Hotspots On Dogs Skin

Updated March 9, 2021

Does your dog have a sore in the hair that they keep licking or scratching? Is it also enlarging and crusty? Then they probably have a hotspot.

What Is A Hotspot?

  • A hotspot is a moist, rapidly developing infection on a dog’s skin
  • It is often covered by a dry crust attached to the hair
  • Hotspots are usually caused by infection with Staphylococcus bacteria and can be very painful
  • Other names are acute moist dermatitis and pyotraumatic dermatitis

The picture above at top left shows the typical appearance of a hotspot before treatment. The crusts in the hair are dry and there’s no sign of the drama going on underneath.

Other Skin Sores & Crusts Of Dogs

dog skin infection
Superficial pyoderma

Pyoderma is a surface infection of dog’s skin, either as pimple-like lesions or the dry crusts shown here. A similar form, the epidermal collarette, is a slowly enlarging ring with a fine crust at the outer edge, and hair loss within.

Pyoderma is usually found as multiple lesions on the trunk, and can have been present for weeks. Although dogs do not appear unwell or distressed, they still need treatment with antibiotics.

Lick granulomas are very long-term skin infections caused by repetitive licking of an area. They are usually found on legs as raised areas of thickened, hairless skin with a broken centre. These dogs typically need very long courses of antibiotics plus attention to why the licking occurred in the first place.

dog leg sore
Lick granuloma on hind leg

In comparison to both of these, hotspots are fast growing and painful. A hotspot can go from nothing to several centimetres wide in one day, and double in size each day after. Additionally, hotspots cause dogs much more acute distress.

I’ll explain the treatment of hotspots later. However, bacterial infection of intact skin doesn’t just happen on its own. Therefore it’s vital to first understand why some dogs get hotspots and others don’t.

Click here for the types of sores specifically found on the head

Causes Of Hotspots In Dogs

Hotspots are always secondary to another problem. These include:

  • Flea, mite and insect bite
  • Irritation from skin allergies
  • Wounds and grooming sores
  • Dense coats in hot weather
  • Folded areas of skin

These predisposing factors create a small wound that gets infected. The infection causes pus to form and get trapped in the surrounding hair.

Hair is the key to why hotspots grow, and why they happen to dogs, not people. By trapping the pus, hair keeps the infection spreading along the skin surface. Additionally, the pus at the skin surface stays protected by the dried layers held above it.

It gets even worse if the dog can get to the area. Licking adds extra moisture that feeds the infection (this is why salt water bathing also doesn’t help). Scratching and biting create more areas of broken skin.

Eventually a hotspot gets large enough that the infection causes the dog to be lethargic as well as in pain. Furthermore, if a hotspot isn’t stopped, the skin can begin to die.

Treatment Of Hotspots

Successful hotspot treatment requires:

  • Wide and close clipping
  • Frequent bathing with disinfectants
  • Use of antibacterial ointments
  • Treatment of any predisposing factors
  • Prevention of further licking or scratching either using a ‘cone’ or a cortisone injection

Many dogs also need oral antibiotics.

Of these approaches, clipping and cleaning are the most important by far. Here’s an analogy most Australians will understand:

  • A hotspot is like a bushfire burning through scrubland
  • Clipping is like creating a firebreak
  • Cleaning and disinfection is like fighting the fire

Almost every time I see a treatment failure, it’s because the owners allowed the crusts to build up again. You need the wound to look as clean as the middle picture after each wash (although rapidly less red). You keep it this clean by bathing as often as needed, usually two to three times a day. If crusts form, they need to be soaked off each time.

But Mother Told Me Not To Pick My Scabs!

Yes, but you aren’t as hairy as your dog (I assume). Have you noticed that I don’t use the word scab? Scabs are thin, dry and cover clean wounds. We almost never see them in dogs.

Crusts, on the other hand, are made of dried wound ooze and pus. They cover infected wounds and protect the bacteria from oxygen, disinfectants and drying. Look again at the pictures: you have to make the wound look worse if you want it to get better.

Just a warning though. Most dogs need sedation and pain relief first, especially if you ever want them to trust you again. Clipping a hotspot of that severity is extremely painful.

Prevention Of Hotspots

Preventing recurrence is all about identifying and treating the predisposing factors. Examples include:

Regardless some dogs will always get a hotspot from time to time. I know a few. All these need is a quick trip to the vet to have them clipped and treated.

You get pretty good at spotting them. I saw a case recently where the owner was the one showing me where they were!

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

32 Replies to “Hotspots On Dogs Skin”

  1. Hi there,

    My dog has broken out in two big scabs and red rashes. One on her jaw, under her neck folds and one on the back of her neck (where the top of her spine is)

    She has very sensitive skin which is why I think this happened so fast, and she’s hard to wash as if she’s not dried properly she’ll get a skin irritation. I’m reading this and you say to wash the dog many times a day but I’m worried I will irritate her further. Especially as I can never her dry her completely. What should I do?

    She’s also a cavalier so her ear keeps going into the spot on her neck so it keeps scanning then opening again.

    She’s on antibiotics but I’m worried I should be cleaning but not sure. (I am applying a disinfectant daily)

    Thank you

    1. Hi Gabby. I can only stand by what I’ve written in the article, but please consult your vet if it doesn’t seem right for your situation. Good luck.

  2. Our 14 yr old Yorkie developed a spot in July. It was treated with Tresaderm & tested for a fungus that returned with normal results. The spit did not heal. He was then given Cefpodoxine without results. We switched vets and was given an antibiotic injection, Carprophen, and Antimax ointment. The spot cleared up, however, several have appeared in both ears and another above the area that started all of this. He is now on Prednisone, Clavamox and Proviable probiotic with Derma Gel applied 2x day. The areas seem to be drying up. He isn’t in discomfort or pain. He eats a Salmon & sweet potatoe Just for Dogs food. Are we doing everything?

  3. Thank you for this article! My dog has been suffering from this for a few years now and we have tried many things. The Vet told us it was allergies and prescribed all sorts of antibiotics and cortisone’s that never worked. It’s been particularly bad this summer, he gets these yellow crusts and this is the first time I am noticing the circular pattern after clearing up one of the spots. I will try these steps and hope that this will finally do the trick because poor Bruno seems very uncomfortable! Thanks!

  4. Hi there I have currently taking in a rescue pitbull and he’s got really bad hotspots I currently cannot afford the vet how can I help him here at home he gets lethargic and seems to be in pain I’ve been doing my best but it seems it’s not enough what can I over the counter and anything To help treat at home

    1. Hi Jennifer. You will need to see a vet sooner or later to stop the underlying cause, but in the meantime, the most important thing is (as I stress in the article) that you completely remove the crusts from each hotspot, using a detergent disinfectant, and lots of patience and soaking, not brute force. Once you remove the crusts, they need to be kept away for healing to occur by frequent gentle cleaning.

    2. Don’t mess around, borrow the money or something to get your dog to a vet or your dog will become very sick from the bacterial infection. These spots are very painful. Usually you will have the cost of the vet visit and meds, not horrific. Most need antibiotics to calm it from the inside out and treat the infection, and the wound(s) absolutely needed clipped/shaved to allow air to get to it and must be cleansed with an antibacterial/antiseptic cleaner for the wound to start to heal. It will then get a crust from the pus that you can gently clean daily with warm water and a little hotspot shampoo. Rinse soap with fresh water, pat dry and then apply antibacterial spray. You can use diluted Povidone-iodine to keep the wound disinfected, it’s cheap and will help with healing. I have dealt with many of these and am dealing with one now on my dogs neck. They can get very bad if not treated, there is nothing from home you can do, it absolutely requires a vet visit and meds. Good luck and hope your pup gets better soon!

  5. Hi I just found one of these on my little dogs legs and I think he is in much pain. I will visit the vet tomorrow. I actually took him last week and he didn’t treat it. I took him last week because at night I was wakened with his stomach making loud noises and was worried for him as his appetite decreased. Now I’m thinking is the 2 connected ?

  6. My Matisse has had the sores with scabs on her back for years.we have had many trips to vet and was told it was allergies she gets a allergy shot And takes a allergy pill.
    And is given medication.but it doesn’t go away now she is covered with it .It goes down her neck and legs. What can it be?

    1. Hi Sharon. I’m sorry to hear that. Have a look at our page on common treatments of skin allergies in dogs just to check that there’s nothing you haven’t tried. While you’re there, have a look at the graphic at the top; scabs on the back would make me question the completeness of parasite prevention.

    2. I’m not a vet, but a pup parent too. Consider switching foods to a decent brand and maybe a single protein food. Lamb is often gentle for dogs with allergies. The other thing I would do is get a good Omega 3 supplement. Ultra Oil Skin and Coat Supplement for Dogs from Amazon is a terrific one since Salmon oil in the stores is not always fresh or the best thing. This will really help the skin heal. Good luck!

  7. I have a 9 yr old Yorkie and I took her to her vet for her shorts and check- up and yhe vet ask Mr if I wanted to give her a shot for worms and I told her no. Well when she gave my baby back to me,she said ” I went ahead and gave her her worm shot” which kinda upset me but she was the vet.After I got her home she had a small seizure so i called her vet and they had me take her back and said she must of had a reaction to the shot. But about 3- 5 days after her visit I noticed that she was acted differently. Now she have 4 r 5 Hotspot. I bathe her about 3 times a week because she gets crusty. Any thing I can do to help her get these dried up and get rid of them ? So can worm shots cause this ? Thank you, Kathy /

  8. My Caucasian shepherd has this same issue.
    It looks dry, and stinks like chicken poo.
    Anytime I use disinfectant to clean it, it turns to some sort of fresh wound.
    Is it the same as the hotspot?

    1. Hi Demi. Sounds like you need help from a vet. Almost certainly a nasty hotspot and far worse than it looks on the surface.

      1. Thanks Andrew. I just contacted my vet, he said it’s “mange”, then he told me the dog will be needing some special bathing and also needs to be dewormed with some few injections to be taken he didn’t specify what type of injection though.
        But then, I told him he was last dewormed November 25th. He said it doesn’t mean.
        Am I good to go for the treatment as my vet said?

  9. Hi! My dog has a really bad case of this. I am trying to keep the hotspots in my dogs neck as clean as possible. She also has hotspots in some paws and in her nose that are stuck under matted skin. She is a havanese with long hair. And she lets me shave her back and neck so I can clean those, but she is very sensitive about her legs and nose and won’t let me trim the hair there to get to the hotspots. I have been soaking antibiotic shampoo on her multiple times of day, but I am concerned it won’t be enough. She is also being treated with cefpodoxime. What do you recommend?

    1. Hi Sara. It’s not possible to adequately resolve hotspots without the help of a veterinarian, both to deal with the acute situation and manage the predisposing factors that are invariably present. That should answer all your problems.

  10. Hi, Andrew. It is very elaborate article about dog hot spot. Thanks so much for sharing. We noticed our labrador has hot spot on his neck yesterday afternoon, it developed rapidly, covered with blood and looks so painful. The vet given him Cortavance Cutaneous Spray Solution but no pain killer. Can I ask is it normal to have consistent bleeding on hot spot?
    Three of our pets were under your professional caring for many years. You are the most trustworthy and caring vet we’ve ever seen. We moved to Melbourne one year ago, one thing I miss the most about Adelaide is Walkerville Vet. Thanks so much for keep updating the blog. I can find your professional advices every time my pets had any problem just like this time and feels like they are still under your care. Much appreciated!
    Love from Tongtong, Wenxi, Milo, Charili, Kitty

    1. Hi Wenxi. It’s good to hear from you. Regarding your question, Cortavance is a good product but it is in my experience quite mild, and I personally don’t use it for hotspots as I think it will give an insufficient degree of improvement. However, I assume you also have other treatments at the same time such as anti bacterial washes, creams or tablets. Regarding your other question, no it is certainly not normal for a hotspot to keep bleeding. If the advice in the article is followed (particularly of making sure it is completely free of scabs and crusts and then maintained that way twice a day) healing should be extremely rapid, typically in one or two days. Good luck.

      1. Thank you so much for your advice Andrew. Fortunately, Milo is getting much better today. We carefully follow your procedures to clean any crust and got antibiotics, antibacterial tropical cream, hydrocortisone tablets today. The first vet just given him hydrocortisone spray and nothing else. Take care and all the best! Wenxi

  11. My vet told me it was ok to put pepto bismol on the hot spots. Just checking to make sure its ok. My dog is 15 yrs old he is a pitbull.

    1. Hi Debbie. That’s an interesting approach. I’m sure it can’t replace the basics of hot spot treatment but it could be a useful addition.

    1. Hi Marwah. Many skin lesions spread in a circular way. Three examples are hotspots (acute moist bacterial dermatitis), epidermal collarettes (slower spreading dry rings also caused by Staphylococcus) and ringworm, which is a fungus adapted to feed off the surface layers of skin. It almost never forms rings in animals- you can see what ringworm looks like in cats here.

  12. Hi there, thanks for the clear and concise article regarding these nasty things! So there is no evidence to suggest hot spots can be caused by a food allergy?

Comments are closed.