What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?

What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?
Photo by Jenny Marvin

If you’ve ever had a dog with hotspots, you know just how frustrating they can be.

Hot spots are raised areas on your dog’s skin that can be red and inflamed, and they usually appear as bald spots, although it’s possible to see dark, damp hairs in some dogs with hot spots. 

If your dog is suffering from this painful condition, it’s important to know what causes hotspots on dogs so you can prevent them from developing again in the future.

So what causes hot spots on dogs? Continue reading to learn more!

What Are Hot Spots?

Hot spots are inflamed lesions that several different things can cause. From allergies to parasites, there are many reasons why your pup could have gotten one. 

If you see the following symptoms in your dog, it’s time to make an appointment with the vet: 

  1. Redness and soreness 
  2. Sores or scabs from scratching 
  3. White patches of skin where fur is missing due to constant licking – Bumps that may contain pus 
  4. Hair loss – Inflamed and irritated skin 
  5. Loss of appetite
  6. Frequent urination or straining to urinate – An unpleasant smell coming from their ears 
  7. Nose bleeds, coughs, sneezing, or other signs of respiratory distress 
  8. Swollen lymph nodes near their armpits or groin – Rapid breathing or panting 
  9. Abnormal behaviors such as whining, lethargy, aggression, etc.

What causes Hot spots on dogs? First, it’s important to note that hot spots don’t usually occur spontaneously. They’re usually the result of something else going on with the dog internally and externally.

That’s why it’s so important for pet parents to know what might cause hot spots before they happen so they can prevent them in advance!

Why Do They Occur?

Hot spots are raised patches of skin that look red and inflamed. This inflammation can happen for many reasons, including infections, flea saliva, or food allergies.

However, hotspots are generally not serious and disappear once the underlying cause is treated. 

What causes Hot spots on dogs? For mild cases, an anti-itch medication like hydrocortisone may help relieve some symptoms.

In more severe cases, your veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic. There are also topical ointments available over the counter at pet stores that you can use to help soothe irritated skin. 

If your dog has recurrent hot spots, he might be allergic to something in his environment, such as household dust mites, pollens or grasses, cleaning products, or even his bedding. Treating the allergy could prevent recurrences of this uncomfortable condition. 

Try these steps to reduce allergens in your home: 

  • Vacuum carpets and upholstery weekly 
  • Dust often with a damp cloth 
  • Wash linens weekly with detergent without fragrances or dyes (such as allergen-free detergent) 
  • Change your pets’ beds monthly


What causes Hot spots on dogs? One of the causes is parasites. They live in or on another organism called the host. Some common parasites that can cause hotspots include fleas, ticks, and mites. 

Parasites can also be worms or other small creatures, such as lice. Fleas and ticks bite a dog to feed off its blood, but they may not be the only culprits.

Mites burrow into a dog’s skin for food and moisture; without treatment, it will irritate your pet’s skin to cause a rash or irritation. 

If you suspect your dog has a parasite infestation, consult your veterinarian about the best course of treatment.

Prevention is key with these little critters: check your pet daily for ticks and give them monthly preventative treatments to help keep those pesky bugs at bay! 

You can also use a product like Frontline to protect against fleas and ticks or Revolution to kill any external pests (and internal ones too).

Remember, if you notice anything unusual or irregular about your pup’s skin- see your vet immediately!

Hot spots on dogs generally aren’t contagious to other dogs and humans. However, if the cause of your dog’s hot spots is fungal or parasitic, it may be possible to spread to other dogs or humans.

To determine the underlying cause of your dog’s hot spot, it’s important to seek veterinary help asap.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Flea allergy dermatitis, or FAD for short, is caused by an allergic reaction to flea bites. So what causes Hot spots on dogs?

The saliva from a flea contains proteins very similar to those found in a dog’s skin, which triggers the body’s immune system to release histamines. 

These histamines are responsible for the intense itching, redness, and swelling seen with FAD. Other symptoms of FAD include hair loss, thickened skin, and inflamed lesions. 

Itching can lead to self-trauma, such as excessive licking and scratching, resulting in secondary infections like hot spots.

Hot spots form when bacteria get into a wound or scrape and infect it. They often occur in areas with inflammation and look like raw, open sores, usually under the chin or around the head. 

Untreated hotspots can lead to permanent scarring, so it is important to consult your veterinarian if you notice any signs of these sores on your pet.

Treatments may vary depending on what your veterinarian recommends, but many treatments involve using topical antibiotics and antiparasitic medications to kill the parasites causing the infection. 

Preventative care is key because once a dog has become allergic to flea saliva, FAD will persist for life.

Regular veterinary visits will help detect early warning signs of allergies, like hotspots or other secondary infections, before they become more serious.

Food Allergies

One of what causes Hot spots on dogs is an allergy to something the dog eats or chews on, such as food, plants, grass, or tree nuts.

Some signs that your dog may have a food allergy include having sores in their mouth and around their anus and chewing at the skin. 

You should also see signs of itchy paws and ears if they have an allergic reaction to something they are licking or chewing.

How to Treat and Prevent Hot Spots

Hot spots are unlikely to go away on their own, but the good thing is that they are treatable. So when you notice hot spots, make an appointment with your vet and try to keep your dog from scratching excessively. 

After determining and treating any underlying cause, your veterinarian will most likely recommend the following course of action:

  1. First, reduce the area around the hot spot.
  2. Using a mild antiseptic to clean the skin.
  3. Depending on the case, prescription medications may include topical sprays to help heal the hot spot, antibiotics to help fight infection, or steroids to combat inflammation.
  4. A dog cone can be used to prevent them from scratching or licking the hot spots.

This itching can aggravate the irritation, resulting in matted hair, lacerations, and, in some cases, secondary infections.

The most effective way to prevent more hot spots is to identify and treat the primary cause of your dog’s itching.

In addition, good parasite prevention, skin infection treatment, and allergy management are required to stop scratching and prevent skin trauma. 

Since bad hygiene is part of what causes Hot spots on dogs, Good hygiene and grooming regularly shouldn’t be neglected.

It is also critical for dogs who swim or frequently bathe to ensure that their coats are thoroughly dried after these activities.

If your dog licks due to anxiety or boredom, increasing daily exercise and active play time can help. Environmental enrichment, such as puzzle toys or slow-feed bowls, is an excellent way to keep dogs mentally stimulated when you cannot play with them.

Your dog will enjoy the extra activity and will be healthier as a result.

Supplementing fatty acids is another option to prevent and manage skin disease. For example, omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are found in fish oil.

These fatty acids not only have anti-inflammatory properties, but they also help promote a healthy skin barrier, making your dog less susceptible to allergens and infection. Topical aloe vera may also help soothe damaged skin and decrease itching.

Still, it is important to ensure your dog does not ingest the aloe, which can result in vomiting and diarrhea.

If you can’t get to the vet immediately, please note that Neosporin, hydrocortisone, and Vaseline are human medications that should not be used.

In addition, topical creams and ointments increase licking in dogs, so they should be avoided if possible.

Hot spots are an itchy and painful concern for your dog that may return if the underlying condition is not treated.

Fortunately, with proper care, your dog’s hot spot will resolve quickly and without causing permanent damage.


What causes Hot spots on dogs? Anything from skin allergies to insect bites or a minor scrape can be the starting point for developing a hot spot.

If there is enough moisture on the skin’s surface for bacteria to take hold, this will create the right conditions for hot spots.

Although it is not possible to eliminate dog hot spots forever, a little foresight will reduce the likelihood of them appearing.

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