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Dogs can develop acute moist dermatitis, also known as hot spots or pyotraumatic dermatitis, when they scratch an itch - usually by chewing and licking the area repeatedly.

The itch could be caused by a flea, tick or insect bite, an allergic reaction to food or environmental factors, an ear infection in dogs, anal sac issues and poor grooming. Some orthopaedic issues can also lead to hot spots. Pyoderma, or primary skin infections, can lead to moist dermatitis as well.

When a dog licks or bites a wound, saliva can collect in his or her fur. This moist environment can now attract bacteria, leading to infection. The size of the hot spot can increase quickly if it isn't detected and treated early on. If untreated, the pus can start to crust and get trapped in the fur - this can worsen the infection.

A hot spot typically looks red, inflamed and moist - in some dogs, the wound can look like it is pustulating. 

Hot spots occur more commonly in dogs than in cats and are more frequent in the summertime. Dogs with thicker coats are also more likely to get hot spots.

Topical, broad-based antibiotics work well against hot spots. Prognosis is usually good if treatment is started on time and the infection is not allowed to advance.

As always, prevention is the best defence. It is important to maintain high standards of cleanliness and regularly groom your dog. If there is a wound or inflammation, it is good practice to ensure that the area remains dry as moist skin is ideal for bacterial growth.

  1. Hot spot symptoms and signs in dogs
  2. Causes of acute moist dermatitis in dogs
  3. Pyotraumatic dermatitis diagnosis in dogs
  4. Treatment for hot spots in dogs
  5. Moist dermatitis in dogs: management tips

There will be a reddening of the skin and your dog may lose hair around the area as the infection progresses. Hot spots can be quite painful and your dog will exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Constant licking or scratching of the inflamed area.
  • Pain on touching the affected area.
  • Heightened aggression if the pain increases.
  • Lethargy in dogs may set in if it hurts them to move.
  • Loss of appetite or inappetence can occur as a result of bacterial infection if the infection causes gastrointestinal issues.

Moist dermatitis starts as a superficial inflammation and may become worse with a bacterial infection on the site. The underlying inflammation can be caused by many factors:

  • Tick or flea bites: Tick infestations can be very itchy and invite the spread of infections.
  • Open wounds: Your dog may get injured while playing, get scratched by a sharp object, or get impaled by a thorn. If the wound is not addressed, it can lead to the formation of a hot spot
  • Ear infections: These are especially common in dogs with floppy ears. The environment of the ear is warm and moist, and the ear canal is L shaped, which makes it ideal for water to get trapped. Extra care needs to be taken to prevent flare-ups.
  • Anal gland disease: This is caused when the anal sacs get impacted. They need to be expressed to release their contents. The impaction makes it fit for bacteria to thrive and it can transform into an uncomfortable situation for your dog.
  • Behavioural issues: Some dogs incessantly lick or scratch themselves to release nervous energy. This can lead to tears in the skin and cause infections to erupt.
  • Orthopaedic issues: In senior dogs, orthopaedic issues can cause joint pain. Again, licking or scratching the area can inflame it and lead to moist dermatitis.

Read more: Ear mites in dogs

If you notice that your pet is distressed and there is inflammation on the skin, it is a good idea to go to the vet. Your vet will likely conduct a thorough examination to rule out any underlying causes. 

While broad-based antibiotics are known to work well, the vet may collect a biopsy of the inflammation to see what kind of bacteria is to blame. Unless the infection has spread too much, treatment can be carried out at home.

You might also be interested in: Itching in dogs: Mange

Hot spots are very common, especially during the summer. Thankfully, there are a few simple tips and tricks to help your dog recover quickly. Read on for a few things your vet might do or recommend:

  • To prevent the dog from licking the site and causing damage, the vet may try covering the wound after administering topical antibiotics. However, it might be better to let the wound breathe - be exposed to the air and dry naturally. So an Elizabethan collar might be put on the dog to prevent him or her from licking the wound. 
  • The vet will cut the hair around the wound and clean the wound. As this may be painful, the dog may need to be lightly sedated. After the area has been cleaned thoroughly, the antibiotic regimen can be started.
  • Any underlying conditions will also be addressed. Treatment will depend on what caused the infection in the first place.

In some cases, there is no recurrence of hot spots. But sometimes they can keep recurring and cause distress to the dog. Topical antibiotics are restarted in the latter case. In general, vets will encourage you to maintain your dog’s hygiene and get him or her groomed regularly.

Read more: What to do if your dog has fleas


  1. Veterinary Partner. [Internet]. Veterinary Information Network. Davis, California; Hot Spots in Dogs and Cats
  2. VCA. [Internet]. VCA Inc.; First Aid for Hot Spots in Dogs
  3. Pet MD. [Internet]. Pet MD, LLC; How to Treat Hot Spots on Dogs
  4. VCA. [Internet]. VCA Inc.; Hot Spots in Dogs
  5. Whole Dog Journal. [Internet]. Belvoir Media Group, LLC; Preventing Hot Spots
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