Strange red spots on your dog’s belly, or anywhere on the skin can be a concerning thing to find. If your dog is also itching and scratching, you may wonder about allergies or parasites. What do red spots on your dog’s skin mean? Can they be a sign of something more serious? Read on to learn about the top causes of red spots on skin, and what you can do to help.
What Are Those Red Spots On Your Dog’s Belly?
While your dog’s skin can come in a variety of shades, ranging from light pink to darker brown or black, red spots are a sign of something else ongoing. They can appear as flat, irregularly shaped sections, or may be raised, hot to the touch, or itchy. Red spots may also appear anywhere on the body or spread out in a pattern.
If you notice red spots forming on your dog’s skin, it is best to keep an eye on it. Watch for any changes in size, shape, or your dog’s behavior. These signs can indicate it’s time to see your vet.
Red Spots on your Dog’s Skin — Causes
Here are some of the top reasons you may notice red spots on your dog’s skin:
Flea and Tick Bites
Parasite bites can irritate the skin, leading to red, itchy spots. You may notice your dog scratching or biting at a spot more, or may spot the visible parasite. In addition to red spots, there are other signs of parasites. This includes visible fleas on the body at the base of the tail or on the stomach, flea “dirt” or black/brown flecks on the skin, and eggs attached to the base of the hair shaft. Ticks will often appear as swollen growths buried into the surface of the skin, with a pink, gray, or black color.
Diagnosis of parasites and parasite bite allergies are usually done by visual inspection. You or your vet can look for parasites on the body, or red bumps and welts in areas they frequent. A “flea dirt” test can also be done by scratching your dog’s fur over a moistened paper towel. If the flecks that fall off turn red or “bleed”, that’s a sign of fleas. If you notice a tick, it’s best to have your vet remove it to avoid accidentally detaching the tick’s head from its body and causing more irritation.
Treatment and prevention include the use of topical and oral medications. Most medications treat both fleas and ticks. Some products, such as Capstar, only kill adult fleas currently on the body and can be used in conjunction with monthly treatments. Other products, such as Frontline and Advantage, kill both adult fleas and other parts of the flea life cycle. Flea and tick collars can also be useful if your dog is frequently in wooded or brushy areas. In addition, washing bedding, vacuuming, and cleaning floors can help remove flea eggs from the environment.
Contact dermatitis is an allergic skin reaction that happens when your dog’s skin or coat comes into contact with an irritant. Generally, irritants such as pollens, grasses, dust, and chemicals are the most common causes of contact dermatitis. They can cause red blotchy spots on the skin. These spots can itch, become swollen or hot to the touch, spread rapidly, or develop into hot spots or abscesses. The most common spots for finding contact dermatitis are on the belly and between the hind legs, the face and neck, and the paws.
Diagnosis is often done by ruling out other causes such as bacterial or fungal infections with a skin scraping. Your vet will also take a full history to determine if your dog has come into contact with any possible allergens. If contact dermatitis is suspected, there are many treatment options. The most common is the use of over the counter allergy medications such as Benadryl, Zyrtec, and Claritin. Baby and pet wipes can also be used to remove irritants from the skin and reduce reactions.
For longer-term relief, your vet may also recommend a prescription allergy medication or a referral to a veterinary dermatologist. These specialists can help identify allergens and their causes, and provide more tailored treatments such as allergy shots. Avoiding the irritant is the best prevention. Dog shoes, T-shirts, and pet wipes can help remove irritants and create a protective barrier to reduce reactions.
While digestive upset is the most common symptom related to food allergies, dogs can also have skin reactions. You may notice red blotches or spots appearing on your dog’s belly, face, back, or paws. Other skin issues can include hair loss and balding patches, dry skin, and overall poor coat health. Your dog may also exhibit several digestive symptoms. These include diarrhea or vomiting, lethargy or refusing to eat, passing smelly gas or stools, or a tender abdomen.
Food allergies can be hard to diagnose and treat. In dogs, allergies to protein sources, such as beef, chicken, and lamb, are the most common. Allergies to grains like wheat, corn, and rice are also common, but less likely. Your vet will first rule out any other issues, such as digestive illnesses, infections, or regular skin allergies. From there, a food trial can be done to help find the ingredient causing the allergy.
Food trials can be time-consuming. In most cases, your dog will be given an allergen-friendly or novel-protein diet (a protein source different from usual) for 8 weeks. It often takes this long for the body to recover from any inflammation caused by the allergen and for improvement to be seen. From there, your vet may then recommend introducing one new ingredient at a time, watching for any reactions. Food trials also extend to any treats or people food given, so it is best to avoid extras during the process.
Hot Spots and Abscesses
Hot spots and abscesses are a more general cause of red spots on skin. Often, these occur as a secondary issue to something else underlying, including allergies, infections, and more. Excessive licking and chewing of itchy or irritated skin can also lead to hot spot and abscess formation. Red spots on the skin may swell and become hot to the touch, ooze dirt or debris, become painful, or lead to hair loss around the area. These can occur anywhere on the body, but are common at the base of the tail, feet, and belly.
Your vet will take a look at the affected area to determine what is going on. Along with a visual inspection, a biopsy or skin scraping may be taken of the area to check for bacteria, yeast, and fungus as primary causes. Treatment depends on the secondary problem. For abscesses, drainage and treatment with antibiotics and pain meds can help. Hot spots caused by allergies can be treated with allergy medications. Any underlying health issues, such as metabolic illnesses, should also be treated.
For hot spots that are not infected, preventing your dog from licking and chewing is best. T-shirts, Elizabethan collars, and other protective aids can be used to allow the area to heal and prevent further issues.
Yeast and Fungal Skin Infections
Like bacterial infections, yeast and fungus can lead to skin infections that cause red spots on the skin. In the case of fungal infections, the red spot may also grow and spread over time. These spots may become scaly, cause hair loss, or crust over. Yeast infections can also have a distinct “corn chip” smell to them. Yeast infections are most commonly seen in the ears, feet, and groin; all places where the skin tends to stay moist. Fungal infections can occur anywhere on the body.
The most common diagnostic tool for yeast and fungal infections is skin scraping. A sample of the affected skin is removed from your dog and placed in a growth medium. The sample is then observed for 1-2 weeks for signs of growth or color change; indicating an infection. For fungal infections such as ringworm, a Wood’s Lamp can also be used. This is a special black light that when placed over a fungal infection will cause the area to glow bright purple.
Treatment depends on the cause of the infection, and if secondary issues, such as bacterial infections, are also present. Keeping the feet and ears clean and dry can help resolve minor yeast infections, while oral medications such as Fluconazole can help treat more severe issues. Fungal infections are often treated with a combination of medicated baths using Chlorhexidine and Miconazole as well as oral medications such as Ketoconazole. In addition, keeping your dog from licking and chewing the spot with Elizabethan (cone) collars is important to reduce the chances of a secondary infection.
Burns, both from hot objects and the sun, can lead to red spots forming on the skin. Heat-caused burns are often due to your dog stepping on hot surfaces such as pavement or fire pits. These often leave large, red, painful spots on the skin, usually on the feet or paw pads. Sunburns can occur anywhere on the body and with any breed of dog, however hairless or short-haired breeds are most at risk. If you suspect your dog has been burned, it is best to seek veterinary care right away as these require immediate treatment.
Burns are diagnosed via visual inspection and history. Severe burns can cause blistering and peeling of the skin in addition to red splotches. For large burns, your vet may recommend blood work to check for shock to the organs. Treatment of minor burns is generally symptomatic; keeping your dog on pain medication and off the affected area as it heals. More severe burns may be treated with antibiotics and fluids to prevent dehydration and infection. Severe, third-degree or full-body burns may require prolonged hospital treatment.
Prevention is the best way to avoid burns. If you will be outdoors during the heat of the day, applying pet sunblock, light-colored jackets or shirts, and finding shady places can reduce the chances of sunburn. Keeping your dog on a leash near open fires and avoiding paved areas at the hottest part of the day can prevent physical burns to the skin.
Skin tumors can sometimes start as a red spot on the skin. You may notice the spot becomes raised, has irregular edges, or darkens in color. Over time, the area may expand in size, become inflamed, or ooze pus.
Skin tumors can range from benign fatty tumors (lipomas) to more serious cancers such as mast cell tumors. Your vet will likely recommend taking a sample of any new growths via a fine needle aspirate or biopsy. These are then sent to a lab or examined under a microscope to determine the cell type. For benign tumors, your vet may recommend leaving the spot alone. If it’s in a spot causing trouble such as on a limb or joint, removal can be beneficial.
For serious tumors such as cancers, removal of the growth is best. Your vet will also recommend additional tests such as lab testing of the tumor or X-rays to check for tumor spread to other body parts. A referral to a veterinary oncologist, or cancer specialist, can also be beneficial. While it’s hard to prevent skin tumors, it is a good idea to check your dog’s body regularly for any new growths. Making a note of their size, shape, color, and how quickly they change can be a great diagnostic tool for your vet.
The above causes are not an exhaustive list of why red spots may appear on your dog’s skin. If you notice changes, it’s always best to schedule an appointment with your vet. Most cases can be easily treated, and keeping an eye out for other signs and symptoms can help you and your vet pinpoint the cause. With regular treatment, you can give your dog some relief, and yourself some peace of mind.