What causes hot spots on dogs?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: June 24, 2024

Hot spots, also known as acute moist dermatitis, are a common skin condition affecting dogs. These inflamed, infected areas can cause significant discomfort and distress for our canine companions. Understanding the root causes of hot spots is critical for effective prevention and treatment.

Allergic Reactions

Allergies are one of the primary causes of hot spots in dogs. These allergic reactions can be triggered by various factors, including:

Environmental Allergens

Pollen, dust mites, mold spores, and other environmental allergens can cause hypersensitivity in dogs. When a dog comes into contact with these allergens, it can lead to intense itching and scratching, which can subsequently cause hot spots.

Food Allergies

Certain ingredients in a dog's diet can also trigger allergies. Common culprits include beef, dairy, wheat, chicken, and soy. Food allergies often manifest as itching and skin irritation, leading to the development of hot spots.


Parasites are another frequent cause of hot spots. The most common parasitic triggers include:

Fleas and Ticks

Fleabites, in particular, can cause severe itching and irritation. A single flea bite can cause a dog to scratch and bite at the affected area incessantly, leading to a hot spot. Ticks, though less common, can also contribute to similar skin issues.


Mites, such as those causing mange (Demodex or Sarcoptes mites), can lead to intense itching, hair loss, and skin infections. The constant scratching and biting can result in hot spots.


Both bacterial and fungal infections can be underlying causes of hot spots. Skin infections may arise from primary conditions or secondary to other underlying issues.

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections often occur when the skin's natural barriers are compromised. This can happen due to a wound, excessive moisture, or chronic scratching. Common bacteria involved include Staphylococcus and Streptococcus species.

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections, such as ringworm, can also lead to hot spots. These infections cause itching and irritation, prompting the dog to scratch and bite the affected area, which can result in a hot spot.

Poor Grooming and Hygiene

Grooming and hygiene play a vital role in maintaining a dog's skin health. Poor grooming practices can contribute to the development of hot spots.

Matting and Tangled Fur

When a dog's fur becomes matted or tangled, it can trap moisture and create an environment conducive to bacterial growth. This can lead to skin irritation and infection, resulting in hot spots.

Dirty or Wet Fur

Dogs with dirty or wet fur are more prone to developing skin irritations. Excess moisture can weaken the skin's natural defenses, allowing bacteria to proliferate and cause hot spots.

Behavioral Factors

A dog's behavior can also contribute to the development of hot spots. Stress, anxiety, and boredom are significant behavioral factors to consider.

Stress and Anxiety

Dogs experiencing stress or anxiety may exhibit excessive licking, chewing, or scratching behaviors. This self-trauma can damage the skin and lead to hot spots.


Boredom can cause dogs to engage in repetitive licking or chewing behaviors as a form of self-soothing. Over time, this can result in localized skin damage and hot spots.

Underlying Health Conditions

Certain underlying health conditions can predispose dogs to hot spots. These conditions may include:

Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal imbalances, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing's disease, can affect a dog's skin health. These conditions often lead to changes in the skin's texture and resilience, making it more susceptible to infections and hot spots.

Immune System Disorders

Dogs with weakened immune systems are more prone to skin infections and hot spots. Immune system disorders can be congenital or acquired, resulting from illnesses, medications, or other factors.

Trauma and Injuries

Physical trauma and injuries can also lead to hot spots. This includes:

Scratches and Wounds

Scratches, bites, or wounds from other animals can break the skin, making it more vulnerable to infections. If a dog continues to lick or scratch the injured area, it can exacerbate the problem and cause a hot spot.

Foreign Bodies

Foreign bodies, such as splinters or thorns, can become embedded in a dog's skin, causing irritation and infection. This can lead to the formation of hot spots if not promptly addressed.

Breed Predispositions

Certain dog breeds are more prone to developing hot spots due to their genetic makeup and physical characteristics.

Breeds with Dense Coats

Breeds with dense, long coats, such as Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and German Shepherds, are more susceptible to hot spots. Their thick fur can trap moisture and create an environment conducive to bacterial growth.

Breeds with Skin Folds

Breeds with skin folds, such as Bulldogs, Pugs, and Shar-Peis, are also at higher risk. The folds can trap dirt, moisture, and bacteria, leading to skin irritations and hot spots.

Rare and Unusual Causes

While the aforementioned causes are common, there are some rare and unusual factors that can contribute to hot spots.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis can occur when a dog comes into contact with irritants such as certain chemicals, plants, or materials. This reaction can cause localized skin inflammation and hot spots.

Seasonal Changes

Seasonal changes can affect a dog's skin health. For instance, hot and humid weather can increase moisture levels on the skin, promoting bacterial growth and leading to hot spots.

As we delve into the myriad causes of hot spots on dogs, it becomes evident that this common yet distressing condition can arise from a complex interplay of factors. By comprehending the root causes—ranging from allergies and parasites to behavioral issues and underlying health conditions—we can better address and prevent hot spots, ensuring our canine companions enjoy healthier, more comfortable lives.

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