect bites. If you want to bathe your dog every month with a shampoo that’s got anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, it may help heal and prevent hot spots.
There are many medicated shampoos on the market designed to treat dry, itchy skin, as well as bacterial and yeast infections. One key thing to remember is what you DON’T want the shampoo to contain: namely, detergents (which will leave your dog’s skin completely dried out and stripped of all-natural skin oils). You also don’t want it to contain parabens, sulfates, alcohol or steroids. We recommend Banixx Medicated Shampoo, which has the soothing, healing properties without the unwanted agents.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Like any vinegar, apple cider vinegar is an acid and contains antimicrobial properties – it naturally kills organisms like bacteria and fungi. This is one of the reasons it has become known as a great home remedy for a variety of physical ailments – and as a household cleaner and disinfectant.
You can try apple cider vinegar on a hot spot if it’s in the very early stages – but as soon as there is any broken skin, it is NOT recommended. The burn and sting it causes when it hits the hot spot will alarm and hurt your pup. Needless to say, it’s too caustic to be used around the eyes. Another thing to know: its antimicrobial properties don’t necessarily work with all different types of bacteria – so it’s possible it will not be effective on the kind of bacteria or yeast affecting your dog.
Benadryl is a human medication known to help reduce itching. But here’s a case where it’s important to talk with your vet before giving your dog a human medication. If it’s given in the wrong amount or in combination with other drugs, there are adverse, even toxic side effects.
Please note that liquid Benadryl is too concentrated to use with your dog – you’ll need to use a capsule or pill. That makes it hard to know how much to give your dog – the vet would recommend the best dosage for your dog’s size and weight. Benadryl should not be given to pets who have glaucoma, cardiovascular disease or hyperthyroidism.
Humans use Neosporin on wounds, cuts and scrapes to prevent and eliminate bacterial infections. It contains three antibiotics: Polymyxin B, Neomycin, and Bacitracin. While there are only a few negative side effects when used on dogs, the most prominent one is Pemphigus Vulgaris. This is an autoimmune disease that can cause painful blistering on your dog’s skin and mucous membranes. Other ingredients have been linked to deafness. In addition, if a dog licks at a hot spot that has been treated with Neosporin, it can result in vomiting and diarrhea. In other words, there are safer treatments for your dog than Neosporin.
We have heard of people who dab Pepto Bismol, the over-the-counter medicine containing the active ingredient bismuth subsalicylatn, on dog hot spots to help reduce the itchiness. We do not recommend this treatment – Pepto Bismol is considered safe for your dog to ingest if he has a problem with indigestion or diarrhea, but there is a danger of overdosing, with some concerning side effects. If you put it on an open wound, the dog may lick it off…and who knows how much he’s ingested? There are many other, better alternatives to Pepto Bismol.
Vicks VapoRub is used by humans for many reasons – from helping clear up congestion to moisturizing, repelling insects, getting rid of acne and more.
It is also used to heal minor scratches and scrapes. It has anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties. The thick, waxy, antiseptic formula creates a barrier over the wound and helps ward off infection. Some people put a bit of Vicks VapoRub near the dog hot spot to keep your dog from licking, as it has a strong menthol odor.
However, it is for external use only and shouldn’t be used anywhere near your dog’s eyes. It should not be eaten or applied to cut skin. Again, there are other, safer alternatives.
Gold Bond Medicated Powder
Some people have reported success in treating hot spots in dogs with Gold Bond Medicated Powder, which may help with the itching. It works to soothe skin and absorb moisture. However, the Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated its effectiveness for use on dogs – and it’s important to prevent your dog from licking the affected areas and swallowing the powder. This is exceedingly difficult to do if your dog has been obsessively licking the hot spot to begin with.
The active ingredient is Miconazole, which is used to treat yeast/fungal infections. There are some dog owners who use Desenex ointment on a hot spot and have found it helps heal the inflamed area. Once again, however, the problem is that a dog may lick it off, and it’s certainly not meant to be ingested.
How To Prevent Dog Hot Spots
The best way to prevent dog hot spots is to diagnose and address the underlying causes that he’s getting them. Here are 6 tips you can use to help your dog avoid these maddening and painful wounds:
Get Rid of Fleas and Parasites
Fleas and ticks can sometimes be the cause of dog hot spots. A flea or tick bites your dog, he starts to scratch it, and the area gets inflamed and grows into a hot spot. Preventing flea and tick bites is an important way to prevent itching infections, so make sure you maintain a parasite control regimen. If you’ve already got a flea problem, you must also treat your dog’s environment, including your house, the dog’s bedding, and other animals in the home. Generally, the only fleas you will see are the adult fleas that represent about 5% of a flea infestation – the remaining 95% is made up of flea eggs, larvae and pupae. To eliminate these, wash your dog’s bedding in a bleach solution and apply apple cider vinegar to your dog’s environment.
Get To The Bottom of Food Allergies
Did you know that while dog (or cat) food allergies may cause gastrointestinal problems, it’s typically their skin that is most often affected? Around 50% of dog hot spots are attributable to food allergies. If your vet has diagnosed food sensitivities as the reason your dog gets recurring hot spots, try changing your dog’s diet. Dogs are by nature meat eaters. Many dog food “fillers,” such as corn or soy, can lead to a dietary imbalance resulting in skin irritations. Making the switch to a grain-free diet can often go a long way toward resolving hot spot issues. Your vet can also recommend an elimination diet to find the culprit that is affecting your dog. But remember: Because a change in diet affects the dog’s internal system, success may take several weeks, so be patient.
Help Your Dog Avoid Environmental Allergies
Molds, pollens, grasses and ragweed are all common allergens. Other environmental factors could be cigarette smoke, certain household cleaners, and perfumes. If you’re trying to eliminate toxins from your home because your dog is suffering from environmental allergies, one key is to limit her exposure to all environmental pollutants in your home. Many dogs have allergies to grass or pollens; if your dog is in this category, limit time outside during the appropriate months. If the problem is household cleaners, use green, non-toxic cleaners on bedding, floors, and other areas your dog comes in contact with (and no fabric softeners, which contain detergents that can cause reactions). For more suggestions, go here.
Be Aware of Summer Sores and Seasonal Changes
Dog hot spots seem like they get more common in the summer. In fact, excess moisture underneath a dog’s coat is one cause. Any dog whose hair is long, thick, matted or dirty will have a greater chance of suffering from hot spots. In addition, as seasons change, many dogs shed or grow heavier coats. Some will not shed well, particularly older dogs. These changes of the coat may lead to some matting that creates a warm moist area on your dog’s skin.
So, keep your dog well groomed. If fur accumulates too much moisture, the wet skin underneath creates the perfect conditions for bacterial infections and hot spots. If your dog is a breed that sheds, then be sure to brush him frequently. Dogs that shed are not necessarily candidates for shaving their bodies as that can mess up their natural ‘air conditioning’ system; only clip these types of dogs when absolutely necessary. If your dog is a breed that does not shed, consider shaving him closely in the summer and clipping the thick fur around the ears.
Relieve Stress and Anxiety
Sometimes hot spots can be caused by underlying emotional or mental issues in your dog, such as separation anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. These emotional factors can lead to behaviors like incessant licking or biting that creates a hot spot. A great help for stress is regular exercise. This is particularly useful for high-energy dogs, who need to stretch their muscles in order to be healthy. Just like with humans, exercise stimulates the brain, releases endorphins and generates feelings of happiness. Let that energy out to avoid your dog feeling frustrated and turning to self-mutilation for relief.
Another help for stress that some people recommend are calming herbs, such as chamomile, St. John’s Wort, skullcap or oat – just make it into a cup of tea, let it cool down, and add some of it to your dog’s food. Other coping mechanisms can include turning on a radio or TV, limiting your dog’s time alone, finding the dog a “friend,” sending her to doggie day-care, or providing a series of toys and bones to capture attention. It may be a combination of all of the above.
If your dog is bored, he may start licking just to entertain himself. Your dog needs stimulation to keep him from destructive behaviors. You can play a major role in relieving your dog’s boredom. Here are some ideas:
- Give her regular exercise (see above for stressed-out dogs). Note: This is good for YOU, too! Distract her with a small amount of peanut-butter (but make sure it doesn’t contain xylitol, which is lethal for your pet – see this blog for more on how to do this safely). It’s fun to watch her eat it and takes a while for her to finish!
- If you have to leave your dog most of the day (which many people with full-time jobs have to do), leave some toys or bones that he can chew on while you’re gone. You can leave a Kong® stuffed with peanut butter or cheese, for instance.
- Be creative about distraction techniques to keep your dog from feeling the need to lick and chew. Hide or scatter dog biscuits for your dog to find while you’re gone. Teach him to do tricks. Brush her fur. Go for a walk. Take him outside and throw a ball or Frisbee. Shower her with love and affection. Treat him to a massage.
Dog hot spots have the potential to make life miserable for your pet and for you, especially when they keep recurring. To keep your loving companion happy and healthy, know how to treat dog hot spots while working to prevent future ones.