Hot Spots (Pyotraumatic Dermatitis) in Dogs

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Last updated on
5 min read

Key takeaways

A moist, inflamed, red, weepy, clearly defined spot on a dog’s skin is often referred to as a hot spot. This superficial skin infection occurs when a dog licks, chews, scratches, and rubs an itchy spot and breaks the skin, creating a hot spot for bacterial growth.

  • The subsequent bacterial infection causes bleeding, pus, and a noticeable odor
  • A crust of matted hair and dried pus often forms over the affected skin
  • Hot spots are often painful, and can be small or big, single or multiple
  • They can be obvious or hidden under matted fur
  • They often appear and grow quickly, most commonly on the head, legs, and hips
  • Prognosis is good with targeted treatment
  • The itching and licking that creates hot spots is usually associated with an underlying condition, recurrence is common if the cause is not addressed
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A closer look: Hot Spots (Pyotraumatic Dermatitis) in Dogs

Regardless of the underlying cause, the severity of a hot spot primarily depends on its size and how quickly it is growing. Some dogs show more distress with a hot spot than others.

Hot, humid weather increases the likelihood of hot spots, but they can happen all year, depending on the underlying cause. Dense undercoats increase the likelihood of hot spots.

Hot spots develop when the dog licks or bites the irritated spot, stimulating nerve endings in the skin, creating more itchiness, which in turn increases the dog’s licking and biting. The itch - lick - itch cycle quickly results in a messy oozing sore which can get dramatically bigger in a very short time.

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Risk factors

Hot spots themselves, also called “acute moist dermatitis” or “pyotraumatic dermatitis”, are not life-threatening, nor are they symptoms of a life-threatening problem. They are painful and grow quickly, so prompt veterinary attention is indicated as soon as hot spots are detected on a dog’s skin.

More importantly, the underlying cause of the itch (pruritus) needs to be resolved or the hot spots will simply return. 30% of dogs who come to hospital because of hot spots have an underlying condition like allergies or fleas.

Possible causes

Hot spots are caused by a dog excessively biting, licking, scratching, or rubbing their skin. This breaks the skin and allows bacteria to flourish, resulting in the infected wound.

Main symptoms

Testing and diagnosis

The presence of a hot spot is self-evident. Testing and diagnosis of the underlying cause of the itching (pruritus) may be recommended if the immediate cause of the licking and itching is not known or if it does not resolve on its own. This may include testing for allergies, parasites, and other skin conditions.

Steps to Recovery

The steps for treating a hot spot are:

  • Remove surrounding hair to prevent moisture from being trapped around or on the wound
  • Gently clean with soap and water
  • Pat the area dry
  • Apply appropriate topical antimicrobials as indicated
  • Break the itch - lick - itch cycle by using an e-collar or t-shirt to prevent licking

When these steps are followed, the hot spot is expected to improve right away and to dry out and scab over within 24-48 hours. If the hot spot does not improve quickly, veterinary attention is required.

If there is more than one hot spot, if the hot spot is painful, or if hot spots are a recurring problem, veterinary attention is advised. Complicated hot spots often require additional treatment:

  • Sedation for clipping and cleaning the hot spot
  • Bacterial culture and sensitivity to identify the pathogen and choose the best antibiotic
  • Medications like antiinflammatories and steroids

By monitoring and treating underlying causes, future hot spots can be prevented. Grooming and regular bathing and brushing also help.


Hot spots don’t spread from one pet directly to another, but it is possible for the bacteria present on the surface of the skin in a hot spot to infect an open sore or wound on another individual. Best practices for avoiding this include:

  • Wearing gloves
  • Washing hands
  • Preventing the pet from licking the hot spot
  • Preventing other pets from licking the hot spot

If the hot spots are found to be associated with an underlying condition, their recurrence will be mitigated by treating the root cause.

Are Hot Spots (Pyotraumatic Dermatitis) in Dogs common?

Hot spots are commonly reported in dogs as they are associated with a number of other common skin conditions.

Typical Treatment

Depending on the severity of the case and the root cause, typical treatment for hot spots may include some or all of the following:

  • Clipping hair around the hot spot
  • Cleaning the wound and keeping it dry
  • Topical antimicrobials
  • Oral antibiotics
  • Anti Inflammatories
  • Steroids


Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Becky Lundgren, DVM - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Krista Williams, BSc, DVM, CCRP; Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM - Writing for VCA Animal Hospitals

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