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Cornell Richard P. Riney Canine Health Center

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Hot spots

Hot weather brings hot spots

Usually, you can treat these sores at home

Hot spots get their name from the warmth generated by inflammation. Technically called moist dermatitis, hot spots are most common in dogs with long or thick coats, such as Newfoundlands, German Shepherd Dogs and Golden Retrievers. Dogs with drop ears or a hairy coat are most likely to develop this condition.

Hot spots can occur any time of year, although warm weather usually causes more cases. Allergies and external parasites, such as fleas, are primary causes. Ear infections, often caused by wet ears from activities like swimming, can lead to hot spots under the ear. It’s even more likely if a dog has drop ears.

A dog who is swimming, wading or even just out enjoying a warm summer rain is prone to developing hot spots if they have a thick coat that does not dry fully. Any matted areas will hold moisture next to the skin, making dogs at risk for infections and sores.

Anal gland infections can stimulate licking and chewing, resulting in hot spots too. The initial sore may be missed if you don’t look under your dog’s furry tail.

Home care

Assuming the spot isn’t infected, you can administer care at home:

  • Clean the surface gently with a mild soap (such as Dove, Aveenobar, Cetaphil or Castile) or with an antibacterial cleaner such as chlorhexidine.
  • Apply a first-aid cream, such as Neosporin (the cream, not the ointment). For healthy dogs, a generic 1% hydrocortisone cream from the human first-aid shelf is safe and usually effective. It will need to be applied 3-4 times a day.
    • Note: For dogs that shouldn’t receive steroids, products that contain pramoxine (which provides temporary pain relief) will still work nicely.
  • When the area loses its redness and develops a healthy-looking scab, stop treating. Do not remove the scab. Peeling off a healthy scab can delay the healing process.

The moist, inflamed area is a prime site for secondary bacterial infections. If you see signs of infection (worsening redness, lack of healing, more heat, swelling or oozing) your veterinarian may need to prescribe an antibiotic medicine or antibiotic cream.

Many dogs benefit from either a corticosteroid to reduce inflammation and help with pain, or an antihistamine to reduce the inflammatory reaction. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories work well for dogs who need to avoid steroids.


Good external parasite management — to keep fleas and ticks away — is your most important preventative step. Check your dog’s ears daily for any signs of infection such as redness, moist areas or discharge. Lift your dog’s tail at least once a week and check for inflammation or signs of licking or chewing, such as discolored hair or bare areas. Check any areas you notice your dog rubbing, licking or chewing.

If your dog swims a lot in the warm weather, rinse him off with clean water and dry him thoroughly. A towel may suffice for a short-coated dog, but a dog with a long or double coat may require brushing and the use of a blow dryer. Remove any matts that you find while grooming.

Hot spots aren’t inevitable parts of warm weather, but they do occur. Staying on top of developing sores can save you and your dog misery (and veterinary bills).

What you should know

Dr. William Miller, professor emeritus of medicine, offers three tips for owners to treat a small, developing hotspot at home:

  1. Stop the licking
    • Use an Elizabethan collar or light wrap over the area. One of the soft “donut” collars will work if it keeps the area safe from your dog’s tongue. Dogs are their own worst enemies when it comes to these sores, as licking and chewing simply increase inflammation, spread the sore area and delay healing.
  2. Clip the hair
    • Dogs with long coats may benefit from having the area clipped so the hairs don’t get trapped in the ooze that comes from the sore. If there is minimal ooze, this step can be skipped, although trimming long hairs from around the sore with scissors can help in the care and healing. Hairs touching the inflamed area stimulate more licking and chewing.
  3. Timing is critical
    • If the sore is more than 24 hours old, an infection is likely and a trip to the veterinarian is in order. If the spot is new, and the dog doesn’t have a history of recurrent hotspots, some home remedies might work. But be careful. These lesions are painful. Gently touch the area and watch the dog for signs of discomfort. If it obviously hurts, stop to make sure that your dog isn't becoming aggressive in response to the pain.

This article has been reprinted with permission from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s DogWatch newsletter, published by Belvoir Media Group. When you become a member of the Riney Canine Health Center, you will receive a free subscription to DogWatch.