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.