Monday, November 16, 2009

Hot Spots: An Overview and At Home Treatment

When I first noticed a small scab on Milly’s neck I dismissed it as a little scab from a tick bite, but by the next day the area was bald, bright red, and oozing puss. I had heard about hot spots, but I’d never owned a dog that suffered from them, and I hastily made a vet appointment to treat this weird large wound. I soon learned this was indeed a hot spot, and the vet shaved the area, cleaned it, told me to switch from a collar to a harness until it healed, sent me home with a spray bottle of medicine to apply twice a day, and a bill of $175. That was the first and last time I went to a vet for a hot spot.

A Google Image of a hot spot

There are many at home remedies for hot spots, but I’ve found the best way is to treat it exactly like a vet would (clip area, clean area, medicate with an antiseptic spray, and keep area clean and dry until healed). You’ll want to invest in a good pair of electric clippers, and while you’re at it, you should go ahead and buy some clipper oil or spray to keep them clean and working well. You can find some great deals for used clippers on Craigslist if you’re looking to save money. You’ll also need a bottle of Listerine (the amber color/original kind, and generic works fine), Gold Bond Medicated Powder, a clean spray bottle, Betadine (you can find it in the first aid aisle at your local pharmacy, and generic is fine), and sterilized gauze pads.

At Home Treatment:

First, shave the area with your electric clippers – I do the closest shave possible. You need to remove the hair not only on the hot spot, but also around it. I usually shave a 2” diameter around the hot spot. To make sure you have shaved the area enough, press the unshaved hair down, and if it touches the hot spot you need to shave more. The idea is you want to keep the area completely hair free during treatment.

Second, mix Betadine and warm water in a small bowl and apply to area with sterilized gauze pads. You need to really get the area clean, not by scrubbing firmly, but by gently massaging the hot spot with a well saturated gauze pad. I usually need 3-4 gauze pads to clean the hot spot and shaved area around the hot spot.

Third, mix a solution of one part water one part Listerine in a spray bottle. I actually do a little more Listerine than water. Shake bottle and spray hot spot. I keep this solution pre-mixed and on hand in the spray bottle for when hot spots crop up. Listerine also doubles as a great product for cleaning ears (use the amber color kind only).

Last, after Listerine has dried, lightly dust the hot spot with Gold Bond Medicated Powder. You don’t want to pack the powder into it, because this prevents the hot spot from “being able to breath.” Just a light dusting of powder is sufficient.

Apply the Listerine solution and Gold Bond to the infected area 2-3 times daily until healed. Apart from when you are treating the area with the Listerine keep the area dry. If the hot spots are within 1-2 inches of your dog’s collar you’ll want to remove the collar until the hot spot heals. You can purchase a harness that sits lower than a collar for walks. If your dog licks or bites at the area you’ll need to use an Elizabethan Collar (the cone shaped collars). I do this entire process at the very first sign of a hot spot. If the hotspot does not improve in a week consult your veterinarian.

Things to know about hot spots:

Hot spots are areas of inflamed skin that develop extremely rapidly – Milly’s first hot spot went from a ball point pen sized scab to a two inch oozing mess in less than 24 hours. Hot spots are commonly found on the face, trunk, and limbs of dogs, but they can develop on other areas too. The inflamed skin/sight of the hot spot may be moist and red, and hair loss may occur.

Hot spots frequently develop as a result of skin irritation that leads to licking or scratching. When a dog works on an itchy site by licking, scratching or biting it this can cause the area to itch more. This starts a cycle of more licking, biting and scratching. Soon a hot spot will develop.

Long haired breeds such as Golden Retrievers and Chow Chows are most often the sufferers of hot spots. However, hot spots can occur in any breed of dog (or mixed breed).

Hot spots are painful for the dog and must be treated. Mild hot spots can be treated with my above recipe or with topical medications containing antibiotics, antiseptic and cortisone. If at home treatment does not work, or the hot spot develops into a larger hot spot veterinary intervention may be required. Very severe hot spots can be life threatening, so treatment is always necessary (whether at home or through your veterinarian).

The leading cause of skin irritation that leads to hot spots is fleas. Using a monthly flea and tick preventative can be very helpful in preventing hot spots. Allergies to food, environmental agents (like pollen); laundry detergents or shampoos also may contribute to the problem.

There are several other conditions including ringworm, mange, and acral lick dermatitis that may cause skin lesions that look like hot spots. If your dog suffers from skin problems a vet check up is always a good idea to rule out other culprits. Once you understand what a hot spot looks like you can try to treat them, often very successfully, at home.

Once a dog develops hot spots, they are much more prone to get them again. You’ll want to keep your dog dry, because hot spots thrive on moisture. I always thoroughly dry Milly after she gets wet with a towel and hair dryer, and this helps prevent hot spots. I also always rinse her after she does any swimming (even in the cleanest of lakes). Do not use any training aids, collars or harnesses that come into contact with a hot spot until it has healed. Regular grooming to remove any dead under coat can help prevent hot spots, remove debris from the coat, and gives you an opportunity to examine your dog closely, and is an opportunity to spot potential hot spots or fleas. Many dogs that suffer from hot spots are actually allergic to ingredients in their food. Corn is a major culprit for many hot spot sufferers, and switching to a corn free diet can really help. You might consider switching to a high quality food with limited ingredients, or even a completely grain free food. Supplementing with fish oil or an Omega 3 supplement like Welactin improves over all coat quality, and in my experience makes hot spots less frequent.

Please note I am not a veterinarian, and this is simply a remedy I and other dog owners have had success with.


  1. That was interesting. My Smokes will get hot spots and I didn't know why. I was putting Gold Bond on him. But he licks and licks and licks.
    I think I will buy some clippers and shave the hot spot. I have taken him to the vet, but he never gave me any spray.
    Thanks for the information!

  2. Thank you for sharing. It was very interesting and a good idea to keep in mind. We have been fortunate so far to not have any problem.
    Wags and Thanks
    Ernie, Sasha, & Mom

  3. I have two goldens and they get these in the spring when we get rain for days on end. I can smell them coming before I can see them. My vet says it's because they wrestle with each other alot and wind up with little scraps, then the bacteria finds it's way in. It takes a few weeks for them to clear up. I'm not brave enough to shave them myself so I let the vet do it. She also puts them on an anti biotic and an anti inflamitory.

    You're right, they do spread quickly. You have to catch them right away. Good info in your post!

  4. Thanks for the valuable information. I've never had a dog with hot spots, but I'm certainly not going to dismiss any itching/digging areas anymore. It seems like you need to catch them fast!

  5. Should also consider that Canine Cutaneous Mast Cell cancer is sometimes mis diagnosed by pet owners as hotspots, so maybe a trip to the vet might be worth the $175...?

  6. My vet told me to remove the scab which went against my instinct and I can see that most people say let the scab heal itself. It looks dry and crusty and acts as a natural plaster.

  7. There are a lot of complains heard about Dog hot spots is rapidly growing. Thoes who have brought their dogs up and have a great attraction towards them are really worried about the issue. This disease can be cured but for that you need to visit a good doctor,who can understand what your dog is suffering from.

  8. Do notice if the dogs has any papules, pustules in the margins of the spot, because it's a sign of deeper infection of the skin. This needs systemic antibiotic treatment and corticosteroids are contraindicated!- Important to consult a vet in this case.

  9. Thanks for a great article! My golden has had them for years on and off! The first time, I too spent an arm and a leg on antibiotics at the vet. The next time she got one, I just cut away all the hair like they did, and I got the same result without the expensive antibiotics. I have tried putting Neosporine and other stuff on our Golden Retriever's hot spots as well, but she just licks all of it off, and I can tell it's all very painful for her when they start. She won't let me use clippers either, so I use scissors and cut away all the hair just like you said. Within hours, it starts to dry up and looks so much better. The next day even better, and I can cut closer without it being painful.....and they are gone within a few days.

  10. Im from the philippines and my chow is suffering from hotspot. I want to try your home remedy but i cant find any store selling gold bond medication powder. Is there any solution? Wats the content of that powder so i can find another one.

  11. Thank you for such a well written article. It’s full of insightful information and entertaining descriptions. Your point of view is the best among many. HOA Management Services

  12. thank you :) my Poor Max is suffering from several hot spots around his neck and after reading your blog and peoples comments i think i know how and why hes got them, thank you again for the valuable information :)

  13. If you set out to make me think today; mission accomplished! I really like your writing style and how you express your ideas. Thank you. Home Renovation Companies

  14. I use tea-tree oil mixed with water to clean hot spots. Then I apply a cream from the vet (sorry cannot remember the name) this has to be done at least 2x daily. My Great Pyrenees just got his first one. He is old and the NC weather has been terribly humid. And yes the smell is usually what alerts us first. Once you smell it you NEVER forget it.