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dog parent must-knows

Can you treat your dog’s hot spots with coconut oil?

Many dog parents like the sound of natural, at-home remedies. But is coconut oil safe and effective for treating your dog’s itchy hot spots?

Updated October 2, 2020

Created By

Mariah Ackary,
dog hot spot

Hot spots are never fun, but this one is easier to treat because the dog's tongue can't reach it.

The essentials

  • Hot spots are a type of skin infection — They usually begin as a patch of itchy skin and quickly spread with the help of excess moisture.
  • 🥥 Using coconut oil for hot spots is safe, but probably not effective — Although it is safe for dogs in small amounts, coconut oil may cause excess moisture and worsen the hot spot.
  • Dog balms are a simple solution for preventing and healing hot spots — Balms with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and natural ingredients can heal a variety of skin conditions.

What are hot spots?

If you notice a red, oozing spot on your dog’s skin that seemed to appear out of nowhere, you’re not alone. Hot spots, formally known as acute moist dermatitis, are a type of infection and one of the most common skin conditions that affect dogs. Hot spots often begin as a small red bump or spot and spread rapidly as dogs lick and scratch at them.

When skin is damaged in some way, bacteria have the opportunity to cluster and cause an infection. Often the damage is self-inflicted by excessive chewing, biting, licking, or scratching. Dogs usually become even more fixated on the area as the infection worsens, causing an unfortunate snowball effect.

The most common places hot spots occur are the head, hips, and legs. You might first notice the hot spot as a lump of wet, matted fur, underneath of which will be an irritated, red spot on your dog’s skin. As it progresses, it will likely ooze pus or blood and crust over. At this point, hair loss around the inflamed area is common, too.

If your dog has a hot spot, they will likely be in pain and wary of having anyone touch it. Ironically, your dog probably won’t be able to stop touching the itchy, painful spot in an attempt to self-heal.

close-up photo of a dog skin with hot-spot

A close-up of your average hot spot

Common causes of hot spots in dogs

Once your dog’s skin breaks open, their natural defenses against bacteria are lowered. Add in a moist, warm environment that allows bacteria to thrive, and a few itches and licks can spiral into a raging hot spot within a matter of hours.

The root of all hot spots can be boiled down to broken skin plus excess moisture, but there are a few factors that increase the likelihood of these conditions.

Dogs with thick coats, like German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers are more prone to getting hot spots since lots of fur can trap moisture and dirt. Hot, humid environments can also create perfect conditions for hot spots to form.

But what causes the initial itching, biting, and licking?

Unfortunately, there are a variety of reasons dogs might scratch and lick themselves. Though it may be a process, understanding the root of the problem can help prevent future infections. This is why it’s best to bring your dog to the veterinarian as soon as you notice a hot spot. They can do a full-body exam to look for underlying conditions that may be causing your dog’s hot spots.

Reasons that dogs itch and lick themselves

  • Mites or flea bites. Parasites and other insects are common offenders when it comes to excessive scratching at the skin. Since they all look pretty much the same, it can be tough to identify what kind of creature is giving your pooch problems. For help, check out our full guide to identifying bug bites on your dog’s skin.
  • A wound. In an attempt to self-heal, dogs may repeatedly lick or touch a scrape or puncture wound.
  • Dirty or moist fur. A coat that’s dirty or wet can feel unpleasant for your dog and cause them to try to itch away the discomfort. If they have a long, thick coat or spend a lot of time outside or in water, more regular cleaning may be necessary in order to avoid hot spots.
  • Allergies. From allergens like dog food to springtime pollen, allergic reactions can manifest through excessive skin itching.
  • Painful conditions. If your dog is licking at their hip or rear area nonstop, it might be due to pain from an underlying condition like hip dysplasia and anal sac disease. When you bring your dog to the veterinarian for a hot spot, they can conduct a full-body exam to look for underlying conditions like these.
  • Mental distress. In the same way that humans bite their nails when nervous, dogs may bite and lick at their skin. The same is true for dogs with pent-up energy. A skin fixation may be a symptom of isolation, stress or lack of exercise.

How to treat hot spots 

Hot spots are common and no reason for panic. But because they can be painful and spread so quickly, dog owners should seek veterinary attention as soon as you notice it. Hot spots usually don’t get better on their own.

Treating the hot spots usually involves disinfecting the area, letting it breathe, and minimizing the amount of contact your dog has with it. To treat the spot, your vet may recommend a combination of:

  • Antibiotics to kill the infection
  • Antiseptics to clean the area
  • Pain relievers
  • Anti-inflammatories or steroids to decrease the urge to itch
  • Putting a cone on your dog to eliminate licking

It also helps to trim the hair surrounding the area to avoid further matting and trapped moisture. Once you’ve got your course of treatment underway, you should try to determine the cause so that you can prevent future hot spots. Your veterinarian may take a skin sample to look for microscopic parasites.

The 5 best home remedies for a dog hot spot

Put an E-Collar or “cone” around your dog’s neck This will stop them from licking and biting at the area.

✂ Clip the hair around the hot spot Trimming the hair down will reduce moisture buildup and avoid matting.

Clean the area — Wet the area with warm water, making sure to dissolve any crust that has formed, and then dry it off with a towel. The hot spot can be quite tender, so be gentle!

Let the wound breathe Bandaging the hot spot can slow the drying process.

Don’t forget about natural remedies too. Beyond cleaning the area properly, there are plenty of natural substances known to have antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties, like Chamomile, apple cider vinegar, and Myrrh. CBD is another option growing in popularity, but you should always consult your veterinarian when trying out a substance or method you read about online. Most veterinarians will be on board with natural remedies — as long as they’re backed by science.

Soothe symptoms with dog balms — Dog balms are skincare products for dogs, typically designed to heal damaged or itchy skin on the paws, snout, or body. Usually containing a carrier oil and healing ingredients, dog balms can fix a slew of skin problems, from doggy acne to dry skin.

Depending on the ingredients, dog balms can be effective at preventing and treating hot spots, likely more than coconut oil alone would be. Some dog balms, like the Skin Soother from Natural Dog Company, dry after application and won’t create excess moisture or leave greasy residue everywhere.

If you want to try a dog balm out, you should look for a balm with edible, organic ingredients with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory properties.

👉 Remember: Products that are safe for humans are not always safe for dogs. Always get a veterinarian’s sign-off before trying out a treatment.

Here are a few of our favorite treatment balms

Don’t worry that these products have ‘nose’ and ‘paw’ in their name. Each one works just as well all over the body.

👉 Peek our guide to learn more about our favorite balms and how we picked them. 

But what about coconut oil for hot spots?

Coconut oil has risen to stardom in recent years as a health supplement for humans, praised as a superfood and beauty product. Many people use coconut oil topically as a moisturizer for skin, hair, and lips. Though the evidence isn’t universally accepted, coconut oil is also used to aid healing on small wounds.

The reason coconut oil is suspected to help heal infections is that it contains lauric acid, an antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory fatty acid that some studies have shown to be effective at killing some types of bacteria. Many dog owners like the idea of using a natural remedy for their furry companion’s skin condition, thinking that it can improve dog health. But is it safe and effective to use coconut oil for dogs’ hot spots?

While coconut oil isn’t toxic for dogs in small amounts (and shouldn’t produce strange side effects),  there’s no scientific evidence that it treats hot spots. Coconut oil isn’t scientifically proven to treat infections, especially hot spot infections in dogs. In fact, the most widely-accepted use of coconut oil is as a moisturizer. Since hot spots stem from excess moisture, it’s probably not the most effective treatment method.

If you want to try it out, though, make sure to consult your veterinarian. Even though coconut oil is safe, you don’t want the infection to become severe before you seek professional advice. Monitor the area closely and don’t be shy about calling your veterinarian if the infection seems to get worse.

You may run into these problems when using coconut oil to treat hot spots

  • It can be messy. Coconut oil has a greasy consistency, which may stain furniture and make an oily mess.
  • Your dog may want to eat it. Your dog will probably like the sweet taste and try to lick it off, leading to more moisture and irritation in the affected area.
  • It may cause excess moisture. The most common methods of hot spot treatment involve letting the area dry out. Applying a moisturizing agent could exacerbate the problem.

3 frequently asked questions about hot spots

How do you prevent dog hot spots?

Hot spots can pop up for a variety of reasons, so the best prevention method depends on the dog.

However, there are a few best practices you can follow to prevent the itchy skin that can turn into a hot spot.

Some dog breeds are simply more prone to hot spots and due to their thick coats that trap excess moisture and dirt. In any case, proper hygiene and grooming are essential to preventing hot spots. If your dog spends time swimming or in a humid environment, drying their coat and ears off with a towel when they come inside can help.

You also want to eliminate any other causes of excessive itching, whether it’s allergy-related, fleas, or something else.

Will dog hot spots go away on their own?

Though hot spots aren’t serious, they’re not likely to go away on their own because they’re a type of bacterial infection, which requires treatment. Many underlying causes of itchy skin, such as flea allergies, also require professional attention.

👉 Because hot spots can become so painful and itchy, you should get your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible. They can prescribe the proper combination of antibiotics, steroids, antiseptics, and other treatments. 

Are hot spots contagious?

Hot spots themselves are a skin condition that is not contagious to other dogs or humans. However, if your dog has hot spots due to having fleas or scabies, the parasite causing the hot spots can be contagious.

In rare cases, MRSA can spread. It’s not the most common bacteria in hot spots, but you should be concerned if your dog has a non-healing wound.