Skin Troubles Part 1: Treating Flea Bites, Hot Spots, Acne, and Cuts in Dogs

Posted on
July 9, 2018
a fluffy white dog sitting outside
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All pets are susceptible to a variety of small injuries and parasites, and it’s important to know what some of these are and what to do about them.  Today we’ll be talking about and looking at how to treat:

  • Fleas and flea bites
  • Hot Spots
  • Acne
  • Small cuts/open wounds

In dogs. This is part one of a two part series; next week, we’ll be looking at these same issues in cats.

Flea Bites

We’ll start by looking at the most-talked-about of common pet afflictions: fleas.  While nearly everyone has heard of fleas and knows that they’re tiny little pests that cause itchy bites, most people actually know very little about them unless they’ve been unfortunate enough to experience them first-hand.

Fleas have a lifespan of only 100 days, but during a lifetime, a female can produce up to 400-500 offspring.  Unfortunately this means that a single flea on a pet can quickly become hundreds.  They spend nearly their entire lives on host animals, which are small mammals, and domestic pets often pick up fleas by traveling through environments full of (or coming into contact with) wild animals like racoons or possums.  The saliva of fleas contains the irritant that causes your dog to scratch, and if the parasite transfers to you or your family members from the dog, then their debris can cause similar allergic reactions in humans.  It’s important to treat fleas quickly because in addition to reproducing at a fast rate, they can carry diseases like typhus and transmit other parasites like tapeworms.

What to Look For

stat & closeup of flea

Fleas are tiny: 1/16th-1/8th of an inch long, with a reddish-brown color.  On a dog, they won’t look like more than a tiny, red-brown dot.  Rather than looking for individual fleas, it can be easier to look for their bites, which will leave small red bumps on your dog’s skin.  In addition, “flea dirt” (flea droppings) can be looked for by combing through your dog’s fur.  Flea dirt will look like ground pepper or regular specks of dirt, but if you put it on a tissue and wet it slightly, the dirt will reveal a reddish color which is the result of the blood the flea has ingested.  

It’s also important to remember that not all dogs are allergic to flea saliva.  They may not scratch as a result of an infestation, and you may need to watch for other signs, like biting and pay attention to itchiness and red bumps on yourself as the fleas may transfer to you.

What to Do

Once you’re sure your dog has fleas, you need to understand that your home is also probably infested.  With the rate that fleas reproduce, any time your dog comes into contact with you or with anything in your house (carpet, furniture, drapes, etc.), chances are very good that fleas will transfer from Fido to these surfaces, where they may continue to reproduce and multiply.

dog with soap on head being washed

The first thing to do is wash your dog with a flea shampoo to remove the living fleas and flea dirt from them.  This will provide some temporary relief, but it can’t do anything to prevent fleas in the surrounding environments from reinfesting your pet’s fur.  There are other products that can kill adult fleas and keep them away, including topical creams, flea collars, or oral medications.  Be sure to consult with a vet before deciding on which of these methods is best for your dog, and make sure to use flea-control products that are specifically labeled for dogs!  Products for cats have different formulas that may not be as effective on dogs.  After treating your dog, vacuum your house daily and wash bedding and other linens as often as possible to get rid of the environmental infestation.  By doing this, you, your dog, and your home should be flea free after about two weeks, but if the problem persists, you may need to call an exterminator.

Hot Spots

sad-faced dog laying on ground
‍Source: stockvault

Unfortunately flea bites can lead to other issues like acute moist dermatitis (aka. “Hot spots”).  Hot spots happen as an immune response to the irritants in fleas’ saliva, but they can also be caused by a variety of other irritants, such as poor grooming, bug bites (from other insects in addition to fleas), or underlying disease.  

What Else Can Cause Hot Spots?

Unfortunately, hot spots can be caused by a host of things, including both physical and emotional issues.  These include, but are not limited to:

  • allergic reactions
  • Insect, mite, or flea bites
  • poor grooming (dirty or matted fur)
  • underlying ear or skin infections
  • Chronic conditions such as arthritis or hip dysplasia that may cause a dog to lick their skin
  • constant licking/chewing prompted by stress or boredom

What do Hot Spots Look Like?

Well, we’re going to show you with a picture below, but it’s not too pretty…

hot spot in dog's skin
Source: PetMD

Unfortunately Hot Spots are pretty gross.  They’re red, inflamed lesions on the skin that are often moist and sometimes ooze, and they can appear anywhere on your dog.  Because Hot Spots are more common in dogs with longer fur, they can be hard to... well, spot if you’re not parting the hair and looking for them on the skin.  You should watch to see if your dog is itching, biting, or licking an unusual amount, and if they are, start checking them for hot spots (among other things).

What To Do

Obviously regular vet visits should help you rule out if the hot spots are caused by a disease, but causes like the bug bites or poor grooming should be obvious.  Giving your dog a thorough bath is a good first step in treating Hot Spots. If bug bites are not the cause, the Hot Spots will persist, and it’s time to go to the vet.  A vet will figure out what the best course of treatment for your dog is, and this may include treatments for the underlying causes of the hot spots in addition to the symptoms.  While it may be disheartening to learn that your dog has something else wrong, this is a good thing!  Treating the underlying causes of Hot Spots will keep them from coming back and will keep your pet healthier in the process.  These following treatments are just a few options:

  • Shaving of the hair surrounding the lesion, which allows air and medication to reach the wound
  • Cleansing the hot spot with a non-irritating solution (warm water and betadine solution usually works well)
  • Antibiotics and painkillers (vets should prescribe these)
  • Medication to prevent and treat parasites (vets should prescribe these)
  • E-collar or other means to prevent self-trauma as the area heals
  • Balanced diet to help maintain healthy skin and coat
  • Dietary supplement containing essential fatty acids
  • Corticosteroids or antihistamines to control itching
  • Hypoallergenic diet for food allergies
  • Keeping the areas clean with a wound spray like Fauna Care Silver Spray

To protect your dog and prevent Hot Spots, make sure they are regularly groomed, are free from ticks and pests, and keep them in as stress-free of an environment as you can manage.

Note:  NEVER give your pets any antibiotics, painkillers, or medications that are not marked as being 1) exclusively for pets or in this case, dogs and/or 2) prescribed by your vet.  Human painkillers and medications are not safe for pets.


teenage puppy annoyed in the grass

While acne is most commonly associated with teenage humans, “teenage” pets are not immune to the unfortunate skin condition; both dogs and cats can get acne.  However, it’s a pretty harmless issue and is more of an annoyance than anything else (just like for humans!).

When are Dogs Susceptible to Acne?

“Teenage” dogs between the ages of five and eight months are the most likely to get acne.  Remember how much of a pain puberty was with all of the changes your body went through?  Well, the same thing happens to dogs as they shed their puppy coats, go through growth spurts, and undergo other physical changes.  In addition, you should pay particular attention to your dogs if they have short fur (like the coats of boxers, bulldogs, etc.), as these breeds and fur types are more likely to get acne.  At its base, acne in dogs is caused by the same things that cause acne in humans: genetics, hormones, and trauma to the skin.

What to Look For

Both in terms of dog behavior and the physical appearance of acne on skin, you should watch for:

  • Red bumps
  • Blackheads
  • Infection may develop
  • Dog may rub his face against carpet and furniture
  • Swelling
  • Pus in the lesions from bacterial invasion
  • Lesions are painful when you touch them
  • Scars from lesions that have healed

What to Do and How to Treat

As with any abnormality or issue with your pet, you should take them right to the vet, where it can be confirmed that the skin irritations truly are acne and not something else like ringworm or mange.  

Once the skin irritations are confirmed as acne, they can be treated as such.  Again, treatment in dogs is similar to treatment in humans, with topical benzoyl peroxide.  HOWEVER, you should NEVER substitute a benzoyl peroxide meant for human use for one for dog use.  The skin on dogs’ faces is very sensitive, and human-use benzoyl peroxide is far too strong for use on them.  A vet can provide you with dog-safe gel to use.  In addition, topical antibiotics can be used in conjunction with topical steroids to lessen swelling/irritation.  You should also shampoo your dog twice a week with a benzoyl peroxide shampoo, which will help to ensure that acne doesn’t spread to other parts of their body.


sad puppy lays down

We’ve saved the most common for last in this list of topical dog wounds.  Dogs can easily get cuts and scrapes from anything.  Running in a dog park, playing in a yard, or even just running around the house puts your dog into contact with potentially dangerous items that can give them scrapes.

What to Look For

Obviously if you see blood, your dog has a cut or some sort of open wound, which needs immediate attention.  If you don’t see blood but notice your pup licking a particular area an unusual amount or if they seem to be in pain if a certain area of them is touched, then you should check that area for cuts, lesions, or any other kind of skin abnormality.

When to See a Vet

Seeing a vet may be necessary if a cut on your dog is at or larger than a half inch in either depth or length.  It’s particularly important to see a vet for deep cuts because they can be difficult to clean at home, and surgical debris removal may be needed.  In the case of long cuts, stitches may be needed to help close the wound.

What to Do for Home Treatment

gloved hand bathes dog in tub

The most important part of treating a cut is cleaning it thoroughly.  Wash the area gently with clean, warm water and a dog-safe soap like an Isle of Dog soap or Burt’s Bees. Dry the area with a soft towel, and then see if any fur around the wound should be trimmed or shaved.  It’s important to keep fur away from the immediate areas of cuts and other open wounds because it can hide dirt in or near the wound, increasing the likelihood of infection.  

Once the cut is clean of both fur and debris, spray the area with a wound-care spray like Fauna Care’s First Aid Spray or Fauna Care Silver Spray. This will promote quick healing by both disinfecting the area and applying minerals that can aid tissue regrowth.  Don’t worry about using any other kind of disinfectant first!  Other disinfectants like hydrogen peroxide or straight silver sulfadiazine can be too strong for use on many pets, including dogs, and can lead to slower healing times as they can actually kill cells along with bacteria. In addition, bandages are often unnecessary; a wound that can “breathe” can heal faster.

So we’ve discussed how to treat dogs with any of the above four skin issues, but these don’t just affect Spot and Fido!  Next week, in Part 2, we’ll talk about how to treat these afflictions in cats.  

Questions? Email us >
Posted on
July 9, 2018

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