My Dog Has a Hot Spot

Any area of skin that is angry pink to red, warm to hot, moist to wet, irritated to bloody, and possibly seeping pus can be called a “hot spot.” It is important to realize, however, that the term “hot spot” is a general description and not a specific diagnosis. Simply put, a hot spot is a patch of your dog's skin that is bothering her so much that she can't leave it alone. Because of this overwhelming discomfort, she has rubbed, scratched, and licked it into the condition you see before you.

What to Look For

Gently separate your dog's hair around the hot spot to get a good look at it. Look for open skin and raw, bloody patches of flesh. Then slowly and carefully look over your dog's skin for other hot spots. It's helpful to speak softly to your dog and gently rub her with one hand while checking her skin for hot spots with the other hand.

What to Do

No doubt, you feel badly for your dog and want to figure out what caused this mess. Although it is wonderful to be able to get to the bottom of such a condition and to diagnose the inciting cause, it is not always possible, nor is it all that critical compared to treating the lesion.

The treatment usually involves three separate parts. First, you'll shave the hot spot and the surrounding area to get a better look at the full extent of the problem and to make ongoing treatment easier.

Second, you'll clean and medicate the entire area. And third, you'll come up with a therapy plan to control infection, reduce itchiness, and protect the area from further trauma.

Don't gag; don't sweat; as long as the wound is not an open one, revealing the muscle or fat beneath, you should be able to treat it yourself. Grab the following supplies and get to work:

  • Electric hair clippers, if you have them
  • Scissors that you are comfortable using
  • Soft, clean cotton cloths or towels, or a generous supply of paper toweling
  • 50/50 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and warm (not hot) water
  • A commercially available soothing, anti-itch spray, preferably alcohol-free
  • Bacitracin, Polysporin, or another broad spectrum antibiotic ointment
  • Size-appropriate non-adherent wound dressing
  • Cotton gauze on a roll
  • Adhesive tape
  • Bitter apple or other awful-tasting spray
  • Plastic Elizabethan collar

You'll probably need a helper to hold your dog while you do this, especially if the wound you're treating is bothering her.

  1. Using the clippers and scissors, try to trim away as much hair as possible from the wound, extending an inch beyond the wound in every direction. (If the hair over the wound is caked with discharge, try the next step first, and then come back to the trimming.)
  2. Soak your cloth or towel with the hydrogen peroxide and water mixture and repeatedly blot the entire wound, rinsing the cloth off frequently. You'll soon find that the wound doesn't look nearly as awful as it did earlier. Once the area seems to be clear of dirt, debris, and dried blood, put away the cloth.
  3. Now give the entire area a few good squirts of anti-itch spray, taking care to go all the way to the edges of the trimmed hair.
  4. Apply a thin film of antibiotic ointment to one side of the non-adherent dressing and press it directly to the wound.
  5. If the hot spot is on an extremity, simply wrap the gauze around the limb 2-3 times and then use adhesive tape to encircle the ends of the gauze. If the site is on an area such as the shoulder or hip, it is sometimes possible to wrap gauze in a figure 8 around the front or rear limbs. If the spot is on your dog's belly, back, or chest, you may need to get enough gauze and tape to wrap entirely around her abdomen or thorax.
  6. Almost done; now apply the bitter apple or equivalent spray to the bandage to prevent licking or chewing. (The addition of an Elizabethan collar will improve your chances of success.) If you can keep the dressing on for 3-5 days, you'll be surprised at how much improvement will take place!