Hot Spot Treatment for Dogs and Cats

Hot Spot Treatment for Dogs and Cats
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vet verified PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian DVM

Hot spots are extremely painful and if treated incorrectly, can cause your pet even more pain and make the infection worse. Learn more here.

Hot spots are extremely painful, swollen patches of infected skin that can show up anywhere on your dog’s body. They are usually caused when your dog engages in excessive licking, biting, or scratching to try to soothe an area that is irritated because of allergies, parasites such as fleas or mites, an infection, stress, or improper grooming.

These sensitive red sores give off a strong odor and ooze and can cause hair loss, but fortunately, there are a number of treatment options available. Treatment usually starts with shaving and cleaning the affected area to prevent further infection. Then your veterinarian will decide if your dog needs a topical cream or powder, oral antibiotic, or both. Whatever your veterinarian recommends in the way of pet meds, always remember to follow their instructions explicitly.

A hot spot is one of the most painful skin infections that your pet can suffer. Characterized by red, swollen patches of skin that ooze, give off a strong odor, and become hairless, hot spots can occur anywhere on your pet’s body and often appear in multiples. These painful infections are caused when your pet excessively licks, chews, or scratches to try to soothe skin areas irritated by fleas, mites, or other skin parasites, improper grooming, skin allergies, internal infections, or stress. Most hot spots are treated with topical creams and/or oral antibiotics, and you can take preventative measures to keep your pet from suffering from hot spots in the future.

Hot spots should be treated in the manner suggested by your veterinarian. Improper treatment may worsen the infection or, at the very least, make it a painful experience for your pet. Because hot spots are so sensitive, some pets may need to be sedated or anesthetized before the initial treatment, and a veterinarian should carry this out.

Hot spots form when your pet excessively licks, chews, or scratches its skin in order to soothe an area that is bothering them. Breeds with long or thick coats are more likely to get hot spots, as dense clumps of moist hair stick close to the skin before shedding, creating the perfect hot and wet environment for an irritating infection to form. Improper or neglected grooming only makes these environments worse and can be a factor in causing hot spots on all breeds, not just those with heavy coats. Other factors that may initiate hot spots include skin allergies, mites, fleas, and other skin parasites, internal infections, and stress. Additionally, dogs who swim a lot are more prone to hot spots.

Hot spots are easily identifiable, manifesting as red, swollen, circular patches of skin, usually 1 to 4 inches across. These spots often seem to appear out of nowhere and can grow rapidly in size in a short amount of time. Hair loss is typical on and around the hot spot, as is a foul-smelling odor and oozing pus. If your pet is obsessively licking, chewing, or scratching any part of its body, take a look. They may be developing a hot spot or worsening an existing one.

Hot Spot Treatment for Dogs and Cats

If your pet has a hot spot, chances are it will not go away without treatment. Because hot spots are so painful, many animals need to be sedated or anesthetized before any treatment can be enacted. Treatment generally consists of clipping the area of surrounding hairs, washing your pet with a gentle cleanser, then applying a topical cream or powder as prescribed by your veterinarian. Depending on the severity of the infection, oral antibiotics may also be administered. Some home remedies - such as compresses and over-the-counter products - may also be used to treat hot spots, but consult with your veterinarian first.

Your pet’s hot spot will not heal if they continue to lick, chew, or scratch the area, so an Elizabethan or Bite Not collar can be used to keep your pet from engaging in these harmful behaviors. You can help prevent your pet from getting hot spots in the future by keeping them properly groomed (especially in hot weather), providing plenty of drinking water to eliminate toxins, and treating any underlying conditions such as insect infestations, skin allergies, or internal infections that may be causing your pet’s skin to become irritated.

Shave and Cleanse

The first step after identifying the causes is to shave the area so that it can be cleaned. While many hot spots cause your pet’s hair to fall out at the site, longer or thicker hairs can remain matted down, covering up or irritating the skin. Do not attempt to shave your pet without first consulting your veterinarian. They may suggest you go into their office for the initial treatment, allowing your pet to be sedated or anesthetized to make the procedure easier and less painful.

Once the area is shaved, your pet should be cleansed with cool water and a gentle skin cleanser. Ensure that the cleanser does contain any irritants that may exacerbate the symptoms. Diluted povidone-iodine or chlorhexidine solutions are often recommended for their antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Suggested brands include Betadine and Nolvasan, both available over the counter.

Shaving the area around the hot spot and cleansing your pet prepares the skin for whatever treatments follows. Make sure that your pet’s skin is completely dry before moving forward with any topical applications or treatments.

Topical Creams and Powders

Depending on the severity of the infection, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotic steroid powders or creams such as Neocort or Panolog. These ointments contain antibiotics to destroy the infection and have anti-itch and anti-inflammatory properties to soothe your pet’s symptoms. Topical treatments are often applied for up to 14 days with two applications per day but always follow the directions provided by your veterinarian.

Oral Antibiotics

In some cases, oral antibiotics may be prescribed with a topical solution. Cephalosporins (such as Keflex), fluoroquinolones (such as Baytril or Cipro), and penicillins  (such as Amoxicillin and Clavamox) are the most common types of oral antibiotics used to treat hot spots. All are effective against a wide range of infections. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for the proper administration of these medications, and always complete the full course of antibiotics to keep the infection from returning.

Hot Spot Medications for Dogs

Your veterinarian may prescribe a combination of antibiotics to remove the infection and topical cream or powder to soothe inflammation and itch. Commonly prescribed medications include:

  • Amoxicillin (Amoxil, Polymox, Trimox): Amoxicillin is a commonly prescribed broad-spectrum penicillin antibiotic used to treat a wide range of bacterial infections, including those of the skin. It is available in pill form.
  • Clavamox (Amoxicillin, Clavulanate Potassium, Synulox, Clavaseptin): Clavamox is essentially a stronger version of Amoxicillin. It is specially designed to keep bacteria from forming a resistance to it, and it is most commonly used to treat infections of the skin and soft tissue. It is available in pill form.
  • Baytril (Enrofloxacin): Baytril is a broad-spectrum fluoroquinolone antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections. It works to reduce bacterial pathogens and therefore inhibits bacterial replication. It is available as injection or flavored tabs that most dogs will enjoy taking.
  • Cephalexin (Keflex Suspension, Panixine): Cephalexin is an effective broad-spectrum bactericidal antibiotic indicated for a wide variety of bacterial infections, including those of the skin, bone, bladder, and respiratory tract. It is available in pill form or as an oral suspension solution.
  • Neo-Predef: Neo-Predef is a triple-action antibiotic, topical anaesthetic, and anti-inflammatory powder. It works to relieve itching, swelling, and inflammation while also treating the infection.
  • TresadermTresaderm is a topical antibiotic solution used in the treatment of fungal or bacterial infections of the skin and ears. Tresaderm works to kill the infection while reducing inflammation.
  • TriTop: TriTop is a topical anesthetic ointment that has anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties. It treats infections and provides relief from itching and irritation. It can either be used short-term or long-term.

In addition to prescription medications, there are a number of sprays, drops, and shampoos on the market specially designed to relieve hot spot symptoms. Browse hot spot products now.

Home Remedies

There are a number of home remedies that can be used to ease your pet’s discomfort and, in some cases, treat the infection if it is not severe. Always check with your veterinarian before trying any of these at-home remedies.

  • To soothe your pet’s pain, a cool, wet washcloth can be applied to the affected area several times a day. After using these compresses, always make sure that the skin and surrounding hair dry completely, especially in warm weather. Hair that is left wet is the perfect breeding ground for infection.
  • Tea compresses (black or green) can be used to dry out the area and reduce infection. Tea can also be used as a drying wash. Ask your veterinarian about the proper way to use tea or tea compresses to treat hot spots.
  • Over-the-counter solutions such as Domeboro (Burow’s) are often used to dry out the area. Domeboro is an aluminum acetate/astringent solution that, in some cases, will cause hot spots to scab over and heal. Check with your veterinarian before using any over-the-counter products.

Preventative Collars

Your pet’s hot spot won’t be able to heal if they continue to lick, bite, or scratch the affected area. In many cases, Elizabethan or No Bite collars are used to prevent your pet from reaching the hot spot. Elizabethan collars are conically shaped to keep your pet’s head quarantined from their body. This can be very helpful in the case of hot spots on the ears, as the pet is not able to scratch through the collar. This collar also keeps your pet from reaching affected areas with its mouth. No Bite collars are also recommended, however, not in the case of hot spots on the ears or head, as they will not keep your pet from reaching those areas.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is dog hot spot treatment good for cats?

Hot spots, also known as moist dermatitis, are common skin conditions that can affect both dogs and cats. The condition is characterized by red, irritated, and itchy skin that often becomes infected. In dogs, hot spots are typically caused by an underlying allergy or infection and can be treated with topical creams or ointments. However, cats have a different type of skin and fur than dogs, and the treatment for hot spots may vary. It's best to consult with a veterinarian to determine the cause of the hot spot and the most appropriate treatment. This is because certain safe and effective treatments for dogs may not be safe or appropriate for cats. Additionally, many over-the-counter products for hot spots contain ingredients that can be toxic to cats if ingested. It is best to use products specifically formulated for cats or get a veterinarian's prescription.

What is the best thing to put on a dog's hot spot?

Veterinarians may use a variety of treatments to address hot spots in dogs. The specific treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the hot spot, as well as the severity of the condition. The initial treatment for hot spots typically involves cleaning the affected area with a mild antiseptic solution to remove any debris and bacteria. This helps to reduce the chance of secondary infection and promotes healing. After cleaning the area, the veterinarian may apply a topical ointment, cream, or spray that contains hydrocortisone. This mild steroid can help reduce inflammation, itching, and antibiotics to prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections. Depending on the severity of the hot spot, the veterinarian may also recommend an Elizabethan collar or "cone of shame" to prevent the dog from licking or biting the hot spot. The vet may also recommend oral antibiotics, antihistamines, or anti-inflammatory medications to help manage symptoms and promote healing. Some vets may also prescribe medicated shampoos or dips to help treat the hot spot.

Do I need to go to a vet for hot spots?

It is generally recommended that you seek veterinary care for hot spots, as underlying health issues can cause them and may require medical treatment. A veterinarian can examine your dog and determine the underlying cause of the hot spot and the most appropriate course of treatment. If left untreated, hot spots can become infected, leading to more severe skin problems. The vet will be able to clean the affected area and apply medication to soothe the skin and promote healing. They will also be able to recommend ways to prevent future hot spots from occurring. It's also important to note that if your dog is licking or biting the hot spot excessively, it can be painful and cause more skin damage. In this case, your veterinarian may recommend an Elizabethan collar to prevent your dog from licking or biting the hot spot.

Can I put Neosporin on my dog’s hot spot?

Using Neosporin or other over-the-counter human antibiotics on a dog's hot spot is generally not recommended without consulting a veterinarian first. Neosporin is not specifically formulated for use on dogs and may contain ingredients that can be harmful to them. Additionally, Neosporin is not formulated to address the underlying causes of hot spots in dogs, which may require different treatment options.

What is the best thing to put on a dog's hot spot?

Hot spots in dogs, also known as acute moist dermatitis, can cause discomfort and anguish for our canine companions. While it's crucial to speak with a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and course of treatment, there are a few things you can do at home to offer comfort and speed up recovery. Using a blend of gentle cleaning, topical treatments, and preventative measures on a dog's hot area is one of the best things you can do. To begin, remove any debris or bacteria from the affected region by gently washing it with a moderate antiseptic solution or a diluted povidone-iodine solution. To help minimize inflammation and accelerate healing after cleaning, you can apply a calming, non-toxic topical therapy, like aloe vera gel or calendula lotion. These natural remedies have anti-inflammatory qualities and can offer relief. Another option is to use a veterinarian-prescribed topical medication, such as a corticosteroid cream, to alleviate itching and inflammation. To protect the hot spot from further irritation, you can consider using an Elizabethan collar (also known as a cone) to prevent the dog from scratching or biting the area. By combining these steps with professional guidance, you can help your furry companion find relief from hot spots and promote a speedy recovery.

Will a dog hot spot go away on its own?

No, hot spots are generally not likely to resolve on their own without proper treatment. If these skin lesions aren't addressed, the dog's instinct to scratch or bite at the affected area may worsen the condition by causing further irritation and inflammation. Hot spots require appropriate care, which may include cleaning the area, applying topical medications or prescribed treatments, and addressing any underlying causes, such as allergies or infections. Seeking veterinary attention is crucial to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment for hot spots, as well as to prevent potential complications and promote a faster recovery. A veterinarian can provide the most accurate assessment of the hot spot and recommend suitable treatment options based on the specific needs of your dog.

How do I prevent hot spots on my dog?

To maintain your dog's coat clean and free of knots, groom them on a regular basis. Keep their skin as dry as possible, particularly in areas where moisture is an issue. Additionally, you should stay away from irritants and groom using mild products. Regular preventive measures might help you avoid flea and tick infestations. Furthermore, you may offer a nutritious food that is balanced to support good skin and fur. Also, frequent exercise and mental stimulation for your dog will aid in reducing boredom and anxiety. Likewise, keep an eye out for any irritation symptoms on their skin. Lastly, ensure you create a stress-free environment and seek professional help if needed. Prompt veterinary care is crucial if you notice any signs of skin irritation or the onset of a hot spot.

How long do hot spots last on dogs?

The intensity of the hot spot, the underlying cause, and the efficacy of therapy are some of the variables that might affect how long hot spots last in dogs. In general, hot spots can start to improve within a few days with the right care and treatment. Mild hot spots may cure within a week or two. However, more severe or recurrent hot spots may take longer to heal. It is essential to remember that hot spots shouldn't be ignored because they could become worse and perhaps cause issues. Your veterinarian may recommend and prescribe antibiotics or corticosteroids to aid in minimizing inflammation and infection. Additionally, they may recommend topical treatments, such as sprays or creams, to promote healing.

What food causes hot spots on dogs?

There is no particular meal that constantly causes hot spots in dogs. However, certain dietary factors can potentially contribute to their development. Food allergies or sensitivities are known to trigger skin issues, including hot spots, in some dogs. Beef, chicken, dairy, wheat, soy, and corn are typical canine dietary allergies. If a dog is allergic or sensitive to a particular ingredient, consuming it can lead to an immune response, which may manifest as skin irritation and hot spots. It's important to note that food allergies are relatively uncommon compared to other causes of hot spots, such as environmental allergies or flea infestations. If you suspect a food allergy, it is advisable to work with your veterinarian to conduct a proper diagnosis, which may involve elimination diets or allergy testing.

More on Maintaining Healthy Skin and Coat

Dog Hot Spots: What is Flea Allergy Dermatitis?
Scrumptious Salmon for a Healthy Skin and Coat
Skin and Coat Care: A Pet Parent's Guide
The 5 Things to Know About Dog and Cat Dandruff
Natural and Homemade Shampoo for Dogs

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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