Causes of Hot Spots on Dogs and Cats

Causes of Hot Spots on Dogs and Cats
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Hot spots are usually from an underlying skin condition that has gone undetected. This causes your pet to scratch, lick and bite their skin. Check out some main causes of hot spots here.

Hot spots are caused when your pet licks, bites, or scratches their skin to try to relieve an underlying skin condition that is making their skin itch or feel irritated. It’s a cycle, ultimately, that creates the hot spot: your pet’s skin itches, they scratch, lick, or bite it, and then the skin becomes more irritated than it already was. This cycle continues, eventually resulting in a painful infection site. Recognizing the cause is a helpful first step in treatment, so below you will find a number of circumstances and conditions that can initiate a hot spot.

Long or Heavy Coats, or Lots of Exposure to Water

Cats and dogs with long or heavy coats are the ones most often troubled by hot spots. When thick, wet hairs becomes stuck next to the skin before shedding, it creates the perfect environment for an infection to form. Your pet may try to relieve the irritation of the skin with licking or scratching, and this will only exasperate the infection. Negligent or improper grooming can contribute to this problem, especially for pets with long or heavy coats. Pets who swim a lot can also be more prone to hot spots. All pets, however, are susceptible to hot spots and should be groomed appropriately, with special attention paid to grooming in warmer months.

Mites, Fleas, and Other Skin Parasites

An infestation of mites, fleas, or other skin parasites on your pet is one of the leading factors responsible for hot spots. Mites are the tiny parasites responsible for mange, a contagious skin disease that causes extreme itching and irritation. Mange can result in hair loss from all of the scratching, as well as the formation of tender hot spots from the constant irritation.

Fleas are also likely culprits when it comes to hot spots. When a flea bites a dog or cat, the flea’s saliva is injected into the skin. Many animals are highly allergic to flea saliva and this results in flea dermatitis, a painful and itchy allergic reaction. Your pet can cause a hot spot as they scratch, lick, or bite in order to relieve the relentless itching.

Other skin parasites, such as ticks, can also initiate a hot spot.

Skin Allergies

If your pet has untreated skin allergies, it makes sense that they would be licking or scratching in order to relieve the itch and discomfort. These are of course the circumstances under which hot spots are formed. One of the most common skin allergies is Atopic dermatitis, or Atopy, which is generally caused by environmental allergens such as pollens, molds, or dust mites. Your pet may also develop skin allergies as a result of their diet, in response to medications, or as a reaction to products used on the skin (such as cleansers or sprays).

Internal Infections

If you notice your pet licking, scratching, or biting around their ears or rear end, they may have an ear or anal gland infection. Ear infections are often caused by bacteria, but can also come from an ear mite infestation. Regardless of the source, ear infections are very painful, and your pet may try to relieve the symptoms with some serious scratching that ultimately results in a hot spot. Anal gland infections may be caused by any number of factors, such as diet, poor grooming, age, or inborn predisposition. These infections cause your pet’s anal gland to become swollen and painful, and your pet is likely to lick or bite the area for relief. Excessive licking or biting can result in a hot spot.


Some research suggests that stress can be a factor in the development of hot spots. Dehydration, lack of exercise, poor grooming, or environmental factors such as moving to a new residence can cause your pet to feel stressed out and uncomfortable, and this can lead to licking or scratching in order to try to calm an overall feeling of agitation.

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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