If you've never heard the term before, a dog hot spot is a small area of itchy, inflamed irritation on your dog's skin. This is a common issue many dog owners will experience, and while it may seem like a mild problem, hot spots aren't just annoying and uncomfortable for your dog; they are often a sign of a more serious underlying problem. If left unaddressed, they can become infected, or lead your dog to injure themselves attempting to scratch that elusive itch.
If you're concerned that your dog may have a hot spot, your dog's behavior is the biggest clue, as you'll notice them spending a lot of time scratching or chewing on that particular area. These can occur anywhere on the body, but most commonly appear on the head, limbs, and hips. Hot spots often appear red and inflamed, and in that area, fur may be patchy or sparse. The skin may feel warm to the touch, hence the name "hot spot". More severe or long untreated hot spots may also bleed or ooze.
There are a few possible culprits for a dog hot spot, and that's why it's important to work with your veterinarian in the process of diagnosing and treating the issue. But some of the most common causes for doggy hot spots include:
- Flea dermatitis
- Food allergies
- Environmental allergies
- Boredom or anxiety
- Bacterial infection
- Chronic pain
So, how do we fix it?
In my veterinary practice, I see a lot of dog hot spots. Sometimes, the cause is immediately obvious, but more often, addressing the issue involves a certain amount of trial and error to eliminate each potential culprit.
That's why I've put together this list of straightforward steps that dog owners can take to identify and resolve almost all hot spot problems.
Keep the hot spot clean.
It's very common for hot spots to become infected, and the more your dog is scratching and chewing, the more the pain and itchiness increases. Whatever the root cause, keeping the skin on that area clean by washing it daily using a gentle soap or cleaning wipe can help reduce the chances of infection, and may even reduce some of the discomfort as well.
Dog shampoos which contain oatmeal or tea tree oil can especially help reduce itchiness.
If the problem is an environmental allergy or irritant, cleaning the spot may help remove those itchy particles.
You may also want to use clippers to trim or shave the fur in that area to prevent matting, keep it open to the air, and allow you easier access.
Just make sure you avoid over-the-counter disinfectants or anti-itch treatments, unless directed by your vet! Many products intended for cleaning wounds or reducing itch aren't appropriate for dogs, or, depending on the nature of the hot spot, may actually make it even itchier or ouchier!
Common vet-recommended solutions include topical or oral steroids, antibiotics, or cleaning solutions, but wait until your vet confirms that your dog's particular case can be helped by these treatments.
Treat your dog, home, and yard for fleas
Since a severe reaction to a flea bite is a very common cause of hot spots, I highly recommend making sure that your dog's flea treatment is up to date. Check with your vet to make sure that the product you're using is effective for your dog, as there may be a product out there which does a better job of keeping the fleas off your pup.
It's also important to treat your home for fleas, not just the dog itself. Only about 5% of the fleas that bite your dog are actually present on their body at any given time, with the other 95% in your dog's environment, like the carpet and furniture, so they can return post-treatment.
Whether you choose a chemical or natural solution to treat your home, make sure you vacuum your carpets both before and after using that product, and run both yours and your dog's bedding through the wash.
Try an elimination diet.
An elimination diet is a simple solution often used to identify and address dietary allergies. The idea is to sharply reduce the number of different foods and ingredients your dog is eating, so that if there's anything in their regular diet which is causing an allergy, those symptoms should reduce or go away. Then you can gradually reintroduce elements of their old diet, one at a time, until the symptoms recur - then you'll know exactly what it is that your dog was reacting to.
Dietary allergies are always caused by a food's proteins, so pay special attention to the protein sources in your dog's food. Meat is obviously a common source of protein, so it's most common for a dog to develop an allergy to a particular animal's meat, but other types of food also contain protein too, and many inexpensive dog foods lean heavily on these non-meat protein sources like wheat gluten or soy.
Your dog's elimination diet should primarily consist of no more than one or two meats which they don't normally get in their food, and otherwise as short an ingredient list as possible. Since chicken, beef, and wheat are generally the most common protein sources in dog food, and the most commonly identified allergens, elimination diets usually use slightly more exotic protein sources like turkey, duck, fish, etc.
And don't forget the treats! I'd never suggest you stop giving your dog treats altogether, but just make sure that you find some healthy, limited ingredient treats that don't use the same ingredients as your dog's regular food.
Reduce your dog's carb intake.
Certain dogs, and especially some small breeds, are prone to itchy yeast infections which take up residence on their skin, in their ears, or on their eyes. These yeast bacteria primarily consume starches contained within carbohydrates, so if one of these dogs is eating a high-carb dry food diet, it can increase their likelihood of developing a hot spot.
Additionally, excessive carbohydrates can also heighten the body's immune response, increasing the severity of inflammation. So even if carbs aren't causing the hot spot in the first place, too many carbs can make them a lot worse!
Supplement your dog's diet with digestive aids and natural anti-inflammatories
There are a handful of amazing foods which naturally reduce the body's inflammatory response, and their application here is obvious! Omega fatty acids are instrumental in managing inflammation, so foods rich in those healthy fats, like fish and/or fish oil, flaxseed, or kelp, can significantly reduce the severity of dog hot spots. Some herbs, like turmeric and cinnamon, are believed to have natural anti-inflammatory properties.
Digestive supplements such as probiotics and digestive enzymes can also help reduce the occurrence and severity of hot spots by balancing your dog's digestive biome to help eliminate itch-causing bacteria, and by improving your dog's ability to successfully break down and process potential dietary allergens.
Help your dog relax and give them something better to focus on
Boredom, stress, and anxiety may also be factors in your dog's hot spot, so it may help to distract your dog from the discomfort. This is the perfect time to spend more time with your dog, teach them new tricks or games, and provide them with some new toys to play with. The more they're doing that stuff, the less time they're spending chomping on that hot spot!
I've also found that calming aids can help quite a bit in reducing the obsessive chewing and scratching behavior. These range from synthetic pheromone sprays, to herbal supplements with natural sedative effects like chamomile or valerian, to homeopathic solutions. Every dog reacts differently to these, so it may take a little experimentation to find out which works best for your own pup.
Break out the cone
I usually only recommend a head cone in severe cases, probably because they seem to hate that cone so much, and I'm a big softy! But unfortunately, some dogs fixate on their hot spot, and attempts to treat that area only make them more inclined to scratch and chew it, causing the problem to continue despite any other treatment efforts.
So if a head cone is what it takes for your dog to leave that spot alone for a few days to heal naturally and let the hair start to grow back, then in the long run, your dog will be much better off!
Wishing you and your dog the best of health,
Dr. Edward Tuk
Canine Sciences products are all designed to work with these hot spot treatments, with exotic proteins like duck and turkey, intentionally short ingredient lists, natural anti-inflammatories and digestive compounds, and more! Click on the product below to find out more about how they can help you to help your dog.