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Does this sound familiar?
All of a sudden you find your dog with a patch of red irritated skin, watch them constantly chewing themselves, and they appear to have developed a new obsession with licking the same area, over and over again.
It’s probably a German Shepherd with hot spots… they appear seemingly out of nowhere!
You start to worry that you’re not doing the right things, but I’ve been there.
Bear with me because I’m going to show you how to get your German Shepherd comfortable in their own skin again in no time.
What are hot spots in German Shepherds?
German Shepherd hot spots are intensely itchy lesions resulting from self-inflicted trauma to the skin, such as excessive licking, gnawing, and scratching. This is because hot spots are extremely painful and irritating. In an attempt to relieve the constant irritation and discomfort, German Shepherds will lick, scratch, or gnaw away at their spot. This usually leads to further inflammation and infection of their skin.
These painful skin irritations are the result of a number of causes. Your dog’s red spots soon become inflamed and itchy. If left untreated, hot spots can develop very quickly and may grow to a seeping lesion the size of a human fist in less than one day.
This irritation is accompanied by inflammation and swelling that increase your GSD’s pain and discomfort.
These red, moist, and inflamed lesions are commonly known as hot spots or summer sores, as the problem is more common in summer due to hot humid weather and more flea presence in the warmer season.
Where do hot spots occur on GSDs?
Hot spots on German Shepherds generally occur on the ears, chest, hips, limbs, and paws. However, they can also develop nearly anywhere on their body.
German Shepherd hot spots appear most commonly on a dog’s:
face just below his ears
sides of his chest
flanks (the area between the hips and ribs)
Symptoms of Hot Spots in German Shepherds
Skin-related problems generally begin with related symptoms. However, you can inspect and generally determine hot spots in German Shepherds to help you evaluate the severity and treat your dog.
German Shepherd hot spots symptoms are typically observed as:
continual licking of the affected area
painful, red, moist and sometimes blistered areas of skin
swelling at the affected area which is warm to the touch
intensely itchy, round patches that vary in size and can grow in size quickly
loss of hair or matted fur very often coated with a viscous smelly discharge (pus), which crusts over and sticks to the fur
thickening and scarring of skin may develop due to the persistent self-trauma of licking and chewing their inflamed skin, more so in dogs that go untreated for too long
As a result of the irritation and pain caused by the hot spot, your German Shepherd indulges in continuous scratching and chewing of their own skin. In turn, this leads to the formation of red lesions on the affected area.
Unfortunately, this self-trauma only makes the area itchier. This skin irritability causes a self-perpetuating cycle of itching and scratching. So, any irritation that causes your GSD to feel itchy has the potential to result in a hot spot.
Hot spots are extremely uncomfortable for your German Shepherd. And, if left untreated, can become seriously infected.
Don’t delay treatment for a German Shepherd’s hot spots.
Causes of Hot Spots in German Shepherds
There are many causes of hot spots. Read over this list to see if you recognize any of the causes that might have contributed to your German Shepherd’s red, irritated spot.
Common triggers of hot spots include:
fleas, mites, or other parasites
a coat that is dirty or matted
moisture trapped in the coat from swimming or bathing
anal sac disease
ear or skin infections
While there are many triggers and irritants, they can be grouped together for easier understanding.
The triggers for hot spots fall into four major categories:
Many of these conditions are lingering problems that can lead to recurring hot spots if they are not identified and properly managed. Finding and addressing the underlying cause for your GSD’s hot spot is the most important factor in preventing future skin problems (akc.org).
Allergic Reactions (Allergies)
Allergic reactions are the main causes for hots spots in dogs. Allergy-related hot spots in German Shepherds may happen within minutes of them being exposed to an allergen. If your dog is allergic to the allergen, symptoms of intense itchiness and pain can immediately begin.
Skin allergies are known to be the primary underlying causes for German Shepherd hot spots.
These are the most common allergens for German Shepherds which have a predisposition to allergy symptoms:
small cuts or nicks from grooming
embedded grass seeds (awnings)
insect stings, e.g. bee or wasp stings
insect bites and in particular flea bites
demodex or Parasitic scabies
allergic reaction to an injection site
constant licking due to boredom or stress
disease of anal gland
atopic (something a dog breaths in, e.g. perfumes, chemical sprays, pollen, dust, etc.)
Breed-Related Dog Hot Spots
Hot spots are particularly troublesome for breeds with dense long coats, as some German Shepherds have. These two factors — thick, long fur— make it easier for burs or grass seeds to embed themselves in the dog’s skin, paw, or ears. The irritation may go unnoticed by owners as the irritants are small and difficult to see through a double-coated German Shepherd, even with regular grooming.
GSDs that are frequently wet from bathing, swimming, or inclement weather are more inclined to developing hot spots due to the excess moisture held against the skin by their thick, dense coats.
Breeds which have a predisposition for developing hot spots are the:
During the heat and humidity of the summer months your German Shepherd’s hot spots may become more frequent. While you should stay diligent all year for hot spots, it’s especially important during the summer to pay more attention to your dog’s skin and any signs and symptoms that indicate a skin irritation.
Some hot spots have parasitic origins. These need treatment from your veterinarian to diagnose properly. Your vet can prescribe medication to help treat these types of hot spots.
Common parasites that can cause hot spots and skin irritations in your dog:
Pathogenic is a medical term that describes viruses, bacteria, and other types of germs that can cause disease in your dog. They are microscopic invaders that can destroy parts of a dog’s body, such as the skin around your dog’s hot spot.
These diseases are all pathogenic and can cause your dog to develop hot spots:
reactions to certain drugs or medication
anal gland problems
Diagnosis of Hot Spots in German Shepherds
Hots spots in a German Shepherd are easy to diagnose through a vet’s practice. However, diagnosis of the underlying problem is typically made through a process of elimination to find and treat the primary cause.
During a vet’s exam your GSD is examined for indications of “flea dirt,” which is the dried blood excreted by fleas. This generally indicates flea infestation and parasitic treatments, such as flea prevention, are prescribed.
In other cases, skin scrapings are examined under a microscope to determine if your dog has a yeast, parasitic, or bacterial infection that could cause their skin problems. Depending on the results, your vet can prescribe appropriate medication.
If an allergy is suspected, then allergy testing may be necessary to find out what your GSD is allergic to.
Lastly, if all else fails to identify the primary cause, your vet will use laboratory testing for specific metabolic or immune disorders to find the root of your dog’s skin issues.
Home Treatment of Hot Spots in German Shepherds
Follow these steps for treating German Shepherd hot spots at home:
First, trim or shave the fur surrounding the hot spot area to allow the medication to reach the affected skin. This helps aid in faster healing.
Next, clean the area affected with an antiseptic solution with 2% Chlorhexidine Gluconate, like this hot spot antiseptic spray.
Allow the antiseptic spray to dry fully to prevent your dog from licking the antiseptic off.
Once dry, apply an ointment to help protect the skin from germs, create a soothing moisturizing barrier, and prevent pain — use this 3-way hot spot ointment.
Clean the affected area daily using the antiseptic spray, followed by the pain-preventing ointment to speed up your dog’s healing process.
If the hot spot is large or oozing, wrap the area securely in a bandage and change the dressing daily after you clean and reapply the medication.
Avoid infection by placing your dog into a soft, Comfy Cone Lick-Prevention Collar so the hot spot treatments stay on the skin, your dog doesn’t remove the bandages, and your dog doesn’t further irritate the area.
Consult your veterinarian if the skin problem does not improve after 3 days, or your dog experiences other signs of illness.
German Shepherds that recover from hot spots commonly develop recurring sores related to the primary underlying causes, whether that is allergies, breed-related, parasites, or pathological. For this reason, identification and elimination of the causes that contribute to hot spot development are vital for keeping the condition under control.
But in many situations, the hot spot resolves in as little as 3–7 days after the start of your diligent treatment.
Prevention of Hot Spots in German Shepherds
Disinfects the skin, cleans the wound and pus
Hot spot ointment
Relieves pain, keeps moisture in, protects from further germs
Useful to discourage your dog from licking the ointment off
Stops your dog from making the wound worse by continuous chewing
Undercoat rake brush
Removes loose fur and keeps fur from sticking to their skin and causing itchiness
Allergy or limited ingredient dog food
Can reduce skin allergies in German Shepherds who are allergic to grains or other ingredients
Ear cleaning supplies
Keep your dog’s ear free from moisture and dirt buildup to avoid infections
Keep dog inside during high pollen times
Reduces allergic reactions and helps prevent skin irritations
Stress and anxiety reduction
Create a quiet, calm zone for your dog, walk them regularly, use a white noise machine to soothe them from stressful noises, train them, overall — love them and bond with them!
This is your quick and easy checklist for helping keep your German Shepherd’s hot spots under control.
Have you ever heard the saying, “prevention is always better than a cure”?
It’s easier to prevent hot spots from occurring than to risk infections and scarring.
The best way to prevent hot spots in your German Shepherd is by taking care of their skin and coat on a regular, preferably daily, basis. A well-groomed German Shepherd not only looks beautiful and dashing, but they’re also less vulnerable to skin-related issues.
Although common in dogs, you can prevent hot spots when you:
Groom your dog regularly — take at least 5 to 10 minutes a few times a week to give your GSD a comprehensive brushing.
Use a gentle undercoat rake brush to remove dirt and dead hair while detangling the longer coat fur; after brushing, inspect your dog’s skin by spreading the fur apart to check for redness in known hot spot areas.
Dry your dog’s hair thoroughly; after all, a damp coat in humid weather is one of the leading causes of irritated itchy skin, ear infections, and hot spots.
Clean your dog’s ears several times per week, especially after a swim or a bath.
Use your vet’s recommended products to prevent flea infestation in your dog; in particular, during the summer months when fleas and other parasites thrive in the hot, humid weather and hot spots are more common.
Remove your dog’s collar before swimming or bathing; let it dry thoroughly before placing it back on your dog if you can’t remove it in time.
Some pollen can worsen skin allergies leading to hot spots; therefore, keep your dog inside during the parts of the day when pollen counts peak (normally early morning and early evening hours).
Create a stress-free environment for your dog by including quiet zones for your dog to sleep and relax, using a white noise machine to drown out stressful sounds coming in from the outside, daily training sessions, fun interactive games, long walks, and teaching your dog how to be alone so they don’t develop too much anxiety.
With the right care you can help your dog stay comfortable and happy. Don’t let hot spots go unchecked. Seek treatment at the first signs of skin irritation.
Have your supplies ready to treat the issue, because…
those pesky hot spots seemingly appear from nowhere!
Want more help with your German Shepherd’s health?
Taking care of a German Shepherd dog is easier when you know how to prepare yourself.
Catherine Krasavin owns Shepherd Sense, a dog website aimed at German Shepherd owners and lovers. She has a Bachelor of Science degree, with Honors, and has been training dogs for over a decade. Catherine’s currently attending continuing education courses to keep up with the latest in animal science, as well as earning her diploma in dog training. She owns a plush coat German Shepherd who was awarded Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme Gold Award - the highest level of achievement.
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