You may think of hot spots as a condition on their own. But most of the time they’re a symptom of a more serious condition ... like chronic stress, food sensitivities, energy stagnation or liver imbalances.
Known as acute moist dermatitis or pyoderma, the dreaded hot spot should be called the "red, gooey, inflamed, hairless spot varying in symptoms, size and severity" spot.
So what really causes hot spots on dogs and how can you treat them naturally?
What Causes Hot Spots On Dogs?
Hot spots happen for a reason. Some of the most common causes of hot spots are:
- Fleas and other bug bites
- Food sensitivities
- Summer heat
- Environmental allergens
But there are underlying causes too:
- Liver disease and imbalance
- Immune disease
- Injury or instability in the body
Hot spots are damp and bring heat and inflammation to the skin. Most hot spots are a result of too much heat in the body … blocking the movement of energy.
Hot spots can appear anywhere. But you'll usually find them in areas where your dog has a weakness or chink in her energy flow. The most common places you’ll see hot spots:
- Side of the face
- Top of the tail
Acute Or Chronic?
The allopathic view of hot spots is that they’re an acute condition. They’re usually diagnosed as allergens or flea bites. But hot spots on dogs can also be chronic.
Acute or chronic, hot spots need immediate attention because they spread fast. They kick out hair and become a sticky, painful, sometimes itchy mess. This can happen within hours.
If your dog's hot spots keep coming back, muscle tension, injury and pain could be the cause. This is common if you find a hot spot on the spine. Look for tension in the area under the hot spot moving downward or slightly left or right of the area. With this type of hot spot you might see several hot spots over a short period of time. There will be excessive licking in most cases as well.
For these types of hot spots, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture or acupressure may help. They can clear stagnant energy and bring much-needed circulation to the area.
The Problem With Conventional Treatment
Conventional treatment involves the suppression of a dog's symptoms. This method of treating hot spots on dogs usually includes steroids and antibiotics.
Allopathic veterinary care follows the “moist skin lesion standard of care.” This starts off with chemical disinfection, steroids and sometimes antihistamines. Most owners get oral antibiotics and steroid creams to deal with the spot.
When you give your dog steroids and antibiotics to treat hot spots, this affects the whole body ...
... But these treatments won't stop the hot spots from coming back. The meds don't treat food sensitivities or a compromised immune system.
They don’t address the underlying cause of the hot spot and can end up putting your dog into a cycle of sickness.
It's really important to try to figure out and treat what's causing it.
There is an exception to this - although the situation is quite rare. When a hot spot leads to 40% to 50% of your dog's fur falling out, a trip to your (preferably holistic) vet is a good idea. This usually happens with immune-compromised dogs or those with severe thyroid issues.
Herbal Hot Spot Treatment
When treating hot spots on dogs at home, to be effective you need to take a two-fold approach.
The first step is to treat the hot spot externally to relieve painful symptoms. You want to keep the hot spot from scabbing and avoid bacteria overgrowth.
And herbs are a great natural hot spot treatment. After you secure your dog, gently trim the hair around the area. Then rinse with this mild rinse.
Hot Spot Rinse
- 10 drops crab apple flower essence
- 1/2 tsp Himalayan salt
- 8 ounces boiled, cooled filtered water
- 20 drops Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris)
- 10 drops of echinacea tincture
Optional: replace 4 oz of water with witch hazel or rose water for extra drying or cooling support.
Mix the ingredients together and then flush the area or gently mist and let dry. Do this 3 or 4 times for the first 24 hours.
Next, combine 1/4 cup of powdered bentonite clay with 1/8 cup of powdered echinacea, plantain leaf or yarrow. Bentonite clay is okay by itself if you don’t have access to the other herbs.
Sprinkle this mixture on the lesion and let it sit for 30 to 45 minutes. Rinse off with tepid water or the Hot Spot Rinse. Do this 2 or 3 times per day.
When the hot spot starts healing, you can use a salve made with calendula or St John’s wort oil. Both of these herbs:
- Calm skin
- Remove itchiness
- Disperse inflammation
Calendula is both antibacterial and antifungal. It heals tissues quickly (but be careful, it can heal too quickly if an infection is present). If the hot spot seems to be infected (with drainage or excessive scabbing), wait to use the calendula. You want the hot spot to start healing and have minimal drainage before using it. Otherwise you could clog the hot spot.
Some hot spots lack moisture and remain dry with limited bacteria growth. You can apply a simple calendula salve or infused oil to quickly heal tissues and calm the itch with these.
For painful, dry or healing hot spots use a calendula and goldenseal spray. To make your own spray, add 15 drops of each tincture to one cup of water. Use the mixture to mist your dog’s hot spots 3 to 4 times a day.
Healing From The Inside Out
The second step in healing hot spots involves internal treatment. There are 3 main areas you want to focus on.
A diet of fresh whole foods is better for your dog's total health and help reduce hot spots.
Make sure it includes:
- Digestive enzymes
- Prebiotics and probiotics
2. Organ support
You also want to support the elimination organs to help balance out the body and support whole body healing. This includes the digestive tract, kidneys and liver.
To support the liver, try milk thistle, dandelion, and St John’s wort. They can help cool your dog’s system as well. For the kidney, use a tincture of whole burdock. This also helps clear out heat and cool your dog from within.
As a general guide, you can give your dog 1/2 drop of tincture for each pound of body weight. Use a full drop if you’re using a glycerin extract instead of an alcohol extract. You can give this to your dog twice daily.
3. Support The Lymphatic System
You also need to keep your dog’s lymphatic system moving. It’s responsible for:
- Removing toxins and cellular waste
- Transporting white blood cells to fight infection
The lymphatic system can also help decrease inflammation, which is important with hot spots.
I recommend calendula for dogs who are cool to neutral. Cleavers work well for dogs that are usually warm or hot. Dogs with hot spots who have immune or organ imbalances usually fall into this category. The general dose for lymphatic support is one drop for 10 lbs of bodyweight.
Suppression Isn't The Answer
The skin is an organ of elimination like the colon, kidneys and liver. The suppression of symptoms should only be a last resort, saved for extreme cases.
Holistic treatments look to ease symptoms and keep hot spots from spreading. Suppressing the body's response can drive inflammation deeper into the tissues. This eventually contributes to chronic disease.
One of the most effective ways to avoid multiple lesions is by being proactive. Don't look at hot spots as a one-off issue. Instead view them as a chronic condition caused by a deeper underlying condition. You need to address this condition.
Effective preventative care involves establishing a relationship with a homeopathic or holistic vet. Skin lesions like hot spots function as a warning beacon. They're telling you to treat from within. Strengthen your dog’s digestive and immune function while supporting internal organs.
Many natural modalities prove effective for healing hot spots. This herbal regimen gives your dog relief while allowing her body to respond.
If your dog's hot spots are an issue, work on the inside. Support her immune system and get her energy flowing.
Written By Rita Hogan
Rita Hogan is a canine herbalist and co-founder of Farm Dog Naturals, an herbal remedy company for the All-Natural Dog. Rita combines nature with her love for dogs by offering consulting that focuses on dogs as individuals: mind, body and spirit. Her practice incorporates herbal medicine, complementary therapies and environmental stewardship to help dogs and people find balance and partnership with nature. Connect with Rita through her website canineherbalist.com