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Beagle scratching itchy skin

What Are “Hot Spots” on a Dog’s Skin?

Q: What are “hot spots” on a dog’s skin, and what could they mean?

A: Generally, a hot spot refers to an area of skin irritation. Causes may vary but include parasites, environmental irritants, and other factors. 

If you’ve been a dog owner for a while, you’ve probably noticed transient patches of skin irritation on your animal. Also known as “moist dermatitis,” these hotspots often appear without warning and can develop quickly. The irritation can prompt your pet to over-groom the area, leading to further inflammation (and often increased hair loss at the site). 
 
Let’s examine a few common causes of hotspots and offer some simple suggestions for keeping them under control. 

Causes of Hotspots in Dogs 

When we think about skin reactions, we tend to look for environmental causes—such as an insect bite, contact with a toxic plant, or contact with a man-made-toxin. These external factors are one potential cause of hotspots. A bite from a flea or tick can easily become inflamed, with irritation exacerbated by over-scratching or licking. Also, fur that is dirty, oily, or matted can provide a home for bacteria, which can cause or worsen a hotspot. Even a swim in dirty water can introduce bacteria capable of causing dermatitis   

But external factors are not the only causes of hotspots. Others include: 
 
• Allergies in dogs are often expressed through their skin. Causative allergens can include food ingredients or inhaled irritants. 
• Ear Infections or parasites (like mites) can cause a dog to over-scratch, resulting in hotspots in or around the ears. 
Pyoderma, a yeast infection of the skin—can also result in hotspots. 
Poor Grooming, especially in longer-haired breeds, can result in matting and bacterial accumulation that can prompt skin infections.  
Boredom & Anxiety can make it difficult for dogs to be alone. As a result, some over-groom, creating hotspots. 
Orthopedic Issues can cause your pet to lie in one position for much of its rest time. This can lead to rough patches, callouses, and in some cases, hotspots (much like bed sores in humans). 

Treating Hotspots in Dogs 

As you might expect, treatment depends on the cause of the inflammation. For example, if parasites are the cause of your pet’s irritation, the solution may be as simple as purchasing a preventive collar.  

Pinpointing a dietary sensitivity may be trickier. Extensive dietary testing can get expensive quickly. One potential, lower-cost solution—ask your vet about putting your animal on a hypoallergenic diet to help minimize flare-ups. (Do NOT give your pet Advil or any other anti-inflammatory agents intended for humans. See your vet to obtain anti-inflammatory agents that are safe for dogs.) 

If you do see the vet, be sure to describe your pet’s medical history fully—including their previous history of hotspots, recent illnesses, and any changes in diet or behavior. The more information your vet has, the more complete clinical picture they’ll be able to draw. 

Keeping Hotspots under Control 

If you know your dog’s vulnerabilities, you can address some preventively. For example, if your pet spends a significant amount of time outdoors, it may be prudent to invest in a flea and tick preventive collar (such as Advantage, Advantix, or Frontline). This will minimize any skin irritation resulting from parasites or bug bites.  
 
Regular grooming can also help you detect areas of irritation before they become severe. Brush out mats thoroughly, as these can provide a home for bacteria. Also, give your dog’s bedding a regular washing to remove dander, dirt, and other potential irritants. 
 
And finally, review your pet’s diet and look for hypoallergenic alternatives to your dog’s mainstay kibble. Your vet can examine your animal and make informed recommendations based on your pet’s overall health. 

We hope you find this article helpful. If you’re looking to lower your vet bills, or simply want the peace of mind that comes with knowing your pet is covered in case of injury or illness, contact a FIGO representative today! We’re waiting to hear from you. 


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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