Can diet cause hot spots in dogs?

Hot spots in dogs usually show up first as a patch of bare skin. Is diet to blame?
Hot spots in dogs usually show up first as a patch of bare skin. Is diet to blame?

Acute moist dermatitis or "hot spots" are a common problem for dog owners. These moist, smelly, and inflamed lesions are uncomfortable for our dogs and unpleasant for us. But since so many skin issues in dogs are caused by allergies, we often wonder if something we feed our dogs is causing the hot spots.

But does diet cause hot spots? Let's see if nutrition plays a role in this nasty infection.

What are hot spots?

Hot spots, or acute moist dermatitis, are sticky round spots on your dog's skin. They often have a terrible smell, are slimy to the touch, red, inflamed, and itchy. Hotspots first show up as a patch of missing hair. After that, they have yellowish discharge and crust in the middle, with an angry red ring of inflammation on the edge.

They occur most often in humid and hot climates. Some dogs, particularly those with dilute coat colors such as blue or champagne, seem to get more than others. Some breeds that are most likely to get hot spots include:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Neapolitan Mastiffs
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Cane Corsos
  • German Shepherds
  • Rottweilers
  • St. Bernards.

It seems most common in dogs with dense coats, possibly because of insufficient ventilation or a buildup of dead skin under the coat. They can often appear in as little as a few hours.

What causes hot spots?

Dogs that scratch themselves too roughly can damage skin and cause hot spots
Dogs that scratch themselves too roughly can damage skin and cause hot spots

Any injury that punctures the skin can cause a sudden flare-up of bacteria that causes hot spots in dogs. This could be from a bite or a scratch. However, hotspots often happen because a dog is chewing or scratching an area and damaging their skin. From there, a variety of factors cause bacteria to quickly infect the area:

  • Humidity and heat help the bacteria to grow
  • A thick coat can block fresh air, making it easier for the infection to start
  • A buildup of matted hair and dead skin when a dog isn't groomed enough fosters an ideal environment for infection.
  • Humidity keeps the environment moist, furthering bacterial growth.

But is any of this caused by the food you feed your dog?

Can a dog's diet cause hot spots in dogs?

Diet does not directly cause hot spots in dogs. Damaged skin in an environment that fosters bacterial growth causes hot spots. However, anything that makes your dog's skin itchy can cause them to scratch and chew on their skin, and this can cause hot spots.

Itchy skin or pruritis could be caused by allergies, adverse food reactions, or a deficiency in essential fatty acids. So it is possible that a dog's diet can cause them to scratch themselves and create a hotspot indirectly.

Can too much protein cause hot spots in dogs?

It is a myth that too much protein can cause hotspots in dogs. No research has found any link between the amount of protein in a dog's diets and whether or not they develop hotspots. It's unclear where this myth comes from, but it may be because dogs can only be allergic to proteins.

It is usually common proteins such as chicken, beef, eggs, or soy and wheat. Still, it can technically be any protein that can cause your dog to scratch themselves, and plants contain protein too. However, the amount of protein in the diet has nothing to do with whether your dog develops hotspots.

Do carbohydrates cause hot spots in dogs?

No, neither carbohydrates nor cereal grains cause hotspots in dogs. There is a common misconception that dogs have adverse reactions to carbs, especially grains. The reality is that if a dog is allergic to food, it is to a protein.

It may also be a protein bound with fat or carbohydrate in the cooking process. This is why heat-processed food is more allergenic, particularly canned food. In canned food, starches and proteins are steamed together at incredibly high heats. These can sometimes cause compounds that are more likely to cause a food allergy.

However, this is not the carbohydrate itself to blame. This brings us to the crucial question of food allergies and canine hotspots.

You can read more about common dog food myths at this article.

Can hot spots be caused by food allergies?

No, food allergies do not directly canine acute moist dermatitis or hotspots. However, food allergies can make dogs scratch and chew on themselves. If they break skin doing this, a hot spot can quickly form around the damaged area. So, if your dog is scratching and seems to have itchy skin, it's essential to rule out food allergies as a cause. Another reason they could be scratching is if they have a deficiency in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. This can sometimes happen when dog food is not stored correctly or on a shelf too long, and the fatty acids oxidize.

You can read more about the most common dog food storage mistakes in this article.

What foods can cause hotspots in dogs?

No food causes hotspots in dogs. Hotspots are caused by skin injuries that can sometimes happen when a dog scratches or chews themselves open. Food allergies may cause itchiness in these cases, but not the hotspot itself. The most common food allergies are to proteins such as chicken, beef, lamb, soy, wheat, or eggs. However, any protein compound can cause a food allergy.

We cover more on hypoallergenic food for dogs in this article.

Final thoughts

Contrary to popular opinion, diet and food do not cause hot spots in dogs. Hotspots are caused by bacterial infections that occur when a dog's skin is damaged. Factors like heat, parasites, humidity, or bad grooming can make them more likely. However, if a dog does have a food allergy, excessive scratching from the allergic reaction may cause skin damage and infection.