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What is Ectodermal Defect?

An ectodermal defect in your dog is a congenital condition, meaning it is something he is born with.  If the symptoms are not present at birth, then symptoms typically appear within a month or so.  Most common symptoms include hairlessness or abnormal hair growth.  This is a condition your dog will have for the remainder of his life, but it is not something that should affect his quality of life.  He may develop some secondary issues in relation to his condition, but they should all be manageable with supportive therapies and treatments.

If your dog is born without hair on areas of his body or if he loses his hair shortly after his birth, he may have an ectodermal defect.

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Symptoms of Ectodermal Defect in Dogs

Symptoms of this condition may be present at birth or may develop shortly after.  Symptoms may include:

  • Hairlessness
  • Abnormal hair growth
  • Dentition abnormalities
  • Abnormal tear production


Ectodermal defects can vary in each dog.  It can include hairlessness, abnormal hair growth, abnormal dentition, abnormal tear production, and similar conditions.  If your dog has the hairlessness, it can vary from a partial amount to completely.  The most common form of hairlessness is bilateral symmetry of the dorsal midline.  It is also common to find hair missing along the ear pinnae, temporal regions of the face, caudal dorsum, tail and entire ventrum.

Causes of Ectodermal Defect in Dogs

Another term for ectodermal defect is hypotrichosis.  It is a congenital condition where the hair patterns grow abnormally, mainly found as a loss or reduction of hair.  Many breeds can be affected by this condition and it tends to be found more commonly in male than female dogs.  This congenital condition can be evident right at birth or may become obvious within the first month after birth.

Diagnosis of Ectodermal Defect in Dogs

As your dog ages, the area of hairlessness may enlarge naturally since he will be growing.  This is not to be confused with a progressive skin disease where you would see progression of hairlessness.  If your dog is full grown, the area of no hair should not get any larger, if it does, then you are dealing with a different condition.

There are a few conditions that can present with similar symptoms that your veterinarian will need to rule out.  Other health conditions such as hypothyroidism, hyperglucocorticoidism, and even sex hormone endocrinopathies can all cause bilateral symmetrical alopecia like you may see in ectodermal defects.  Collecting a verbal and medical history of your dog will assist your veterinarian with her diagnosis.  When the condition originated will be important when coming to a conclusive diagnosis.  If a history is not available, then lab work will need to be conducted to rule out other causes.

Lab work may include a thyroid test to check if his symptoms are secondary to hypothyroidism.  Other blood work such as a chemistry panel and complete blood count (CBC) can give general information about your pet’s organ function and general overall health.  

Another diagnostic test your veterinarian may recommend performing is a skin biopsy.  She would take a skin sample from an area of complete alopecia and one with normal hair growth.  She will check for changes in the hair follicle size and density between the different samples.  In cases of ectodermal defect, in areas with no hair, the density of hair follicles is decreased and/or smaller.  There have even been cases reported where there are no hair follicles in the area at all.

Treatment of Ectodermal Defect in Dogs

This is a condition that cannot be treated.  There is no way for your veterinarian to increase the number of hair follicles in the affected area nor can she increase the sweat glands on your dog.  However, she can offer him skin therapies and supplements in order to keep his skin healthy and prevent it from over drying.  Special shampoos can assist with this and starting him on a fish oil supplement can help his skin externally and internally.  

If your dog has teeth issues due to his condition, there are certain things the vet can do to help.  If it is causing him pain, she can give him medications to offer him temporary relief.  Removal of the issue is ideal.  For example, she can do surgical intervention to try and remove or fix the issue.  

Any other symptoms or issues can be addressed as needed.  Since each case of a congenital defect is different, each individual treatment plan will be created for that specific individual.

Recovery of Ectodermal Defect in Dogs

As long as you properly care for your dog’s condition as directed by your veterinarian, he should not have any long term side effects associated with it.  While it cannot be cured or corrected, you can ensure the skin stays healthy and cared for.  If not monitored and nourished correctly, secondary skin issues can develop.  Most dogs live a perfectly normal life with an ectodermal defect.