Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Hot Spots

Wait a minute. If it has a name, it is already a diagnosis, isn't it? Well, yes and no. The medical term for hot spots is either pyotraumatic or acute moist dermatitis. Did you notice how often names of medical conditions are nothing more than a description of a problem?

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Hot Spots (acute moist dermatitis)

What does it mean when the name of your dog's condition ends with -itis?

The suffix -itis stands for inflammation. This covers a laundry list of things starting with arthritis and ending with vulvovaginitis--yeah, that's a real thing.

The part of the word that precedes the suffix identifies the involved organ. Joint(s) in arthritis, stomach, and intestines in gastroenteritis, ear(s) in otitis, skin in dermatitis, and so on.

That's all that tells you

A geographical location and the fact that it's inflamed. That is not nearly enough information. The cause behind inflammation can be trauma, bacterial infection, viral infection, fungal infection, auto-immune reaction--more information is needed to treat successfully.

Qualifiers to the rescue

If more information is what you need, in the case of hot spots, you're in luck. Don't forget the additional words--either pyotraumatic or acute moist. Those indicate there is oozing and pus. Where there is pus, there is an infection. In this case, bacterial.

So that's a diagnosis, no?

Maybe. The bacteria that cause hot spots aren't some exotic type that your dog contracts someplace if they are unlucky. It's a bacteria that is normally present on the skin all the time, but its population gets out of control. The real diagnosis lies in why does that happen.

There could have been a minor trauma. Perhaps the coat has been matted or wet. But you take good care of your dog, and their coat is brushed regularly. So that's not it. I don't know about your dog, but mine get scratches and little wounds from running through brambles all the time and don't end up with hot spots. Jasmine was an avid swimmer and didn't end up with hot spots. Until she did. And at about that time she also got diagnosed with hypothyroidism.

The immune system normally keeps such things under control

So what allowed the bacteria to run rampant? And that, my friend, is the right question. The answer lies within your dog's immune function almost every time.

Is the immune system under-performing? Why? In Jasmine's case, it was a poor thyroid function, but there are other issues that weaken the immune system.

Or is the immune system going crazy, attacking your dog's own tissues instead of taking care of business?

Treat the hot spot and look for a cause

Once a hot spot develops, it can spread like a forest fire. Almost literally. It is also very itchy and painful at the same time. The first order of business is treating the infection.

After that, though, if you don't want your dog keep getting hot spots over and over again, look what led to the loss of equilibrium in the first place.

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Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog now available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is an award-winning guide to help you better understand what your dog is telling you about their health and how to best advocate for them. 

Learn how to see and how to think about changes in your dog’s appearance, habits, and behavior. Some signs that might not trigger your concern can be important indicators that your dog needs to see a veterinarian right away. Other symptoms, while hard to miss, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or limping, are easy to spot but can have a laundry list of potential causes, some of them serious or even life-threatening. 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is a dog health advocacy guide 101. It covers a variety of common symptoms, including when each of them might be an emergency. 

An award-winning guide for dog parents


  1. My Golden Retriever got the occasional hot spot and I felt so bad for her. I always had to keep a close eye on her, especially in the summer time. I knew they were uncomfortable and painful and made sure to have them looked after.

  2. Hot spots are a nightmare, but have figured out why Layla gets them and I am using a Hemp Balm on her for them which is amazing as whwn she licks it it calms her down also.

  3. I think we use a lot of words interchangeably, or not always accurately. I say Jack has had hot spots from chewing because of itchiness, but I'm really not sure they were in fact hot spots. Thankfully he doesn't suffer from them any longer.

  4. Our pups don't get hot spots, likely genetics but we also always keep fresh, raw probiotics in their food to help. I know they are difficult to manage once it takes off - so good info.

  5. My older dog has flea allergy dermatitis that has led to hot spots in the past. I hate using chemical flea preventatives on my dogs, but we've found that doing so is a lesser of two evils with my dog since preventing him from getting fleas means we don't have to deal with the horrible symptoms of his flea allergy.


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