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Dog and Cat Hot Spot FAQs

Amy S.

Dec 13, 2022

Hot Spots are one of the most common skin conditions in dogs, but what are they? And can you identify them? Use this guide to help identify, treat, and minimize your dog or cat’s hot spots. 

What are Hot Spots?

The official name for hot spots is acute moist dermatitis, and it is a localized bacterial infection on the skin. Hot spots appear because something has irritated the skin and the natural response is to itch, which further inflames the skin. Some dogs and cats may also chew or scratch the spot, increasing the chances of infection.


Hot spots can be caused by a variety of factors, but the most common culprits are:

  • Fleas and flea allergies

  • Cuts, rashes, or skin trauma

  • Stress or boredom that causes licking or chewing

  • Ear infection/anal gland infection

  • Food allergies

  • Matted fur or ongoing dampness from swimming or bathing

  • Skin irritants

  • Insect bites

  • Ringworm (cats)

Hot spots are the result of skin irritation and your pet’s reaction and escalation of that irritation. To identify the root cause of your hot spots, consult your veterinarian.


Symptoms can include:

  • Red, irritated spot, often itchy

  • Chewing, licking, or itching in the same spot

  • Inflammation, including oozy or scabbed skin

  • Hair loss

  • Dry or cracked skin

  • Unusual aggression or depression

High-Risk Breeds

Dogs with thicker coats are at a higher risk for hot spots due to moisture getting caught between their fur and skin. This includes Golden Retrievers, St. Bernards, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Labrador Retrievers. However, any dog or cat can have hot spots, and owning a high-risk breed does not guarantee they will have skin issues.

Maine Coon cats and other cat breeds with thick, heavy fur are also more likely to have Hot Spots. Ensure that you address any discoloration, hair loss, or matted fur even if your cat prefers not to be held. 

If your dog or cat has naturally thick fur, consider asking your vet at their annual checkup if there are preventative measures you should take including adding Omega-3 fatty acids to their diet, more regular grooming, or preventative allergy medication.

How to Prevent Hot Spots

Keep their skin clean, dry, and healthy. 

Preventing Hot Spots means identifying and addressing the cause of the skin irritant. Make sure your dog or cat has a healthy skin and fur routine including bathing, and flea/tick treatment. If your pet bathes or swims, ensure its coat and skin are fully dry afterward. 

Keep your animal active! Especially with dogs, boredom and stress will lead to licking and irritation. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise and has fun and challenging toys to play with during the day. Need something new? Consider a puzzle toy for your food-motivated pup that can keep them entertained and active.

Cats can also get bored and often their Hot Spots are caused by a “mental itch” that makes them overly lick and clean their fur, causing infection. Keep your cat mentally entertained with toys and games. Some cats will even settle for a very entertaining window to sit in where they can watch birds or other activities outside. 

If you continue to have fur and skin problems, consider adding some Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA to your dog or cat’s diet. This supplement not only helps heal and moisturize skin damage but helps prevent it in the future. Please note that aloe is dangerous for dogs to digest, it is safe for your dog’s skin but don’t let them lick it!

How to Treat Hot Spots

If you see symptoms of Hot Spots, seek professional advice from your veterinarian. There is no substitute for a professionally trained vet. Hot Spots are often caused by an irritant their owners can’t identify or fix, including allergies. Seeking professional attention immediately means a quicker recovery for your furry family member. Once the underlying cause is identified and addressed, your vet will recommend the best course of action.

Your vet may recommend a variety of over-the-counter or home remedies, depending on the root cause. Never use human products to treat Hot Spots, your pet will likely lick and digest ointments or creams causing larger health problems or death. There are a variety of sprays, wipes, and cleansers made to keep cat and dog skin healthy and vibrant. 

When to Call Your Vet

If your dog or cat is having skin issues, document them immediately with photos, descriptions, and the date it started. Call your vet if any area appears infected or if symptoms don’t resolve in 1-2 days. When you visit the vet they will do a full physical examination and depending on your situation, shave and treat the infected area. Your details of when it started and to what extent are important to diagnosing the cause and finding a treatment. 

Once a plan is made, you can expect a full recovery and tips for addressing it moving forward for your specific dog or cat. 

Spotlight Story: 

One day we noticed that our dog, Winston, was licking his belly more than usual and it was turning a darker red than we remembered. I quickly took a picture of it and we waited a day to see if it would resolve itself. When we woke up the next day, the redness had spread to his entire belly and we quickly called the vet. After a consultation and physical examination, we learned that Winston had seasonal allergies. Our vet informed us that he was probably always itchy in the fall, and because that fall had been so dry we were noticing it more than before. We would have never known that on our own, thank goodness we took him to the vet!

Cat and dog sitting together on a chair.
Winston and his feline brother

Now, Winston gets an annual allergy shot that relieves him of his allergies and keeps his Hot Spots away. Luckily, he didn’t have any larger damage or skin breakage because we caught it right away and were able to relay his symptoms clearly to our vet. Winston couldn’t be happier to have happy and clear skin now.

Topical Sprays & Creams

Need relief fast? Talk to your vet about these easy over-the-counter options! Available at Plymouth Pet & Aquarium.

Silver and white spray bottle
Veterinary Formula Clinical Care Medicated Spray
white and silver bottle of shampoo
Veterinary Formula Clinical Care Medicated Shampoo

white box with purple and gold logo showing cream
Zymox Topical Cream

small white spray bottle with purple and gold logo
Zymox Topical Spray

Remember to consult your veterinarian about skin issues to ensure your furry friends are not suffering from underlying conditions. This writer is not affiliated with any products listed.

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