How to manage hot spots in dogs

Not only must you treat hot spots with ointment and medication, but you must keep your dog from licking and scratching at the skin. Courtesy photo Not only must you treat hot spots with ointment and medication, but you must keep your dog from licking and scratching at the skin. Courtesy photo

It definitely wasn’t there yesterday. She looked completely normal before bedtime, and now there’s an oozing 3″ sore over her left hip and she won’t let anybody near it. Some dog owners are all too familiar with this story, but if it’s your first time seeing a hot spot, it can be alarming. They appear with astonishing speed, and the nastier ones could easily lead you to think that something terrible is happening.

Ultimately, a hot spot is just a bacterial skin infection. In most cases, there isn’t anything particularly exotic about the bacteria involved—it’s the same staph bacteria that otherwise live peacefully on your dog’s skin every single day. So why are they suddenly staging a violent revolution?

Hate to say it, but it’s kind of your dog’s fault. You know how you aren’t supposed to pop pimples and pick at scabs because it just makes it worse? Hot spots are the result of dogs ignoring that age-old advice. Something drew your dog’s attention to the area, and she was a bit overzealous in responding. All that licking and scratching damaged the skin, giving those otherwise benign bacteria an opportunity to move in. They cause additional pain and irritation, triggering more intense licking and scratching—and more damage. It’s easy to see how this can spiral out of control in a hurry.

So what caused all that fuss to begin with? We don’t always know. If a dog comes in crawling with fleas, it’s easy enough to guess that they’re behind it. But there are dozens of other possibilities. Maybe a splinter burrowed into the skin or a burr got caught in the fur. In most cases, the skin is so badly damaged by the hot spot that any evidence of the inciting cause has been obliterated by the time I see it. But all it takes is some kind of annoyance to start the reaction, and the dog takes care of the rest.

Luckily, hot spots aren’t too hard to manage. The infection is suppressed with an antibiotic, while an anti-inflammatory is used to break the cycle of inflammation. In milder cases, these can be delivered topically in an ointment, but most will require oral medication. The area must also remain clean and dry. Often, this means shaving the fur away, especially in dogs with dense coats that tend to clump up over the hot spot.

It’s also imperative that affected dogs stop making things worse! If they keep tearing up the skin, no amount of medication is going to solve the problem. Sometimes, that means hauling out the old cone of shame. Bandages and wraps might seem like a good idea, but they tend to trap moisture and make these things fester.

Hot spots are hideous, but they’re common and generally easy to treat. Just make sure to get it taken care of quickly. If it can go from zero to nasty overnight, it’s not going to look any prettier tomorrow.

Dr. Mike Fietz is a small-animal veterinarian at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital. He received his veterinary degree from Cornell University in 2003 and has lived in Charlottesville since.

Courtesy of the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA
Courtesy of the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA

You can meet us at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, where we’re all available for adoption. 3355 Berkmar Dr. 973-5959,, noon-6pm, daily  COURTESY Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA.

Bones is a very handsome, outgoing boy who isn’t shy about asking for a little lovin’. He’s playful and enjoys being around other kitties. His favorite pastime is eating, so with a few treats he’s sure to be glued to your side forever.

Chelsea is a cute, medium-sized ray of sunshine just waiting to brighten up your day! She’s a snuggly, sweet girl who loves to play and adores people. She didn’t have the easiest start in life but, even so, she’s one of the happiest dogs around.

Marco is a young adult with a lot of energy, but he also likes to snuggle up in his doggie bed. He used to live with another dog, but he gets overwhelmed in the shelter and needs a home of his own. Marco loves chasing and chewing tennis balls.

Like any queen, Cynthia loves hanging out at the top of her cat tree (aka her throne), where she can observe the world from
up high. She prefers to be the only kitty in the home, and is looking for a human companion to spend her days with.

Posted In:     Living

Tags:     ,

Previous Post

Introducing paffles to Charlottesville

Next Post

Timberlake’s customers are like family

Our comments system is designed to foster a lively debate of ideas, offer a forum for the exchange of ad hoc information, and solicit honest, respectful feedback about the work we do. We’re glad you’re participating. Here are a few simple rules to follow, which should be relatively straightforward.

1) Don’t call people names or accuse them of things you cannot support.
2) Don’t direct foul language, racial slurs, or offensive terms at other commenters or our staff.
3) Don’t use the discussion on our site for commercial (or shameless personal) promotion.

We reserve the right to remove posts and ban commenters who violate any of the rules listed above, or the spirit of the discussion. We’re trying to create a safe space for a wide range of people to express themselves, and we believe that goal can only be achieved through thoughtful, sensitive editorial control.

If you have questions or comments about our policies or about a specific post, please send an e-mail to

Leave a Reply

Notify of