Hot Spots on Dogs and Cats


Hot Spots are skin irritations that can occur in both dogs and cats. These spots are extremely painful for your pet and usually appear itchy, red, and inflamed.  Hair loss around the affected area usually occurs, and the spot may ooze pus and give off a foul odor. Hot spots are actually self-inflicted wounds, caused by your dog or cat scratching, biting or rubbing at his skin until the wound occurs. This eventually causes a scab to form. These scabs often look like blisters on the surface of the skin. Unfortunately, this cycle will continue to repeat itself until some type of intervention occurs and spots are treated effectively.

Anything that causes your dog or cat to become itchy can cause a hot spot. Common causes are flea allergies, food allergies, allergies caused by environmental factors, skin infections and the like. The underlying cause of the hot spot must also be treated, which makes correct diagnosis important. Areas commonly affected by these wounds are around the hind legs and under the ears, especially in dogs with “floppy” ears. Larger breeds such as Newfoundlands, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Retrievers are especially prone with their large ears and heavy coats.  Hot spots caused by food allergies may require a special diet, while those caused by flea allergies will require eradication of the fleas.  Anti-inflammatory medications or other treatments may be required if environmental allergies are the underlying cause. Finally, antibiotics and/or antifungal medications may be necessary to treat hot spots caused by skin infections.

Though it may not always be possible to avoid hot spots, there are precautions that you can take for your pet. Treatment of the hot spot itself usually involves antibiotics to prevent or fight skin infection. The area may need to be shaved to make cleaning and treatment easier. Keeping the area clean is essential, and it is important to make sure your pet is well groomed. Regular brushing and combing is healthy for your dog’s skin and will keep your pet’s fur free of mats. Regular bathing is also important and can be performed as often as necessary. Bathing with a medicated shampoo may be indicated, and ointments may be used to help soothe the inflamed skin. Additionally, it is important to keep your pet free of fleas and other skin parasites. 

Proper nutrition is also a necessary means of keeping your pet’s skin healthy. A good diet promotes a healthy coat and skin, helping to prevent hot spots from developing. If your pet is a breed that has loose skin or skin folds (Pugs, SharPeis, English Bulldogs, etc.), be sure to keep the skin folds clean to prevent irritation and infection. It is important to realize, however, that allergies, fleas, and more serious skin conditions are not the only causes of hot spots. Many pets develop these spots from excessive licking and/or scratching that actually stems from boredom, stress, or loneliness. If this is the case, your pet may simply need more exercise, playtime, and attention. This can prove to be the easiest or hardest treatment to implement as there is no pill or ointment to guarantee long-term success.

If your pet begins to show these symptoms or you suspect that a hot spot is developing, seek veterinary attention. The root cause must be carefully diagnosed and treated or the problem will continue to occur, often in the same place. Working with your veterinarian to solve this dilemma is essential for your dog’s well-being and for your peace of mind.

Our information is not intended to replace the advice of your veterinarian.  Do not use this information for diagnostic purposes. Always take your pet to your veterinarian to obtain a diagnosis and course of treatment.