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Dogs and hotspots

If you’ve been a dog owner for a while, you may have encountered acute most dermatitis on your animal. Commonly referred to as hotspots, these patches of red, raw, irritated skin often pop up quickly and without warning. For your pet, they are irritating, and this discomfort can lead to over-grooming of the affected area, resulting in further inflammation. Persistent or recurring hotspots can make your pet’s life miserable, and if untreated can lead to more severe problems.

Let’s take a look at potential causes of hotspots, as well as some easy ways you can treat them and prevent future flare-ups.

What Causes Hotspots on Dogs?

When we think of skin reactions, we tend to look for causes that are external, such as a bug bite or direct contact with an irritant or toxin. And these are certainly part of the picture when it comes to hotspots in dogs. A bite from a flea or tick can easily become inflamed, especially if scratched or licked. Matted or dirty fur that prevents an area of the skin from “breathing” can also cause or exacerbate a hotspot. Even a swim in stagnant or dirty water can introduce bacteria that can produce dermatitis.

However, the common causes of hotspots aren’t just external. For example, dogs frequently express allergic reactions through their skin. These reactions may not be related to direct skin contact but rather to some other agent that has triggered your pet’s immune response. A food allergy can cause persistent hotspots, as can changes in your dog’s mood or emotional state. Dogs that are consistently stressed, anxious, or bored often develop hotspots that are hard to distinguish from those caused by a bug bite or contact allergy.

Treatment for Hotspots

Effective treatment of hotspots often depends on identifying a cause. For example, if the cause is flea or tick bites, the solution may be as simple as providing adequate protection from parasites. If your pet has a dietary sensitivity, your vet may recommend a hypoallergenic det. In cases where no single root cause is apparent, treatment is largely symptomatic. Your vet may prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent (NSAID) to reduce inflammation. Topical or systemic antibiotics may also be prescribed if a bacterial infection is present (as can occur with skin infections resulting from matted fur). Even antihistamines have proven effective in blunting the skin’s response to an irritant or allergen.

To guide treatment, your vet will generally ask you questions about your dog’s diet, environment, mood and any changes in behavior that might be related to hotspot flare-ups. With proper treatment, hotspots typically resolve over a period of days to weeks.

How to Prevent Hotspots

For pets prone to persistent hotspots, there are a few steps you can take to prevent (or at least minimize) future flare-ups.

  • If your dog spends significant time outdoors, be sure it is protected from fleas and ticks (Frontline, Advantage, etc.).
  • Regular grooming (especially for dogs with thick coats) can prevent matting and help prevent bacteria from gathering in places where the skin can’t breathe.
  • Regularly check your pet for minor skin injures, such as scratches from thorns or underbrush that may cause a break in the skin.
  • Remove any known allergens from your dog’s diet and use a hypoallergenic brand of kibble. (Your vet may be able to recommend one.)
  • Wash your dog’s bedding regularly.
  • Take your pet for regular check ups at your vet to check for systemic illness that may be causing flare-ups.

We hope these tips help your pet enjoy a healthier, happier, and more comfortable life!


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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