Causes of your dog’s itchy skin and hair loss (hot spots)

Itchy hot spots are usually allergy based

It happens all the time: One day your pet has a shiny coat full of luster and the next day there is a large patch of hair loss that is sensitive, moist and oozing. Sometimes the skin is sticky and this can cause your pet to be very uncomfortable. In worse cases, these sticky lesions can also be scratched until they bleed. This common sudden skin change in dogs is often referred to as a “hot spot” which refers to a sudden area of intense skin inflammation as described above.

In some cases it is necessary to see a veterinarian who will usually clip the hair from around the area to allow it to heal, and clean and dry the area thoroughly. On occasion it is necessary to sedate the pet in order to properly treat very sensitive hot spots. If the eruption is severe, oral antibiotics are often prescribed such as Cephalexin and/or short courses of oral Prednisone or Temaril-P, until the lesions dry and heal. With time and patience, most pets are back to normal in a short period of time.

In those pets that have repetitive hot spots, it is important to explore the various underlying allergic causes mentioned in this article to cure this tendency long term.These areas can emerge anywhere on a pet’s body, but most commonly are seen under the ears or skin folds of the neck, and often down the lower back or flank areas. The causes of these frustrating and often painful eruptions are usually allergy based: either flea bite allergy, inhalant/contact allergy, and/or food allergy. Obviously a thorough flea combing should be done to make sure there is no evidence of flea infestation or recent exposure to fleas. Such pets should be on a good flea preventative program using such products as Frontline Plus or Advantage, or a natural form of flea prevention for clients more holistically oriented.

The most first line of treatment in such pets with hot spots is to soothe the skin both topically and through oral medication. Oral antihistamines such as diphenhydramine, chlorpheniramine or clemestine can help break the itch cycle, as well as cleaning the area with a dilute antibacterial soap, and then adequately drying.  Topical anti-inflammatories such as Be Soothed or Excel Hydrocortisone Spray can potentially help in offering the pet relief.

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  1. Pingback: PetMeds® Using Cortisone to Help Itchy Dogs and Cats | 1800PetMeds Blog

  2. Nothing seem to stop Lizzy, my dog, from licking and bitting
    her feet. Can you help me with this problem?

  3. I’ve been told that this is due to an allergy of some type. I try to make sure that I do not contribute by making sure my dogs don’t walk thru carpet fresh or freshly shampooed carpets, or on mopped floors.

    Derpending on her size, (check with your vet for dose), Dogs CAN take Diphenhydramine anti-histamine for allergies.

  4. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 17, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Dephenhydramine dose is usually one half to one mg per pound twice daily. Other anthistamines to try include chlorphenrinimine or tavist to name a few. Also can try fatty acids like nordic naturals pet omega 3 fatty acids.

  5. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 17, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    This is usually due to inhalent/contact allergies to molds, grasses, trees, dander, housedust, pollens, etc or food allergens. Try antihistamine like benadryl at dose of one half to one mg per pound twice daily. Also consider using fatty acid added to meals like nordic naturals pet omega 3 fatty acid which may help when used long term. Consider DMG liquid as well as proanthozone from 1800petmeds.

  6. my dog is constantly biting and scratching right above her tail…about 5-6 inches long. it gets to the point of being raw cause she will scratch at it so much…she will even roll on the carpet to make it feel better…we put a cortizone cream on it and it goes away for a little while usually about 2-3 days then comes back. she also gets an oatmeal bath quite often…her fur is rough and brittle…we cant really aford to take her to the vet but we are trying to find some answers.
    please help! 🙂

  7. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMarch 18, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Check for fleas and/or make sure on good flea control. Also good be underlying inhalent/contact allergies and/or food allergies. You could try oral benadryl at dose of one mg per pound twice daily and adding a fatty acid to her meals such as super pure omega 3 from 1800petmeds.

  8. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMarch 18, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Check for fleas and make sure on good flea control. Also possible to have inhalent/contact and/or food allergies. Try antihistamine like benadryl or chlorphenirimine, as well as fatty acid like Super pure omega 3 from 1800petmeds.

  9. Can i get a cortizone shot to give to my dog at home. Vet bills are outragous and i have taken my other dog to the vett and they gave herr a shot along with a large bill of $236. Please help me out if you can or have this type of shot.

  10. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 6, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    Cortisone shots can only be given by licensed vets.

  11. canhookwormskillyourdog

  12. My golden retriever has licked a large raw spot on her back end what can I do to heal it and make s
    Her comfrotable

  13. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianDecember 29, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Sounds like could be hot spot. Try topical betagen from 1800petmeds or you can use topical hydrocortisone to area. Benadryl at dose of 1 mg per pound twice daily may help ease itching. If signs persist or worsen, see vet.

  14. I have a 4 year old springer spaniel who is miserable spring to winter! I think I have isolated her allergies to oak trees/leaves and possibly grass. It is not fleas, it is not her food. I have tried the Yucca Intensive and it may have helped a minor amount, if at all. She is on Benadryl TID, and she still has raw paws, and raw chin as well as one front axilla. The eruptions on her skin have quieted down since we are in later fall/early winter (had several hard frosts now). I put Sulfodene 3 way ointment (Benzocaine/Salicylic Acid)on the open spots. Besides allergy testing/shots, is there anything else known to counteract these allergies? Thanks so much!!

  15. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianDecember 6, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    You could ask vet about allergy control meds, including the wonderful new drug apoquel, which is sometimes hard to get, as it was on back order for long time. Also can consider low dose cortisone or cortisone alternatives like atopica, or cyclosporine. I would also consider adding fatty acid to meals like nordic naturals pet omega 3 from 1800petmeds. You could also consider holistic options like NAET therapy, which you can google on line, as well as consulting with a veterinary homeopath. to learn more about homeopathy, see the booklet on the website as well as my website Many homeopathic vets do offer phone consultations.

  16. My dog is about 3-4 years old and we have never had problems with her itching, but now we cant get her to stop. She’s shedding everywhere and has been itching herself until shes bleeding and has hair loss in the spot where she previously itched. We’ve tried sprays and wipes but those dont seem to help. We’ve also gotten her on grain free food to try and help.

  17. Sounds most likely due to developing inhalent/contact allergies at this age, known as canine atopy, which I often call doggie hayfever, which is allergies to molds, grasses, trees, pollens, etc in the environment. Food allergies less likely here, however it is common to have secondary bscterial or yeast infections which your vet may need to address with prescription meds. I would recommend vet exam and evaluation and allergy workup

  18. Hello my male boxer 5 yrs in age has for the past month been scratching all over even paws . We have treated him for fleas and tics though we have not seen any and he is mainly in the house. What could be the cause and solution to his itchy behavior ?

  19. There are many causes of itchy skin besides fleas. Dogs commonly develop inhalent/contact allergies to molds, grasses, trees, dander, house dust mites, pollens, ragweed, etc, which is what I call doggie hayfever, and which commonly cause itching, etc. Also pets occasionally develop food allergies or hypersensitivities as well, even if on the same food for years. You could try antihistamines orally such as benadryl at dose of 1 mg per pound twice daily as well as adding fatty acid such as nordic naturals pet omega 3 to diets. Shampoo with 1800petmeds aloe vera and oatmeal shampoo and conditioner every few days. If signs persist or worsen, see vet for full allergy workup

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