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dog parent must-knows
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 on dogs are a type of skin infection — They usually begin as a patch of itchy skin and quickly spread with the help of excess moisture, often from licking. 
  • Dog balms are a simple solution for preventing and healing hot spots — Balms with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and natural ingredients can heal several skin conditions.
  • Coconut oil is safe but ineffective for hot spots Although it is safe for dogs in small amounts, coconut oil may cause excess moisture and worsen the hot spot.

What are hot spots?

If you notice a red, oozing spot on your dog’s skin that seems 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 the skin is damaged, 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 a snowball effect.

👉 Take 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 causing your dog’s hot spots.

Why dogs scratch and lick

The head, hips, and legs are the most common places for hot spots. You might first notice the hot spot as a lump of wet, matted fur, underneath which will be an irritable red spot on your dog’s skin that 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. Despite this, many dogs can’t stop themselves from touching the itchy, painful spot in an attempt to self-heal.

👉 Dogs with thick coats, like German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and golden retrievers, are more prone to getting hot spots since their fur can trap moisture and dirt.

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

A close-up of your average hot spot

Using coconut oil to treat hot spots on dogs

Praised as a superfood and beauty product, coconut oil has risen to stardom in recent years as a health supplement for humans. Many people use coconut oil topically as a moisturizer for skin, hair, and lips.

While coconut oil isn’t toxic for dogs in small amounts, there’s no scientific evidence that it treats hot spots. Coconut oil has not been proven to treat infections such as hot spots in dogs. The most widely-accepted use of coconut oil is as a moisturizer. Since hot spots stem from excess moisture, it’s not the most effective treatment method.

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

Problems with using coconut oil for dogs

  • It can be messy. Coconut oil has a greasy consistency, which may stain furniture and make an oily mess.
  • Dogs 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.

👉 If you still want to try coconut oil, consult your veterinarian first. Even though it’s safe in most cases, you don’t want the infection to become severe before you seek professional advice. Monitor the area closely and call your veterinarian if the infection worsens.

Treating hot spots on dogs

Hot spots are common and there’s typically no reason for panic. But because they can be painful and spread quickly, dog owners should seek veterinary attention as soon as they notice one. 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:

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Causes of hot spots in dogs

If you notice that your dog has been itching or licking excessively, there are a few reasons why they might be fussing over the area.

  • Mites or fleas. Parasites and other insects are common offenders when it comes to excessive scratching at the skin. It can be tough to tell what kind of creature is giving your pooch problems, but there are ways to help identify dog insect bites. Your veterinarian may take a skin sample to look for microscopic parasites.
  • Wounds. In an attempt to self-heal, dogs may repeatedly lick or touch a scrape, which repeatedly punctures the wound.
  • Allergies. From allergens like proteins in dog food to springtime pollen, allergic reactions can manifest through excessive skin itching in some dogs. 
  • 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 or anal sac disease
  • Stress or anxiety. In the same way that humans bite their nails when nervous, dogs may bite and lick their skin when they are anxious or when they have pent-up energy. A skin fixation may be a symptom of isolation, stress, or lack of exercise.

👉 Hot, humid environments can also create perfect conditions for hot spots to form.

Preventing hot spots on dogs

Hot spots can pop up for several reasons, so the best prevention method depends on the dog. However, proper hygiene and grooming are essential. If your dog spends a lot of time swimming or in a humid environment, drying their coat and ears off with a towel when they come inside can help. Additionally, if your dog gets hot spots due to an allergy or anxiety-related issue, consider stopping it at the source. For example, if your dog suffers from anxiety and is licking excessively, talk to your vet about a prescription for anxiety medication.

👉 Hot spots are common, and there’s typically no reason for panic. But because they can be painful and spread quickly, dog owners should seek veterinary attention as soon as they notice one.

More at-home remedies for dog hot spots

If you don’t want to try coconut oil or omega-3 supplements to aid in your pup’s healing process, or you’re just trying to alleviate symptoms until you can get to the vet, try these simple steps at home: 

Use an Elizabethan collar or “cone” — A plastic or inflatable E-collar will stop dogs 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, 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, so leave hot spots unwrapped.

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 canine acne to dry skin and blisters.

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.

Look for a balm with edible, organic ingredients with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory properties.

👉 Products that are safe for humans are not always safe for dogs. Always get a veterinarian’s signoff before trying out a treatment.

Our favorite treatment balms

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

👉 Learn more about our other favorite dog balms and the criteria we used to pick them. 

Frequently asked questions about hot spots on dogs

What is the best home remedy for hot spots on dogs? 

If you don’t have coconut oil on hand at home to treat your dog’s hot spots, other popular remedies include oatmeal baths, tea bag packs, and various natural soothing balms.

Is coconut oil good for open wounds on dogs? 

Coconut oil can be safely used in small amounts as a topical treatment for wounds, cuts, and hot spots, but there’s no supporting scientific evidence that shows that it is effective in treating infection. Although some studies have shown that coconut oil can kill certain types of bacteria, there’s no guarantee that it can be effective on a dog wound. Consult your veterinarian before applying.

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.

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 wound that is not healing. 

Can you put Neosporin on a dog?

Pet owners can use Neosporin on dogs in some instances and small amounts. For example, you may apply the topical antibiotic ointment to heal a dog’s cut or wound, but in some cases, it’s not the best course of action. Be sure to contact your veterinarian before using Neosporin on your dog to get their opinion. If you’re able to use the ointment on your dog, make sure to clean the wound first with mild soap and water, then rinse thoroughly and pat dry. After you apply a small amount of Neosporin, be sure to monitor your pup for any signs of allergic reaction. If your dog has dry skin and can benefit from a milder ointment, consider using Aquaphor instead — it’s a safe alternative that can be used to treat paw pad hyperkeratosis, dry noses, and some sores.