Hot spots on dogs can be a nightmare! They’re painful and stressful for your dog (and you) … and they can spread out of control fast. So you need to act quickly when you notice one starting.
What Are Hot Spots On Dogs?
Hot spots on dogs are red, moist, irritated, sometimes oozy or crusty skin lesions that often appear suddenly, with no warning. If you don’t get a handle on them right away, they can spread fast. Hot spots are also called acute moist dermatitis, pyotraumatic dermatitis or pyoderma … and they can show up anywhere on your dog.
Hot spots on dogs are an immune-mediated skin response that can stem from an allergic reaction, an insect bite, poor grooming or underlying disease. They can even be caused by boredom or stress. Thick or long-haired breeds are most often affected.
Whatever the cause, there are always safe and effective natural treatments. But before choosing a solution, you’ll need to understand the cause of your dog’s hot spots.
What Do Hot Spots On Dogs Look Like?
A hot spot can begin as a small spot the size of a bug bite. So at first you might mistake it for a bite. But your dog will lick, chew and scratch because of the discomfort. And that speeds up the spread and causes it to get worse. In fact, a hot spot can grow to 5 or 6 inches in diameter in just a few hours.
As the hot spot gets bigger, your dog may show signs of fatigue. This is the infection setting in. You’ll also see:
- Hair loss in the infected area
- Cherry red color
- Moist, raw skin
- Inflamed and sore skin
- Oozing clear or yellowish pus that gets crusty
Where Do Dogs Get Hot Spots?
Hot spots can appear anywhere in your dog, but the most common places are on the side of your dog’s face, neck and chest. You may also find hot spots on your dog’s belly, legs, tail or paws.
What Causes Hot Spots On Dogs?
You’ll need to watch your dog closely to figure this out. Try to remember what has happened recently in his life that might have caused the hot spot:
Insect Bite – Has he been somewhere where he might have been bitten by an insect?
Summer Heat – Is his coat matted so the skin underneath can’t breathe? This might happen to a thick or double-coated dog in summer.
Food sensitivities –Has he eaten anything unusual that might have caused an allergic reaction?
Environmental allergens – Has he been around grass, pollen or mold? What about swimming in scummy pond water?
Injury or instability in the body – Does he have a sore spot, such as an achy hip or knee that he’s been licking or chewing?
Fleas – Does he have fleas? Flea allergy dermatitis can also cause hot spots.
Skin infection – is your dog prone to skin problems? Excessive scratching or chewing can cause a hot spot.
Hot spots can be triggered by stress as well:
- Is he getting enough exercise and mental stimulation or is he bored?
- Does he get upset being home alone?
- Is there some other change in his home situation that could have caused stress?
There’s one other thing that’s good to know, and that’s whether the hot spots are acute or chronic …
Is Your Dog’s Hot Spot Acute Or Chronic?
Many hot spots are acute – meaning they come and go quickly. Conventional vets often diagnose them as flea bites or allergic reactions. But sometimes hot spots can be chronic. If your dog gets them often, it may be a sign of a deeper problem. Canine herbalist Rita Hogan suggests some possible underlying causes:
- Liver disease and imbalance
- Immune disease
- Muscle tension, pain or injury
If your dog gets hot spots along his spine, feel for heat, tightness or tension in the area under or around the hot spot. That may give you some clues.
How To Manage Chronic Hot Spots
If your dog suffers from chronic, recurring hot spots, it’s best to consult your holistic vet. Your vet can help you figure out and manage the underlying cause of the chronic hot spots.
Homeopathic remedies can often work in more chronic cases where hot spots recur and they seem to stem from mental or emotional upset. One easy thing to start with is giving your dog Bach Rescue Remedy daily. It helps when there’s prolonged household or environmental stress or where life or family changes are affecting your pet. You can put a few drops in your dog’s water bowl. Do this even if there are other dogs in your household. It won’t affect them if they don’t need it.
Chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture or acupressure can also help with chronic hot spots.
How To Manage Hot Spots Naturally
When treating hot spots, Canine Herbalist Rita Hogan treats them both externally and internally. That’s because she views hot spots as a warning beacon. They’re telling you to strengthen your dog’s digestive and immune functions … while supporting his internal organs.
1. Clean The Area Around The Hot Spot
If your dog develops a hot spot, start by trimming the hair around the area and cleaning any pus or dead skin. Just remember that this spot can be quite painful so be gentle!
2. Rinse The Hot Spot To Prevent Infection And Itch
You want to relieve pain and encourage healing by stopping the hot spot from scabbing. You also want to avoid bacteria overgrowth when the area absorbs or irritates toxins. Start with this herbal rinse to clean the area.
Recipe: Herbal Hot Spot Rinse
Mix all of the following ingredients together and put them in a glass bottle. A spray bottle with a gentle mister is a helpful but not essential
10 drops crab apple flower essence
1/2 tsp Himalayan salt
8 oz boiled, cooled filtered water
20 drops Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris)
10 drops echinacea tincture
Optional: replace 4 oz water with 4 oz witch hazel or rose water for extra drying or cooling support.
Trim around the hot spot. Then flush or mist and let dry. Do this 3 or 4 times in the first 24 hours.
3. Apply A Healing Powder
The next step is to help the hot spot begin to heal. Try this healing powder.
Recipe: Hot Spot Healing Powder
Note: If you don’t have the herbs, you can use the bentonite clay alone.
Sprinkle on the area and let it sit for 30 to 45 minutes. Rinse off with tepid water or the above wash. Do this 2 or 3 times per day.
4. Apply Herbs To Promote Healing
Once the hot spot starts healing, use a salve made with calendula or St John’s wort oil. These herbs calm the skin and remove the itch, while reducing inflammation.
Caution: If there’s drainage or excessive scabbing, hold off on using calendula. Wait until the hot spot starts healing with minimal drainage. You don’t want to clog it.
For painful, dry or healing hot spots, you can also use a calendula and goldenseal blend as a hot spot spray for dogs. Add 15 drops of each tincture to one cup of spring water. Mist 3 to 4 times a day.
5. Heal From The Inside Out
The next step in healing your dog’s hot spots involves internal remedies. Start by feeding fresh whole foods. You also want to give your dog supplements to boost his digestive enzymes, prebiotics and probiotics, essential fatty acids and antioxidants. These support the digestive tract and are important for long term healing.
6. Support Your Dog’s Elimination Organs
As well as the digestive tract, it’s important to support other elimination organs like the kidneys and liver. This will help balance out the body and support whole-body healing.
Herbs like milk thistle, dandelion, and St John’s wort can help cool the system and support the liver. A tincture of whole burdock can dissipate heat out of the system and cool it from within … as well as support liver and kidney function.
General Dosage Guidelines: Give half a drop of tincture for each pound of body weight. Give it to your dog twice daily. If you’re using a glycerin extract double the dose and use one drop for each pound of weight.
7. Support The Lymphatic System
Keeping your dog’s lymphatic system moving is another important part of healing. The lymphatic system removes toxins and cellular waste and it transports white blood cells throughout the body. An active lymphatic system also lowers inflammation and helps fight off further infections.
Two herbs that work well for stimulating the lymphatic system are calendula and cleavers.
- Choose calendula for dogs who are energetically cool to neutral.
- Cleavers works well for warm to hot dogs. Many dogs with underlying immune issues or organ imbalances are warm or hot.
General Dosage Guidelines: Give one drop of tincture for every 10 pounds of body weight.
What Not To Use For Your Dog’s Hot Spots
There are some treatments that people often recommend for hot spots. But these aren’t the best choices. Here’s why …
Oral Steroids Or Antibiotics
Using conventional medications, such as oral antibiotics, is not a good idea. It can even be harmful over the long term.
Skin conditions like hot spots are never “just skin conditions.” They always have an underlying cause. The hot spot is nothing but a symptom of that underlying disorder. That’s why it’s important to address the cause of the hot spot … otherwise, it’ll just keep coming back.
Conventional medicines almost always work by suppressing symptoms. In this case, the hot spot is the symptom. That’s why so many conventional medicines start with “anti” medications There are antifungals, anti-inflammatories and in this case, antibiotics. All work to manage the signs of the disease … but they do nothing to stop your dog from getting sick again.
Remember … you can get through this without antibiotics or conventional drugs. And you need to try hard to do this.
Neosporin is not a hot spot remedy. It’s an antibiotic cream that you should never use on your dog’s hot spot … or on your dog, period. It isn’t made for dogs and comes with a long list of side effects that can do more harm than good.
Don’t use peroxide to treat your dog’s hot spot. Peroxide can damage the skin and delay healing.
Avoid using Benadryl to treat hot spots. It’s an anti-histamine that suppresses the body’s natural healing response … and it’s risky because it’s very easy to over-use it. It may take away the itching and inflammation from your dog’s hot spot, but it doesn’t solve the root of the problem.
Instead try quercetin. This natural substance can turn off histamine production and reduce inflammation. That’s because it has antioxidant, antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s even called “Nature’s Benadryl.”
It turns out coconut oil isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. While it is generally safe for topical applications, it’s not a good remedy for hot spots. That’s because it’s a moisturizer. Hot spots are already moist and wet. The best strategy for hot spots is to dry them out. As they heal they dry out and scab over. If there’s a layer of coconut oil, they can’t do that.
So if none of these options are good for your dog’s hot spots … what can you use?
Natural Alternatives For Hot Spots
Here are some proven natural remedies you can use to to stop your dog’s hot spots. These natural remedies are more effective than pharmaceutical medications. They won’t stress your dog’s immune system, so it’s less likely those hot spots will come back.
Calendula can be used to treat hot spots caused by various types of skin irritations. This well-known herb can reduce itching and inflammation. It promotes quick healing of skin tissue. And the best part is, it’s extremely effective for calming the itch.
You can buy calendula products at any health food store. It’s safe for your dog even if he licks it. It comes in many forms: cream, salve, oil and lotion, teas and tinctures. But, for hot spots, avoid tinctures made with alcohol as they can sting or irritate the area.
Apply calendula liberally on the affected area and repeat as often as needed. You can also try this recipe.
Recipe: Calendula Lotion For Hot Spots
– 1/4 tsp table salt
– 1 cup of filtered water
– 20-40 drops of calendula tincture
Mix together the salt and the water. Add the calendula tincture. Use a clean cotton ball to sponge the lotion onto the hot spot 2-4 times a day.
Also known as St John’s Wort, hypericum is another great option for treating hot spots. It’s even better if you combine it with calendula. Together these herbs reduce pain and inflammation and promote healing. Hypericum and calendula tincture diluted in water is called HyperCal. It’s an effective and relieving antibacterial wash for hot spots.
You can byt HyperCal already made in some places. Just ask for it at your health food store and they’ll know what it is. But in the US, HyperCal only comes as a cream, so you’ll have to buy separate tinctures and blend them as described below.
You can buy hypericum and calendula tinctures on Amazon or at your local health food store. Then put 12 to 15 drops of each in 1 cup of warm water. Use the water as often as necessary to relieve the itching and clean the hot spot area. Don’t forget to dry the area with a clean cloth when you’re done.
3. Black Tea
Hot spots on dogs tend to be pretty moist, so use black tea to dry up a hot spot. The tannins in black tea can stop bacterial infections and help the hot spot heal.
Steep a black tea bag in 8 ounces of water. Let it cool. Then you can use either the tea bag or a cotton ball to apply tea to the sore. Hold it to the hot spot for several minutes … or longer if your dog doesn’t seem to mind it. You can do this several times a day.
Many people give their dogs colostrum as a supplement to strengthen the immune system. But you can also use colostrum topically to help heal hot spots. It helps speed skin repair and prevents skin infections.
Make a paste of colostrum powder mixed with distilled water. Smear it on your dog’s hot spots. It’ll dry out quite quickly … so it’s a good idea to wipe it off daily and reapply it as needed.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is good for your dog’s hot spots as it will help relieve the itch. You can use a weak dilution of 1 part apple cider vinegar to 1 part water.
Spritz or gently dab this on the hot spot.
Should I Use An Elizabethan Collar For My Dog?
The hot spot on your dog needs to heal …so your dog mustn’t lick or chew it. But you don’t want to wrap or cover the hot spot … it needs to breathe. If your dog continues to lick or chew at the hot spot, it might be time for an Elizabethan collar.
In addition to these hot spot solutions, make sure your dog has lots of mental and physical stimulation based on his breed, age and health. Groom your dog often and make sure there are no fleas. Provide fresh, spring water (with no fluoride or chlorine).
And remember … natural remedies like these are much safer and more effective than conventional medicines. They can help solve the issue that’s causing your dog’s hot spots. Conventional “anti” medicines just suppress the hot spot temporarily, and you’ll see it return later.
If you feel you need help, find a homeopathic, herbalist or other holistic vet in your area. If you don’t have access to a homeopathic vet, you can find one at the AVH website. Most will do phone consults so they don’t have to be local.
With just a little help, you’ll be able to treat hot spots and other common issues at home.
BONUS: How To Prevent Future Hot Spots
Preventing hot spots on your dog is an ongoing process that will also support ongoing good health. Here’s a holistic whole-dog approach to preventing hot spots: