How to Treat Hair Loss in Dogs

How to Treat Hair Loss in Dogs

Alopecia, or hair loss in dogs, is a common condition, especially among older dogs, and it involves not only hair loss but any deficiency in a dog’s normal coat. In addition to the dog’s hair it can also affect the skin of the dog, the endocrine system, the lymphatic system, and the immune system. The condition can be acute, meaning it comes on suddenly, or gradually with small patches of hair being lost over a period of time. While alopecia is certainly an uncomfortable disorder, the prognosis for dogs suffering from it is excellent and treatments are available to slow the hair loss and in some cases, even allow for potential regrowth.

Causes of Hair Loss in Dogs

While alopecia can occur in any dog, regardless of their breed or age, there are some breeds that seem more prone to developing certain types of alopecia than other breeds. Doberman pinschers are more prone to color dilution alopecia, while Boxers, Bulldogs and Airedale terriers are at higher risk for recurrent seasonal flank alopecia. One of the most common types of alopecia is alopecia X, also known as black skin disease. Plush-coated breeds such as the Pomeranian, Chow chow, Keeshond, and Miniature poodles are more prone to this type of the disorder than other breeds.

Common Causes of Alopecia in Dogs
  • Parasites: This is one of the most common causes of alopecia. Fleas, ticks, lice, mites, and other parasites live on or in the skin, cause intense itching and scratching, and can cause the dog to wear out patches of their own coat. These parasites can also physically damage the hair follicle, which will cause it to fall out and lead to hair loss. Should the dog be allergic to the parasites, as many are, hair loss can also result.
  • Dermatophytosis: This is also known as a fungal infection of the skin. Mild cases will cause just small patches of hair to fall out, while more severe forms of the condition can cause complete alopecia. Some of these types of infections are known to be zoonotic, meaning that they can also cause skin lesions in people.
  • Bacterial infections: Of these types of infections there are two that are known to cause alopecia in dogs: staph infections, which can cause redness and crust forming on the skin; and bacterial folliculitis, which is the most common cause of multifocal alopecia in dogs.
  • Hormonal/endocrine imbalances: Any hormonal imbalance or problem with the endocrine system can cause alopecia, meaning there are many cases that can be traced back to this root cause. Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease, hypothyroidism, hyperestrogenism, hypoandrogenism, and testicular cancer can also cause alopecia from hormonal imbalances.
  • Allergies: Allergies are also one of the most common causes of alopecia in dogs. Allergic reactions to certain foods, pollens, grasses, and other allergens have all been seen to be responsible for causing alopecia.
  • Genetics: Some types of alopecia are simply passed down to pups by their parent. The most common types of alopecia with a genetic basis are black skin disease, follicular dysplasia, color dilution mutant alopecia, congenital hypotrichosis, pattern baldness, and pituitary dwarfism.
  • Medications: The side effects of a few different drugs include alopecia. This is especially true with chemotherapy drugs that are administered to dogs fighting cancer, but the rabies vaccine has also been shown to cause the disorder two to three months after being administered. When medication is the cause of alopecia, it will usually be seen around the injection site.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: When a dog isn’t eating as well as they should, or getting all the nutrients they need, they will begin to shed their coat because their system simply isn’t able to maintain it any more. Female dogs that are nursing pups often lose their coat and it’s thought that this is due to the fact that she is undergoing a much higher nutritional and physical strain than normal.
  • Stress: Psychological or behavioral disorders such as separation anxiety are also known to cause alopecia. If dogs have a lot of stress, such as an abusive background, they will likely develop the disorder.

Symptoms of Hair Loss in Dogs

Of course, when your pet experiences hair loss, the main symptom is going to be hair loss. It’s something you’ll likely notice right away, even if the alopecia doesn’t come on very suddenly and result in large patches of hair loss. The hair loss can start in one area and remain only there, or it can start to spread throughout all the hair follicles and cause complete hair loss. Alopecia can also occur and never progress, meaning that the dog will simply lose hair and it will never grow back.

Although hair loss is the most obvious symptom of alopecia, pet owners should also watch out for these common symptoms:

  • Itching and scratching
  • Chewing
  • Changes to the appearance of the skin
  • Redness, irritation, inflammation, or darkening of the skin
  • Crusty, thickened, raised skin
  • Oily and/or greasy skin
  • Appearance of pustules or other skin lesions
  • Blisters
  • Weeping sores
  • Hot spots on the skin

The symptoms seen will depend on the type of alopecia the dog is experiencing. It’s important that any lesions, blisters, or breaks in the skin are looked at right away, as they could lead to a secondary infection.

Diagnosing Hair Loss in Dogs

It won’t be difficult for your vet to see and confirm that the dog has developed alopecia. They’ll be able to see it right away. However, there is more to diagnosing alopecia than just noticing bald patches on the skin. The vet will need to look at the patterns of the hair loss, as well as the severity of the condition, in order to determine the cause and type of alopecia. This is the only way a proper diagnosis and treatment plan can be made.

The three patterns the vet will be looking for are:

  • Hair loss in multiple areas: Along with patchiness and hair loss showing in several different places, the skin will also experience mild scaling and redness. Typically the causes of these forms of alopecia are fungal or bacterial infections.
  • Symmetrical hair loss: This is when the same type of hair loss is occurring on both sides of the body. The causes of it are excessive steroid levels, low thyroid levels, increased estrogen levels, and testosterone imbalances.
  • Patchy hair loss: Mange, ringworm, and other parasites are typically the cause of this type of hair loss. It’s typically accompanied by redness and inflammation of the skin.

Treating Hair Loss in Dogs

It’s important to determine the cause during diagnosis because this will determine the type of treatment plan that’s needed. Most alopecia develops as a result of an underlying condition or disease and so to treat the hair loss, those conditions must first be treated. This can include de-worming medication for parasites, medication to restore hormonal balance, and elimination of allergens causing the hair loss. Once these conditions are treated, the alopecia should begin to improve or at least stop progressing.

While the dog is undergoing treatment for the underlying condition, there may be some topical treatments including lotions and ointments that can help your dog feel better and improve their quality of life. Essential fatty acids, Vitamin D, and oral melatonin supplementation can also be safe and effective methods for stimulating hair growth and improving a dog’s overall coat.

Preventing Hair Loss in Dogs

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that can be done to prevent alopecia, but there are things pet owners can do to prevent the underlying conditions or causes from ever developing.

  • Responsible breeding. Because some breeds have been found to be at higher risk for alopecia than others, breeders should remove any affected dogs from their breeding programs. This will prevent the spread to other dogs further down the hereditary line.
  • Parasite control. Making sure that your dog is regularly given deworming medication, and keeping ticks and fleas under control are all great ways to prevent alopecia.
  • Stress and environmental factors. Keeping your pet in a safe, clean and stress-free environment is another way to prevent alopecia.
  • Always providing access to plenty of fresh water and giving your dog a balanced, nutritious diet will help prevent hair loss.
  • Regular vet visits. Alopecia isn’t something that can be prevented completely, but regular vet visits will allow for your dog’s hormonal and endocrine systems to be regularly evaluated, and this can be a big step in prevention.

Although hair loss in dogs cannot be cured, and it can’t always be prevented, dogs living with the disorder can live happy and healthy lives after treatment.

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