How to Treat Your Dog's Hot Spots at Home

Updated on October 20, 2018
DrMark1961 profile image

Dr. Mark is a small animal veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.

An early hot spot on a dogs head and neck.
An early hot spot on a dogs head and neck. | Source

What Is a Hot Spot?

Have you found a wet patch of smelly skin on your dog? This is a hot spot, otherwise known as acute moist pyotraumatic dermatitis. It is a warm area of infected skin that can be painful, red, itchy, and stinky, and usually drains pus.

What Causes Hot Spots in Dogs?

Allergies, insect bites, matted coats, or boredom are all common causes of itchy or irritable skin. When the skin is pruritic (itches), scratching and licking will occur, which leads to secondary trauma of the skin. The coat traps moisture that allows an opportunistic bacterial infection, usually Staphylococcus intermedius. The infection causes hots spots and leads to further irritation. If not treated, the dog will continue to scratch, and thereby spread the infection to other areas of the skin.

The following treatment is the simplest conventional treatment that inflicts the least stress on dogs. And it almost always works!

A hot spot on a dogs neck.
A hot spot on a dogs neck. | Source

How to Treat Hot Spots on Dogs

  1. Clip the hair around and above the hot spot. You must trim the hair around the infected area to prevent it from getting into the wound and making the infection worse. Use clippers or scissors, and make sure to clip at least a few centimeters all the way around the wound. Note: Be careful when clipping just above the affected area since the skin is damaged. If you are rough, it will make it even harder for your dog to heal.
  2. Remove all of the pus from the wound with a moist cotton ball or gauze pad. Dampen it with warm water and gently wipe or dab to remove pus. Removing pus before cleaning is important to avoid pushing pus further into the wound, which can possibly worsen an infection.
  3. Apply betadine to disinfect. Even after you remove the pus from the top of the skin, the wound is still badly infected. Disinfect by cleaning the wound with betadine (also known as povidone iodine). This is an antisepctic that is usually used before and after surgery to disinfect the skin. (You can find this in your dog's first-aid kit or purchase it from a local pharmacy or drugstore.)
  4. Use a mild shampoo to bathe your dog's entire body. If your dog has been scratching, hot spots will probably develop in other areas within the next few days, so it's important to clean off some of the loose bacteria and allergens. When brushing him afterwards, be sure to break up the trapped balls of hair (some dogs will benefit from a raking brush to remove the undercoat). I like to use a dilute chlorhexidine shampoo, but if you do not have a medicated shampoo on hand, any dog shampoo will help.
  5. Apply an antibiotic cream to control the local infection and stop the area from itching. The most effective treatment for an uncomplicated hot spot is a mild steroid/antibiotic cream, which you can purchase over the counter. If your dog is sensitive, it is best to purchase an antibiotic cream specifically for dogs. If the dog just licks the cream off or rubs it off on the furniture, I have found eye drops (sold for “pinkeye” in humans) to be an equally effective treatment. Eye drops contain steroids and antibiotics that will reduce itching and heal the skin.
  6. Your dog may need to wear an Elizabethan collar to keep him from reaching back and chewing /licking his irritated skin. A collar is the best way to prevent dogs from causing more trauma and making the infection worse, however, if the hot spot is on his neck, a collar might make the infection worse.

Immediately Use the Treatment at Home Before Calling a Vet

I encourage clients to treat this problem at home as soon as possible to relieve itchiness immediately, start the healing process, and prevent potential pain as a result of an untreated infection. If the client finds the hot spot in the evening after work, it can be treated three to four times before the next morning and prevent the dog from being in pain a lot sooner.

When to Call the Vet

  • There is a foul odor: If it gets to this stage, your dog will need veterinarian-prescribed antibiotics and possibly hydrocortisone to control the itching and promote healing.
  • Your dog fights you/shows signs of pain and discomfort: If your pup tries to bite you or yelps out when you try to treat the hot spot, it may be best to let the vet anesthetize the area and apply treatment.
  • The hot spot doesn't show signs of improvement or gets worse after two days: If you don't see progress even after using the home treatment, you may need stronger reinforcement from a veterinarian.

An e-collar will prevent some dogs from licking and chewing on their hot spot.
An e-collar will prevent some dogs from licking and chewing on their hot spot. | Source

Natural Home Remedy for Dog Hot Spot

The basic steps to treating the hot spot are the same: clip the area, clean the affected skin, and bathe the dog to keep him from developing other spots in areas you cannot see. If you are nervous about applying a steroid and antibiotic to the spot here are some alternatives:

Aloe Vera Gel

Aloe vera contains prostaglandins, which reduces inflammation and provides relief to itchy or burnt skin. This natural remedy is also anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, and contains vitamins that promote skin healing, making it the perfect natural treatment for hot spots.

  1. Apply a thin layer of store-bought aloe vera gel or gel straight from the aloe leaf. If using gel from the leaf, avoid the sap and apply the clear jelly part only.
  2. Gently run it into the skin with you clean finger until it is no longer slimy.
  3. Apply aloe gel 2-3 times a day until the hot spot is gone.

Important Warning: Aloe vera is toxic to dogs if ingested. Be sure your dog wears a cone to prevent licking and ingestion.

Organic apple cider vinegar

Bacteria do not thrive in an acidic environment. Apple cider vinegar is mildly acidic, but not so strong as to damage an already traumatized skin. (Which is why you should not use a very acidic product like balsamic vinegar.) If using apple cider vinegar, I recommend that you pour a little on to a cotton ball and apply it to the affected area every few hours the first evening, and then less often as the skin gets better. (This might sting a very sensitive dog, so if your dog gets upset and growls or snaps switch to another method.) It probably also helps to add some of the “mother” from the organic cider to the hot spot since it contains lactobacillus, a bacteria that thrives in the acidic environment, and that bacteria may have a competing effect with the Staph infection. This is the organic brand of apple cider vinegar that I use.

Used black tea bags

The tannic acid in black tea inhibits the biofilm development from the Staph infection and makes it more difficult for the Staph to develop a colony on the skin. After preparing the skin by clipping and cleaning, apply a wet tea bag and squeeze the cool liquid over the area. Do not wipe it off. (I know of no studies that have used the vinegar and the tea bags together, so I think you should use one or the other.)

Corn starch

After applying vinegar or tea, sprinkle corn starch over the area to keep the wound as dry as possible. This is not as important as taking care of the dog´s infection, but it will make him a little more comfortable.

This vet provides some alternative remedies for treating hot spots that have worked in his practice. The video also shows the clipping and cleaning procedures, so before you start treating your dogs hot spot take a few minutes to watch this.

What Caused My Dog's Hot Spot?

  • Flea allergy: This is the most common cause of hot spots in many areas on your dog's body, but especially around the tail. If the dog is allergic to fleas, even one bite will cause intense itching, and your dog will start biting at the wound and scratching. Before long, he will develop a secondary infection, which may turn into a hot spot. Even if he is not allergic, multiple flea bites on his rump, where his hair is especially thick, can lead to hot spots.
  • Allergies: This category covers a lot. If your dog is allergic or sensitive to a specific insect, he might start scratching at a spot and get a secondary infection that shows up as a hot spot. (My Siberian Huskies used to get these infections secondary to tick bites in the summer.) If he is allergic to some pollens or molds, an even larger area can itch and the same thing can happen to his belly, chest, or anywhere else. Your dog might even be allergic to some kinds of food and when scratching his ear or rubbing his face develop a hot spot.
  • Ear infection: A lot of dogs with ear infections have allergies, but even if your dog does not have an allergy and develops an ear infection a hot spot is a potential secondary problem. The ear itches, the dog scratches the skin over the canal, and when the skin in broken the bacteria multiply and cause a hot spot.
  • Moist and matted coat: Some dogs will present with a hot spot after going for a soak in a pond. I have seen this most often in dogs with thick undercoats like Newfoundlands and Siberian Huskies, so all dogs should be dried after going for a swim in a pond or river. If the pond is very dirty rinse your dog with a hose before drying.
  • Arthritis: If your dog is developing recurring hot spots over his hips there is a good chance that he has arthritis secondary to hip dysplasia. He cannot rub on his sore joints so he licks them and the trauma to his skin shows up as a hot spot.
  • Stress or Boredom: A stressed or bored dog will sometimes chew or lick himself, damaging his skin in the process, and develop a Staph infection. If you have a smart or active dog, like a Golden Retriever, and you rarely take him for a walk, to obedience classes, or engage him in other activities, he will resort to nervous behaviors, like licking or chewing his paws.

The best treatment for my dog's hot spot is:

See results

Preventing Hot Spots on My Dog

If your dog has more than one or two outbreaks, antibiotics and steroids are not the answer. There is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed, so even if you cannot find out the cause of his hot spots, there are things you can do to prevent it from happening again.

  • Switch your dog to a good-quality diet: The best diet to keep the skin in great shape, and avoid food allergies secondary to grain based dog food, is a raw diet made up of mostly meat and raw bones. My dogs also get some fresh vegetables and fruit so that their diet is supplemented with additional antioxidants.
  • Coconut Oil: The saturated fats in coconut oil will reduce your dogs allergic reaction and may be enough to stop the itching/scratching cycle that leads to hot spots. You can apply coconut oil to any active hot spots to benefit from its antibacterial properties, but some dogs will just lick it off so the best way to benefit from it is to give your dog about a teaspoon (for a medium sized dog, so less for a small dog and more for a large or giant dog) on top of his food once a day.
  • Vitamin E: This is one of the antioxidants that is important to stop the itching/scratching cycle that leads to hot spots. If your dog is allergic and has recurrent hot spots, poke a hole in a vitamin E capsule and put a drop right on top on his food.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: The essential fatty acids are important to keep your dogs skin in the best condition, and even when you buy a food that claims that it has “fatty acids added” the omega-3 acids are always deficient since they are the most expensive fatty acid. Prevent recurrent hot spots and other skin problems by purchasing and giving a daily dose of a good quality fish oil. The product I use is made up of salmon from cold waters and contains a high level of omega-3 fatty acids. To give the proper dose, follow the instructions on the label

Wet long haired dogs will appreciate you learning to control hot spots quickly.
Wet long haired dogs will appreciate you learning to control hot spots quickly. | Source

Many skin problems are so serious that they require intensive veterinary care. Fortunately, a hot spot is not usually one of them.

If you want to try and treat it at home, it is safe and effective to do so. Just be sure to get help from your vet if you are not able to cure it using the methods described above, or it keeps coming back despite your best efforts.

Questions & Answers

  • My dog had hot spots on his back it was cured, and everything was going back to normal. After 15-20 days I gave him a bath with the medicated shampoo the doctor had suggested to me, and this time the hotspots returned even worse, with pus. What should I do?

    The new hot spot may have nothing to do with the previous occurrence. The best thing to do is clean the new spot as outlined in the article, see how it is responding, and use black tea bags on the infected spot. You may want to get some ophthalmic drops, as described in the article, to treat the local inflammation/infection.

  • What home cooked diet is best for moist eczema?

    The best diet for all skin problems is real food, known as the BARF diet. It is composed of mostly meat and raw bones.

    If you do not want to give your dog raw food, then there are a few diets made up by Dr.Pitcairn that might help. The link to those diets is: https://hubpages.com/animals/remedy-for-dog-with-d...

    You should also look into taking care of your dogs' secondary yeast infection. I have a comprehensive article on yeast infections at http://hubpages.com/dogs/dog-yeast-infection-sympt... ^he most important thing you should remember is bathing, treating the skin with a compound like apple cider vinegar that will kill the yeast, and applying coconut oil to keep the skin healthy.

  • Can I still give my dog flea baths with him having hot spots?

    If you are just cleaning your dog with water, there is no problem. If he has a hot spot, however, the wound is open. It is not a good idea to pour a chemical into an open wound.

    If this were my dog, I would take care of the hot spot first, and then worry about bathing him later.

  • My dog has hot spots. and your info is helpful, but my dog tries to bite me when getting near a hot spot. What can I do?

    Hot spots are painful, so it is normal that a dog will try to bite when you are clipping and cleaning the area. That is her only means of protection.

    You have to put a muzzle on some dogs. If you cannot afford to go out and buy one from a pet superstore, there are videos on Youtube that will tell you how to make a muzzle out of roll gauze. A regular muzzle is safer though.

Comments

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    • MarieLB profile image

      MarieLB 

      10 months ago from YAMBA NSW

      A very useful article Dr Mark, and very well explained. My dog has developed an itchy problem, and neither the Vet nor i have yet unravelled the cause/s or the cure/s. I read your article with great interest, and I expect I shall read it again to absorb it and to extract what I need from it. Thanks Dr Mark

    • SakinaNasir53 profile image

      Sakina Nasir 

      19 months ago from Kuwait

      This article is very useful for dog owners. Very well written DrMark. :)

    • srai01 profile image

      ARADHYA 

      19 months ago

      Excellent and very useful article for all the dog owners.

      Thanks!

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      19 months ago from Brazil

      Thankfully neither of my dogs have this but it is good to know what to watch for so I can catch it early and treat it.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 

      19 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I always enjoy your Hubs, Doctor. They're very well written and informative.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 

      19 months ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hot spots are a pretty common problem outside the tropics, too, Doc, so this hub is particularly helpful to a lot of dog owners. Around here I notice that owners tend to have a very casual attitude about hot spots and don't seem to realize how much discomfort they cause the dog or how problematic they can eventually become. This is a good wake up call.

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