Hot Spots: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

skin conditions: hot spots

A hot spot, also known as acute moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis, is a bacterial skin infection that affects both dogs and cats. 

They can appear as a bald, inflamed, red area on your pet’s skin. It may be damp or oozing. They can crop up anywhere your pet licks, scratches or has a minor scratch or scrape. 

What Causes Hot Spots in Dogs & Cats?

Hot spots tend to worsen when an animal scratches, chews or licks an otherwise harmless wound. The initial causes of the irritation could be:

  • Food allergies
  • Fleas (or allergic reaction to flea bites)
  • Minor cuts or scrapes
  • Ear infection
  • Anal gland infection
  • Matted fur
  • Splinters or thorns (or other foreign objects)
  • Insect bites or stings
  • Boredom- or anxiety-induced chewing or licking

Dogs who love to swim, like golden retrievers and Irish setters, tend to get hot spots in the summer because it’s difficult to keep their skin dry underneath the long fur.

Hot Spot Symptoms

  • An irritated, red patch of skin found on the head, neck, hips or limbs
  • Matted fur
  • Bald spots 
  • Scabbing 
  • Oozing 
  • Itching/scratching
  • Obsessive licking or chewing

How to Diagnose Hot Spots

The location of a hot spot may help your vet diagnose its cause. Fleas, for example, may be the source of a hotspot on the hip. Hotspots on the ear may point toward some type of ear infection. 

Hot spots are more common in long-haired dogs, but can also present in short-haired dogs and cats alike. Hot spots are also more common in hotter months when humidity is higher. 

Your vet will look for the tell-tale signs of a hot spot, and confirm the diagnosis by examining a bacterial or culture sample under the microscope.

How to Treat Hot Spots at Home

Any type of skin irritation that causes an open wound should be seen by your vet right away. When skin is open, infection can set in.

In the meantime, while you wait for your appointment, there are some things you can try at home to help alleviate the pain of a hot spot. 

  • Shaving the area not only lets the air at it (to dry it out) but it also prevents the fur from matting up and holding onto debris and bacteria that could cause infection.
  • Clean the hot spot. But be gentle, they can be painful. Use a mild dog shampoo or soap to gently wipe the area clean then let it air dry. 
  • A cold compress can help ease the inflammation and soothe itch and pain. Place a cool, wet washcloth on the area for about 5-10 minutes, several times a day.
  • Black or green tea compress can also help reduce inflammation.
  • If your pet is scratching at the area, apply a very thin layer of an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to ease the itching.
  • Do your best to prevent scratching and licking. Distract him with a puzzle toy, a chewy treat or anything else you know your pet loves. 
  • An antihistamine can reduce inflammation and itching. Antihistamines are generally safe for dogs or cats, but double check with your vet to be sure you’re giving the correct dosage. 

Treating Hot Spots at the Vet

  • Your vet will likely prescribe antibiotics—either topical or oral—for a course of 2 to 4 weeks, sometimes more.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs—NSAIDS) are often prescribed to reduce inflammation.
  • A one-time corticosteroid may be administered to kickstart the healing process.
  • Topical medications or sprays, such as Gentamicin/Betamethason, may be prescribed for daily use to help promote healing. 

It can take 1-2 weeks for your pet to show signs of healing. If all goes well, his fur will start to grow back in 3-4 weeks. 

Preventing Hot Spots in Dogs & Cats

  • Hypoallergenic diets can help prevent hot spots caused by food allergies.
  • Pets that are prone to skin conditions may benefit from taking an essential fatty acid supplement
  • A summertime buzz cut can help long-haired pets keep dry and cool in hotter months.
  • Hot spots caused by obsessive licking or chewing are usually caused by anxiety. Ease your pet’s stress with new toys, puzzles, playtime and exercise.