Hot spots can develop anywhere a dog licks, scratches, or gets a small injury. Your dog can be quite agitated over a hot spot, so it is good to know how you can help your dog get some relief. Learn what you can do for a hot spot while awaiting your veterinarian's examination and advice.
What Is a Hot Spot?
A hot spot, sometimes called pyotraumatic dermatitis or acute moist dermatitis, is a localized area of skin inflammation and infection caused by scratching and irritation. You will see redness, inflammation, pain, and oozing. This oozing can also cause matter fur. If you think your dog is suffering from a hot spot, before you do anything else you should talk to your vet to make sure your pup does indeed have a hot spot and not something else.
These tips are not meant to replace the recommended trip to the vet, but rather, offer your pet some relief between the time you schedule and exam and the time you are able to bring your dog to the vet.
How to Soothe Hot Spots
Hot spots can increase dramatically in size in just a short amount of time and, if left to fester, there can be a risk of a deeper skin infection. This is why it is wise to start treatment with your vet. Also, these hot spots can be very painful to the touch, so may need to use a well-fitted muzzle for your protection.
- Shave the area. The first treatment for hot spots is to dry them out and get air to the area. Hair can easily mat over the inflamed area, holding in moisture and also covering up a potentially much more severe and larger problem. However, because most hot spots are very itchy and painful to the pet, it's best to leave the initial shave/clean-up to your veterinarian. Some animals need sedation to do this. If you attempt to shave the affected area at home, please take appropriate precautions.
- Cleanse the area. Use cool water and a gentle skin cleanser to clean it. Again, hot spots can be very painful, so be gently when cleaning the area. Your dog may be more amenable to you doing more of a sponge bath method, wetting a rag and wiping the area, then getting the rag soapy and wiping again, and then wetting a second rag to rinse.
- Cool compress the area. Do this two to four times a day with a cool wet washcloth.
- Use medications. Depending on the severity and size of the hot spot, your veterinarian may prescribe oral antibiotics, topical drying sprays or medications, and/or special shampoos.
- Prevent licking, biting, and scratching. To prevent additional issues, put an Elizabethan collar or "E-collar" cone or alternative on your dog.
Always talk to your vet before starting any at-home, over-the-counter treatment. In general, OTC creams and ointments only serve to gunk up the area and prevent proper drying if used incorrectly. Additionally, if your pet can lick the hot spot you want to make sure you don't apply anything that could be toxic.
Never give your pet any pain medications, such as aspirin, unless advised by your vet. A vet will know the correct dosage and which dangerous side effects can result.
After getting approval from your veterinarian, you may try these at-home remedies:
- Use a topical antiseptic. Chlorhexidine Solution, available over-the-counter at your corner drug store, is the exact same product that your vet will be cleaning your dog's hot spot with at your appointment, so why not get a head start? You will want to be sure to find a bottle that is listed as either 2% or 4% as anything stronger will need to be diluted with distilled water before being applied to your dog. To clean your dog's hot spot, dampen a cotton ball or cotton round with the solution and gently wipe the affected area with the solution before rinsing the excess off with sterile saline, such as eye wash or contact solution. Chlrohexidine can be irritating to the skin if left on for too long, so you always want to be sure to thoroughly rinse the solution off when you are done cleansing the area. The biggest caveat with this at-home remedy, though, is to NOT clean any hot spots on your dog's face with chlorhexidine. This is because if any of the solution gets into your dog's eyes, it can cause an ulcer to form in the eye.
- Use a topical wound-healing spray to relieve, soothe and heal. One product that is non-toxic if ingested and promotes wound healing is Vetericyn spray or gel spray.
- Use tea bag compresses (black or green tea) to help dry the area out. Tea can be used as a wash or as a compress.
- Apply Domeboro's (Burow's) solution (aluminum acetate). This is available over-the-counter at pharmacies to help dry the skin out. It can be used as a compress or as a spray.
- Apply hydrocortisone creams or sprays. A thin film of an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream may give some immediate relief. Use care if the hot spot is in a location that your dog can easily lick. Sprays are safer than creams in this regard, as the area will dry faster and your dog will be less at risk to lick any residue up. You can also give your dog a puzzle toy or a frozen kong toy filled with food or treats immediately after applying the hydrocortisone to keep your pup occupied while the area dries.
Schroeder, Heidi et al. Efficacy Of A Topical Antimicrobial-Anti-Inflammatory Combination In The Treatment Of Pyotraumatic Dermatitis In Dogs. Veterinary Dermatology, vol 7, no. 3, 1996, pp. 163-170. Wiley, doi:10.1111/j.1365-3164.1996.tb00241.x
Acute Moist Dermatitis in Dogs. Auburn Animal Hospital, 2020