Hot Spots On Dogs – Why Is My Dog Scratching?

Medical review by K9 Healthcare Council of America (K9HCA). Intended for educational purposes only. Always seek medical advice from your veterinarian.

My Dog Is Constantly Licking and Scratching Himself

Compulsive scratching, licking, and chewing behaviors are quite common in dogs. The medical term for itching is Pruritis–and it’s a common symptom in many types of skin disorders in dogs.

One of the first signs your dog has a problem might be the development of a “hot spot” — a red, wet, irritated area that arises on the skin from persistent chewing, licking, scratching or rubbing.

Although hot spots, or ‘acute moist dermatitis’, can occur anywhere on your dog’s body, they are most often found on the head, chest, or hips.

Because dogs often incessantly scratch, lick, or bite at an area once it becomes irritated, hot spots can become large and incredibly sore very quickly.

dog hot spots
Any dog can develop skin allergies or pruritus. Many purebred dogs have family histories of skin problems. Cocker Spaniels, French Poodles, West Highland White Terriers, and Retrievers are known to have high incidences of hot spots and skin disorders.

Hot Spots on Dogs

Reasons Why Dogs Compulsively Scratch, Lick, or Chew

Hot spots are one of the most common skin conditions in dogs, particularly in the summer months. These painful, oozing sores can appear seemingly out of nowhere and often spread rapidly. While hot spots are frustrating to deal with, they can be treated and even prevented with the right skin care management.

What Are Dog Hot Spots?

Canine hot spots, also known as Pyo traumatic Dermatitis or Acute Moist Dermatitis, are localized areas of red, inflamed skin lesions and bacterial infection that are exacerbated by itching and scratching. Lesions can appear quickly, ooze, and may contain pus.

Often a hot spot will begin as a small red area that owners may mistake for an insect bite. But unlike an insect bite, a hot spot will rapidly worsen and spread, developing into a hot, red, oozing, and painful lesion.

What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?

Hot spots are often triggered by scratching, licking, or chewing the affected area of skin. The resulting trauma to the skin causes inflammation and secondary bacterial infections.

Unfortunately, this self-trauma only makes the area itchier, which causes a self-perpetuating cycle of itching and scratching.

Thus, any condition that causes your dog to feel itchy has the potential to result in the development of a localized hot spot.

Itchy dog. Why does my dog scratch?
Reaction to insect bites – From fleas, mites (Sarcoptes, Cheyletiella) or other small insects (caterpillars, bees, wasps, lice, gnats, or mosquitoes) can cause your dog to itch and scratch.

Why Is My Dog Scratching?

Dogs scratch for many reasons–but despite the cause, the resulting hot spots created require attention and treatment.

Common causes of the itching/scratching cycle in dogs include:

  • Allergies – Including food allergies, inhalant allergies or contact irritants (flea allergy dermatitis) can cause itching.
  • Reaction To Insect Bites – Fleas, mites (Sarcoptes, Cheyletiella) or other small insects (caterpillars, bees, wasps, lice, gnats, or mosquitoes) can cause a dog’s itching.
  • Ear Infections – Bacteria or yeast in the ear canal can be so irritating that the dog scratches at his ear creating hot spots on the ear flap, behind the ear, or on the neck.
  • Pyoderma – Primary skin infections can also be caused by bacteria or yeast that may incite the dog to scratch an area so much that a secondary hot spot forms.
  • Poor Grooming – Dogs with unkempt or dirty hair coats bite at tangles, creating open wounds. Matted fur prevents air from reaching the skin and retains water after a dog swims or gets caught in the rain, so the skin stays wet. This sets up a perfect environment for a hot spot.
  • Anxiety, Stress & Boredom – An anxious, stressed-out dog will often bite and chew their paws & nails and lick excessively to relieve pent-up stress.
  • Pain – Orthopedic Problems – Dogs will lick or chew at painful joints much like people rub a sore knee to relieve the pain, creating hot spots in the process. Dogs with arthritis or back problems tend to lie down much of the time. Lying on one side creates abrasions over pressure points, like hips or hocks (ankles), where bony protrusions have little muscular padding, especially in elderly dogs with diminishing muscle mass. When the dog licks the abrasion, a hot spot erupts.
  • Anal Gland Disease – Infected or impacted anal glands are painful and annoying. Dogs lick the area around the rectum and can cause hot spots under or on top of the tail.
  • Parasites – Among the most common causes for compulsive dog licking, chewing, or scratching behaviors are fleas, ticks, and mites. Although ticks are often visible to the naked eye, fleas often go unseen until there is a large infestation, and mites are microscopic. So don’t assume that your dog isn’t suffering from parasites just because you can’t see them.
Atopic dermatitis dogs
Hot spots are usually caused by self-trauma when a dog scratches an itchy spot so vigorously that he creates an open wound. When a dog licks the sore spot, he irritates superficial nerve endings in the skin which stimulates more itching followed by more licking, biting, and scratching.

Dog Hot Spot – Home Care Remedies for Itchy Dogs

The goal in treating a hot spot is to stop the trauma and prevent the development of a deep skin infection–so the first step in treating hot spots is to stop the scratching ‘self-mutilation’.

If your dog is itchy, there are plenty of totally safe, all-natural ways to treat occasional or mild itching at home.

Here are 7 simple tips & suggestions to help improve your dog’s skin, avoid skin allergies & prevent hot spots to give your pooch some well-deserved relief:

1. Provide A Balanced Diet

Dry, itchy skin can be influenced by a number of factors, especially diet. Commercial pet foods process out the good oils that contribute to healthy skin and a lustrous haircoat.

Dry pet foods have an even more dehydrating effect on skin and hair and also stimulate increased thirst, which only partially compensates for the drying nature of these diets.

Feeding your dog, a balanced diet with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids and healthy carbohydrates can help soothe dry skin and heal skin from the inside out. Fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are proven to reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and promote skin health. Plus, many dogs are allergic to the ingredients found in standard chicken, beef, or turkey-based dog foods, as well as wheat or gluten ingredients.

Try feeding moist food (canned, cooked, homemade or raw). If you feed dry kibble dog food to your pet, be sure to have plenty of fresh water for your dog to drink to prevent dehydration and loss of skin moisture.

2. Address Anxiety, Stress & Boredom

In some cases, compulsive biting, chewing, or licking develops in response to fear, stress, or inadequate stimulation. To reduce this likelihood, be sure your dog receives enough exercise and loving attention.

If boredom or behavioral issues are the reason your dog traumatizes himself, then training & behavior modification along with consistent exercise and mental enrichment activities can help release stress and scale down anxiety.

Consider adding all natural anti-anxiety therapies such as CBD (Cannabidiol) from hemp to alleviate your pup’s over-active stress response and keep them calm.

According to medical literature, CBD oil affects many canine biological pathways through the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and functions to optimize cellular interactions involved in the repair and restoration of whole-body systems.

Full spectrum CBD will balance the allergic immune system response to reduce skin inflammation and treat your dog’s anxiety.

Read the Case Study of Kandi Lea’s Atopic Dermatitis treatment with premium CBD oil from K9 Medibles:


12 yr. old Golden Retriever

How Canine Support Formula 

Relieved Kandi Lea's skin irritation & Atopic Dermatitis

Kandi Lea is a 12 year old Golden Retriever diagnosed with canine Atopic Dermatitis. She had previously been prescribed Apoquel to help treat inflammation and control itching but her pet parents did not see consistent symptom relief and were worried about the long-term, negative side effects of Apoquel on her immune system. 

Kandi was started on a CBD-rich hemp oil, Canine Support Formula, at a weight appropriate dose and following a 30-day post treatment assessment showed visible improvements in reduced skin rashes and hair loss. Her symptoms of scratching and vigorous biting had cessed along with localized 'Hot-Spots' on her legs that had becomme crusted and hardened.


Over the following 60 days her hair grew back to a naturally beautiful red color and was thicker and fuller, even in areas of constant distress.

As the Before & After photos prove, Canine Support Formula relieved Kandi Lea's allergy symptoms, improved her skin health and reduced the anxiety associated with her condition. The natural, full spectrum phytocannabinoids in Canine Support Formula was dramatic success for relieveing Kandi Lea's Atopic Dermatitis!

CBD Oil for Allergies - Read Kandi Lea's Story

Kandi Lea BEFORE & AFTER K9 Medibles all natural Canine Support Formula for dogs. 

3. Nutritional Supplements

If you must feed dry foods, then by all means add digestive enzymes to your dog’s meals. Digestive enzymes are good to use with any type of food as they improve the release of nutrients and assist in the digestive process.

Consider supplementing your dog’s diet with probiotic bacteria at each meal. Clinical research has shown that one important way to reduce the likelihood that dogs will develop allergies is to give them high-potency cultures of beneficial probiotic bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bifidus when they are still very young.

Supplement your dog’s regular food with beneficial oils high in Omega 3-6-9 EPA/DHA (E.g. Sea Buckthorn Oil, fish oil, etc.).

As an extra health measure, add nutritional yeast or hypoallergenic B-complex vitamins to every meal.

4. Regular Grooming

Some dogs benefit from seasonal grooming, as well as regular brushing and bathing.

When your dog needs a bath, try using plain water with a good, non-drying solvent. If you must use shampoo, use a moisturizing type with humectants, and follow up with a moisturizing conditioner.

To prevent causing dry, flaky skin, avoid HOT blow dryers! And if you have your dog groomed, speak to the groomer about turning down the heat on the blow dryer (it’s usually set too HIGH to save time).

5. Eliminate Parasites

There are a variety of flea and tick products that your veterinarian can recommend. Additionally, if your dog’s biting or chewing problems are caused by fleas, be sure to wash your dog’s bed and vacuum your carpeting and upholstered furniture on a regular basis to reduce the likelihood of reinfestation. You also need to treat any other animals in the household.

6. General Allergy Care

If food allergies are making your dog itch, eliminating potential trigger foods (such as beef or wheat) can make a huge difference. Changing foods can help eliminate potential allergic trigger foods. Additionally, your vet may recommend a special diet if this appears to be the case.

In addition to certain foods/ingredients, your dog can also be allergic to an infinite variety of irritants in the environment.

These can be outdoor allergens like ragweed, grass and pollens, as well as indoor irritants like mold, dust mites, cleaning chemicals and even fabrics like wool or cotton. Also, remove any potential chemical triggers like household cleaners and scented candles your dog may be unintentionally exposed to. As a general rule, if your dog is allergic to something inside your home, he’ll have year-round symptoms. If he’s reacting to something outdoors, it could very well be a seasonal allergy problem.

CBD for dogs allergies. CBD for Dogs with Allergies
Allergies in dogs can be effectively managed at home with natural CBD oil.

Also, your pet’s immune system is partly influenced by genetics, so he can actually inherit a tendency toward hyper-sensitivities to both a food and/or environmental allergen.

Dogs that suffer from seasonal allergies to pollens, molds, and/or mites may benefit from allergy desensitization injections or allergy shots. Allergy desensitizing injections should not be confused with anti-inflammatory injections (such as corticosteroids) that may be used to suppress itching.

7. Preventing Scratching Behavior

Because compulsive behaviors can cause serious damage and affect your dog’s quality of life, it’s important to do your best to stop your dog from chewing, licking, or scratching too much.

Some ideas include using bitter sprays to discourage licking, having your dog wear a special protective collar (Elizabethan or E-collars) to prevent access to hot spots, or keeping your dog close by your side when your home.

Continued monitoring and treatment of the underlying cause should prevent future hot spots.

When You Can’t Treat a Dog Hot Spot Alone

The bad news is that about 30% of the pets who develop hot spots actually have some other kind of skin disease such as a deeper skin infection, a bite wound or other trauma, or even immune-mediated disease. If you have any concerns whatsoever, it is best to have your veterinarian assess them.

Other times that may require veterinary intervention is when a hot spot becomes so big and painful that it requires sedation to properly clip and clean the infected area.

Concern is if a hot spot is accompanied by deeper skin infection, which would require more extensive therapy such as oral pain medications, oral anti-inflammatory medications and oral antibiotics in addition to topical preparations to treat your dog’s itchy skin.

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