Dog Heat Rash (on Belly): Causes, Treatment

Heat rash in dogs is a common condition,  usually characterized by itchiness, redness and discomfort. Also called miliaria, heat rash is among the many types of canine skin rash diseases commonly experienced during the months of summer. Some studies have shown that at least one in every 10 dogs experience heat rash every summer. Heat rash can be easily managed to relieve the pain and discomfort associated with the condition.

Can dogs get heat rash?

Yes! Dogs and puppies can also get heat rash just like human babies. It is more prominent in areas of the skin that are folded or wrinkled such as armpit and groin areas. These folds can get overheated and moist and as temperature increases, the trapped moisture gets overheated causing heat rash.

Heat rash is common in soft areas of the dog’s skin such as the belly. These areas are very sensitive and can easily get irritated by an increase in temperature or overheating.

Similarities between heat rash in dogs and humans

As much as it may be painful, there are other complications and symptoms of heat rash that are experienced by both humans and dogs. They include:

  • Severe itching which may induce self-injury due to scratching of the affected areas.
  • The scratched areas can be colonized by disease-causing pathogens, thus leading to infections.
  • Pustules and bumps are always evident on the affected skin.
  • Heat rash presents with irritation and prickly feeling which is very uncomfortable.

Difference between heat rash in dogs and humans

In more ways than one, heat rash in dogs similar to humans. The most outstanding difference is that humans do not lick their wounds.

While wound licking may be quite therapeutic for dogs with regard to pain relief, excessive licking can lead to increased bacterial growth. I recommend you read more about how dangerous cellulitis infections in dogs can be.

When your dog licks a certain area of the body more than is normal, he or she is communicating an issue to you.

You can help by looking out for irritation, infection or wound formations and seek treatment interventions for your dog

Types of heat rash

Heat rash occurs when sweat ducts are blocked. They are classified based on the depth of the sweat ducts in the skin.

Miliaria crystallina is the mildest form of heat rash. It affects the ducts located in the topmost layer of the skin. It manifests as clear, fluid-filled blisters that easily break.

Miliaria rubra occurs deeper in inside the skin and is often called prickly heat. Prickling in the affected area is the major characteristic.

Miliaria pustulosa occurs when the pustules miliaria rubra become inflamed and filled with pus.

Miliaria profunda is less common and affects the deepest layer of the skin called dermis. The lesions formed from this condition resemble goose bumps and are very painful.

Symptoms of heat rash on dogs

When the environment is overheated or when your dog is exposed to too much heat, he or she can suffer from heat rash.

The symptoms can present differently depending on whether the skin is infected or not. The soft folds of the skin, particularly on the belly, can get infected with Staphylococcus bacteria. This is the most common pathogen causing skin infections in dogs.

The following are some of the symptoms to look for before suspecting that your dog is suffering from heat rash:

The skin becomes red and tender

During the first episodes of heat rash, the body responds by initiating an inflammatory response. The affected region becomes erythematous (red), starts swelling and is very painful. The area also becomes soft and feels painful even on slightest touch.

Itchiness of the skin

Certain molecules are produced by the body as the inflammatory response progresses. These molecules include histamine and bradykinins. They mediate pain and itchiness. This makes the dog restless and constantly rubbing on to surfaces.

Excessive and continuous scratching and licking

Itchiness and pain make the dog feel like scratching almost every part of the affected skin. Licking is a naturally used by dogs to create a temporary relief from the unbearable pain.

You should not ignore incessant licking since normal licking is for grooming while continuous licking may indicate the presence of an infection in the skin.

Boils, pimples, pustules or bumps

The swelling of the skin can appear as boils, pimples, pustules or bumps. These are more painful if they burst after filling with fluid especially when they are infected by bacteria.

These swellings are more common in the groin, belly and armpits.

Presence of scabs and sores in the skin

The bursting boils and pimples may dry up and form scabs. They may also get infected and become sore.

Foul smelling skin

Wounds on the skin only smell if they are infected. Staphylococcus bacteria are very aggressive in causing skin infections.

Once in the wounds, the bacteria secrete a metabolic end product which further damages the skin making it produce a terrible odor.  

A foul smell from the skin of your dog should be an indicator that your dog may be suffering from skin infections.

These aforementioned symptoms may not be solely limited to skin rash. Some infections of the skin also manifest with such symptoms.

You may need the expertise of a professional to help you determine the exact cause of these symptoms before commencing treatment.

Common causes of rash and small bumps

In the skin, there are tiny pores called sweat pores. These pores help in eliminating toxic waste produced by sweat glands from the body.

From the sweat glands, sweat evaporates through the sweat pore (perspiration) carrying along with it some waste from the body. In heat rash, these pores are blocked such that the elements of perspiration are not eliminated out of the skin.

Heat rash develops when this blocked perspiration causes inflammation and rash. The cause of this blockage is not clear, however, some factors have been proven to play a role, including:

1. Immature sweat ducts

This is more common in puppies and young dogs. Their sweat ducts are not fully developed.

Therefore, they are easily prone to rapture. This structural damage interferes with the passage of perspiration out of the skin.

In puppies, it often develops when the young pets are kept in warmer conditions or dressed/covered warmly.

Fever can also cause excessive heat which can lead to the rupturing of sweat ducts.

2. Tropical Climates

Hot and humid environmental conditions can cause accumulation of moisture in the skin folds and wrinkles. This moisture eventually blocks sweat ducts causing heat rash.

3. Intense physical activity

Although it is prudent to take your dog for a physical activity to exercise the muscles, intense exercise can cause heat rash.

This is because intense activity makes your dog sweat profusely posing a risk of developing a skin rash.

Risk factors and complications

Age is a major risk factor for the development of heat rash in dogs. Puppies tend to suffer more from this condition compared to adult dogs.

Tropical climatic conditions can also predispose your dog to heat rash. Temperate climates are relatively safer.

Any activity that increases the temperature of the body and causes profuse sweating can also trigger the development of heat rash.

Usually, heat rash heals without any major complications. However, bacteria can invade the boils and pustules on the skin leading to secondary infection.

Red rash on dog belly skin

Red rash on a dog’s belly.

Dog heat rash on belly pictures

Heat rash on a dog’s belly.


Heat rash usually clears on its own. Nevertheless, you can help in facilitating rapid healing without waiting for the condition to resolve on its own.

You can use:

Baking soda

Baking soda helps in reducing severe itchiness. This will eventually reduce scratching that can cause self-induced injury.

The procedure is simple. Mix the baking soda with water to form a fine paste. Apply the paste directly to the affected area of the skin by rubbing gently so that you may not induce more pain to the dog.

Hydrocortisone cream

Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid which is very important for its anti-inflammatory action.

You only need to apply a little cream to the dog’s belly. It prevents itching, irritation, and oozing of fluid from the pustules.

Hydrocortisone cream should not be applied for a period exceeding three days. This is because it is made of steroids that can potentially lead to unwanted side effects.

Aloe Vera gel

Aloe Vera can also function the same way as the baking soda paste. The gel is applied directly to the affected skin to provide pain relief and soothe itchiness.

Topical antibacterial medication

If the heat rash is infected by bacteria, your veterinarian can prescribe topically applied medication to help treat the infection.


You can wash your dog with a soothing shampoo to clear the wounds of debris and also manage the spread of infections in the wound.

Ensure that you don’t use creams and shampoos meant for human beings to wash your dogs. These products contain additives that can dry the coat of your dog making the coat prone to infections.

Instead, use a product that is approved by your veterinarian.