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What are Hot Spots

typical dog hot spots Dog Allergy Hot Spots

Hot Spots

Hot spots occur as single, intensely itchy (pruitic) lesions resulting from self-inflicted trauma to the skin. This is because they are extremely irritating and painful, in an effort to alleviate the irritation and pain, dogs will lick or gnaw away at themselves.  This leads to further trauma, inflammation and or infection of their skin.

Hot spots appear most commonly on

  • The ears.
  • The face just below the ears.
  • Sides of the chest.
  • The flanks.
  • The rump.
  • Near the rectum.

Symptoms characteristically present as:

  • Extremely itchy, circular patches that vary in size.
  • Red, painful, swollen, moist and sometimes ulcerated areas of skin.
  • Loss of hair or matted hair very often coated with a serous smelly discharge, which eventually crusts over.
  • Thickening and/or scarring of the dog’s skin may occur due to its continual self-trauma of licking and chewing.

Causes of Hot Spots

Hot spots fall into four distinct categories, allergic reactions to allergens, parasitic, pathological and breed related.

Allergic Reactions:

Allergy related hot spots can happen within minutes of a dog being exposed to an allergen it is allergic to, causing symptoms of intense itchiness and/or pain.

Allergic reactions are the main causes for hots spots in dogs and in particular dogs which have a predisposition to allergy symptoms associated with the following allergens:

  • Insect bites and in particular Fleas
  • Insect stings, e.g. wasp stings.
  • Atopic (something the dog breaths in).
  • Food (something the dog ingests).
  • Allergic reaction to an injection site.
  • Small cuts and nicks from clipping and grooming.
  • Burs.
  • Grass awnings.


  • Ringworm (Dermatophytosis).
  • Mange.
  • Yeast infections.


  • Canine Staphylococcal Pyoderma.
  • Autoimmune disorders.
  • Anal gland problems.
  • Panniculitis.
  • Ear infections.
  • Vasculitis.
  • Arthritis.
  • Hip dysplasia.
  • Reaction to certain drugs or medication.

Breed Related Hot Spots

hot spot Dog Allergy Hot Spots


Hot spots are particularly worrisome for breeds with dense long coats, because it is so easy for burs or grass awnings to embed themselves in a dog’s skin or ears and go un-noticed by owners, even with regular grooming.

Skin allergies are known to be the main underlying causes for hot spots in dogs.  Breeds which have a predisposition for developing hot spots are Collies, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Saint Bernards.

Breed related hot spots are more prevalent in the heat of summer months.

The following chart has been designed to help the reader:

  • Identify the most common causes and not so common causes of hot spots.
  • Understand the pathological causes of hot spots.

A Guideline Chart for Causes of Hot Spots in Dogs


Hots spots are easy to diagnose. However, diagnosis of the primary cause is generally made through a process of elimination.

  • The dog is examined for evidence of “flea dirt” (dried blood excreted by fleas), which indicates flea infestation.
  • Skin scrapings are examined under a microscope to ascertain if the dogs has parasitic, yeast or bacterial infections.
  • If an allergy is suspected, allergy testing or an elimination diet will be necessary.
  • Finally, if all else fails to identify the primary cause, laboratory testing for specific immune or metabolic disorders will be necessary.


Regardless of the subsequent choices for systemic and/or topical treatment of hot spots, the following procedures are recommended:

  • A light sedation or topical anaesthetic is normally required to ease the sensitivity and pain associated with treating the lesion.
  • All fur/hair covering and immediately surrounding the lesion should be shaved or clipped.
  • Gently wash with an antimicrobial shampoo containing either benzalkonium chloride or benzoyl peroxide.
  • Take care to ensure that all residual soap is removed and the lesion is patted dry.

Consider using an Elizabethan collar, to prevent further self inflicted trauma of incessant chewing, licking or scratching that will delay healing.

Products for the treatment of hot spots


Dogs that recover from hot spots frequently develop recurring lesions related to the primary underlying causes (i.e. allergens, parasites, pathological or breed related). Therefore, identification and elimination of the factors that contribute to hot spot formation are vital for keeping the condition under control.


To use an old adage “prevention is always better than a cure”.

Humidity, very often seasonally coincides with primary conditions, which bring on hotspots.  Fleas and other parasites thrive in hot, humid weather.

When fleas or other biting or stinging insects are the primary cause of hot spots, systemic or topical flea preventatives or flying-insect repellents i.e. citronella, should be applied to the dog.

If ear infections are the problem, frequent swimming can lead to ear infections that may increase risk for hot spots. To minimise ear infections and hot spots, try the following:

  • Cleaning your dog’s ears several times per week and especially after a swim.
  • Dry your pet’s fur/hair thoroughly because a moist coat in humid weather can lead ear infections, itchy skin and hotspots.
  • Remove you dog’s collar before swimming or dry it thoroughly if he jumps in before you can remove it.  Again, any moisture caused by damp collars can bring on the development of a hot spot.

Certain pollens can exacerbate skin allergies leading to hot spots. Keeping your dog indoors during times of the day when pollen count peaks (usually early morning and early evening) helps reduce exposure to pollen.

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