Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Understanding Hot Spots


Hot spots spring up within hours. You go to sleep with a non-itchy dog only to wake up to a nasty wet, raw, fire-engine-red wound on your unhappy friend. 

After 30-years of caring for many thousands of dogs, here’s what I know about hotspots: most are influenced what your dog consumes.

When Daisy got here, she was generally itchy with a red, raw right ear. This didn’t surprise me as she is a largely white dog and white dogs can have more skin issues. I put her on various limited-ingredient diets, one at a time. She did poorly on grain-free foods. She cleared up completely on lamb and rice.

Recently, I gave her a couple of lamb’s ear chews. That “should” have been fine since they were lamb but — not so much. I suspect the chemicals used to cure them irritated her system. The first day after the first ear, no reaction. The second day after the second, she was itching nonstop at her back leg by the evening. The skin had that tell-tale bright red color. I gave her half of a vet-okayed antihistamine and threw away the remaining ears. She’s been itch-free since.

If my dogs ever did get a raw area, I treated it with an old favorite: 1/2 strong black tea (for the tannic acid) and 1/2 hydrogen peroxide. I’ve found it extremely effective in calming and drying up an angry, wet hotspot. Overnight things improved. But be aware: that strong, black tea can stain a light dog’s coat.

These days, hydrogen peroxide is out of favor. I’m told it will make matters worse but that was never my experience, but I am not a vet. Talk to your vet about the current treatments to use.

I take hotspots as a sign that something needs to change. If your dog, who has been hot spot free, suddenly gets one, ask yourself if you tried a new treat, chewy, food, or medication. Did they get into anything? Usually, the cause of the flare-up can be found there. 

Now, I’m assuming that your dog is brushed out and not heavily matted. If your dog’s fur is really thick or tangled, that prevents air from getting to the skin and can certainly set up a bad situation. Keep your dog brushed out, If you don’t have an undercoat rake or a Furminator, get one.    

In the dogs I have helped with this, most have become hot spots free on the right food for them. Like me, you may need to experiment a bit to find that food. I’m a fan of limited ingredient foods.

Natural Balance Limited Ingredient foods are widely available and offer biscuits and canned food with the same formula. Take a look at

Freely is a new limited-ingredient brand. They have Salmon, Turkey, and Lamb options – both with grains and grain-free. Here’s the page on

Some dogs also benefit from a skin-coat supplement. I like the one-ingredient options like Salmon oil. I’ll try adding it after I find a food that keeps my dog hot-spot free. Most of the time, such a food can be found but not always. 🙁 Be prepared to be persistent on behalf of your dog.


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