With the exception of a few breeds, almost all of our canine companions shed. It's just something that our dogs do. And dog owners generally accept that some pet fur is a part of life, annoying as it may be to clean up your carpets, clothes, and furniture on a regular basis.
But while shedding is normal, hair loss is not. Known in veterinary circles as alopecia, hair loss indicates some kind of underlying health issue. All sorts of things, from mange and food allergies to fleas and fungal infections, could be to blame.
Here's the question: How can you tell the difference between normal shedding and problematic hair loss? And even more importantly, what can you do about it? Read on to learn more about alopecia and what to do if your dog is losing hair.
What Does Hair Loss in Dogs Look Like?
It's not always easy to tell the difference between normal shedding and true hair loss. But alopecia usually comes with a few signs that can help you tell it apart from shedding.
Here are some of the common symptoms of alopecia in dogs:
- Visible bald patches
- Thinning of the coat
- Itchiness and accompanying scratching
- Red, inflamed skin near hair loss areas
- Dry or scaly skin around bald spots
- Foul odor
- Oozing or bleeding near hair loss areas
If you see these symptoms in your dog, or if you think your dog is shedding more than normal, it's time to pay a visit to the vet's office. A dog losing hair should be seen by their vet as soon as possible.
What Are the Causes of Hair Loss in Dogs?
Alopecia doesn't happen out of nowhere. An underlying cause of some kind contributes to the hair loss — whether it's a generalized hair loss that occurs all over the body or localized bald patches.
Here are some of the most common causes of hair loss in dogs:
Your dog can suffer from allergies, just like you can. If your pooch has environmental allergies, he or she is reacting to a substance in their environment, like pollen or mold. Food allergies are also common. Ingredients in dog food like beef, lamb, chicken, eggs, or soy could cause allergic reactions.
One of the major symptoms of allergies is itchy skin, which leads to scratching and associated hair loss. If the problem gets bad enough, you'll likely see redness and inflammation, bald spots, or oozing skin.
Skin infections, usually bacterial and fungal infections, are another common cause of hair loss in dogs. Ringworm and yeast infections are common fungal infections that affect our canine friends, especially those with skin folds, like bulldogs. And the staphylococcus bacteria, which causes staph infections, is one example of a bacteria that can infect the skin.
Because of the discomfort of the infestation, your dog will scratch at their skin, resulting in hair loss, inflammation, hot spots, and even baldness. A foul odor can also result from skin infections.
Flea infestations are common in dogs, and they cause intense itchiness that will make your dog scratch incessantly. Mites and ticks can also cause hair loss.
Mange, also known as scabies, is a type of mite infestation caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite. This infestation will cause intense itchiness, scratching, redness and inflammation, and swelling.
If you notice localized hair loss on your dog's elbows or knees, something called a pressure sore might be to blame. They're particularly common in older dogs and in large breeds, and they're caused simply by the friction and pressure applied to these areas when your dog lays on hard surfaces.
Hormonal disorders, known medically as endocrine disorders, are another possible cause of your dog losing hair. Fortunately, they're not as common as the causes listed above.
Cushing's disease, or hyperadrenocorticism, is one example. Your dog's body produces too much of the hormone cortisol, which results in symptoms like eating and drinking more than usual, excessive panting, and generalized hair loss.
Addison's disease is another hormonal disorder that is essentially the opposite of Cushing's disease. A dog with Addison's disease has adrenal glands that produce too little of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. Lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea, weight loss, increased thirst and urination, and — you guessed it — hair loss are common symptoms.
Did you know that your dog losing hair might have to do with his or her breed? There are a few breeds that are particularly prone to thinning hair. They include dachshunds, whippets, greyhounds, Chihuahuas, and Doberman pinschers, among others. You'll still want to check with your DVM (Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine) if you notice excessive hair loss in these breeds, but be aware that it might simply be genetic.
Of course, there are also hairless dog breeds. If you have a dog like a Chinese crested or the Xolo, their baldness isn't a symptom. It's just what they look like.
How Is Hair Loss in Dogs Treated?
If you think your dog's thinning hair or hair loss is out of control, or if you notice redness, crusty or scaly skin, or bald patches around your dog's coat, tell your veterinarian. The first step will be to determine what underlying cause is behind your dog's hair loss.
In many cases, your veterinarian can take a look at the pattern of hair loss to help determine a cause. Hair loss that occurs in sporadic patches usually indicates a problem like ringworm or a bacterial infection. Generalized hair loss could be caused by something like mange or a skin infection. Symmetrical hair loss — the same pattern of hair loss on both sides of the body — is usually a sign of an endocrine disorder like hypothyroidism or Cushing's disease.
As you've probably guessed, a dog losing hair will need to be treated for the underlying condition. Allergy testing might be used to identify allergens in your dog's environment that he or she is reacting to, and then your vet might prescribe allergy medications to help alleviate symptoms. (Native Pet's Allergy Chicken Chews can also help bolster your dog's natural defense against allergies.)
A bacterial skin infection will be treated with antibiotics, probably in the form of topical medications applied directly to the skin or oral pills or chewable tablets. A fungal infection like ringworm or yeast infections will be dealt with using antifungal medications.
A flea infestation will need to be cleared up with medication, and then a monthly flea preventative will be prescribed to keep flea bites from reoccurring. If your dog suffers from pressure sores, you'll need to provide Fido with plenty of soft beds to lay on. Adding a bit of paw balm to your dog's knees and elbows can also help.
In the event of an endocrine disorder like Cushing's disease, your dog might need to take medications (possibly for life) to regulate their hormonal balance. Surgery on the thyroid or adrenal glands might also be necessary in some cases.
Can I Prevent My Dog From Losing Hair?
There are several steps you can take to make it less likely that your dog will experience hair loss. Be sure to:
- Feed a good diet. Since nutrition directly affects your dog's skin and coat, feeding them a high-quality diet keeps the skin and fur in great shape.
- Consider a dietary supplement. Adding a dietary supplement, like fish oil, to your pet's diet is a great way to boost skin and coat health with essential omega-3 fatty acids. Native Pet's all-natural Omega Oil is a great choice.
- Keep your pet on a flea and tick preventative. It's the easiest way to avoid flea allergies and flea dermatitis, as well as hair loss related to tick bites.
- Groom Fido regularly. Grooming is good for your dog's skin and fur, and it gives you a chance to check for any skin problems.
Help! My Dog Is Losing Hair
A dog losing hair is almost always suffering from an underlying health problem of some kind. That's why it's so important to let your veterinarian know as soon as you notice hair loss in your pet. Issues like fungal or bacterial infections, allergies, flea or mite infestations, or even endocrine disorders could be the root cause.
Keep your dog's skin and fur in good shape to avoid hair loss when you can. Do this by grooming your pet regularly, feeding a great diet, and staying up-to-date with preventative medications.
Want more great advice on your dog's health and wellness? Visit the Native Pet blog for more articles.