Hair loss in your furry friend? And you thought it was just an affliction of middle aged men!
Nope, even dogs can experience hair loss. While many dog breeds shed, there are non-shedding breeds (although even these shed a little bit). Some breeds shed quite copiously as part of their natural process of losing dead hairs and replacing them with new hair.
This is all good, but what if your dog is experiencing hair loss, or ‘alopecia’, in excess of what is normal to their natural process of replacing their hair coat? There could be an underlying medical condition that can be prevented or treated. Hair loss that may be indicative of an underlying condition often includes bald patches, sores, redness, oily skin, blisters, pustules and scratching and biting by your dog, which indicates discomfort. Hair loss can occur anywhere on your dog's body or in any breed, and it may be localized or all over your dog.
If your dog is experiencing hair loss it is important to observe any other symptoms your dog is experiencing which may indicate an underlying medical condition accounting for your dog’s hair loss, such as loss of appetite, gastrointestinal symptoms, and any symptoms of skin disorder. Any information you can provide will help you and your veterinarian identify the underlying cause of hair loss so that you can prevent or treat the condition. That way your furry friend will remain furry!
Causes and Prevention of Hair Loss in Dogs
A multitude of causes can be responsible for abnormal hair loss in your dog. The following are some of the most likely:
Genetic predisposition or inherited conditions, such as acanthosis nigricans, Alopecia X (black skin disease), Follicular dysplasia, color dilution mutant alopecia, or congenital hypotrichosis
Hormone/Endocrine imbalance which has a genetic component such as Cushings, Addisons disease, hyperthyroidism, hyperestrogenism, or hyperandrogenism
Parasites such as fleas, lice, ticks, and mites (demodectic mange) including allergies to parasites
Allergic reactions to chemicals, pollens, or other substances
Fungal infections, such as yeast, can be zoonotic and affect people
Bacterial skin infections, especially staphylococcal types, which affect hair follicles
Cancer, such as testicular, can cause hormonal alopecia or skin cancer
Reaction to medication, including chemotherapy drugs, vaccines, or injectable medications at injection sites
Nutritional deficiency; whelping dogs are especially prone
Anxiety or stress disorder; nervous conditions that cause dog to bite and chew their hair coat
Genetic and Hormonal Disorders
For genetic disorders including hormonal imbalances, responsible breeding and spaying or neutering animals exhibiting the condition will prevent the genetic disorder from being passed onto subsequent generations. Get regular veterinary care and annual exams to identify medical conditions; tests may be necessary to identify hormonal conditions. Hormonal replacement therapy may be available to treat hormonal imbalance disorders which will prevent hair loss from those conditions. In addition, spaying and neutering can eliminate many reproductive hormone disorders that result in hair loss.
Parasitic causes of hair loss can be avoided by using preventative medication such as flea and tick collars and topical or systemic medications to prevent infestation. Manage caused by mites is an especially common cause of hair loss in dogs that can be prevented with appropriate medications and by limiting your dog's exposure to parasitic mites.
Providing a clean environment for your dog, both in your house and outside in your yard by cleaning bedding, vacuuming, removing debris, and cleaning up feces and urine, will help prevent parasitic, fungal, and bacterial infections in your dog that can lead to hair loss.
Adequate nutrition and diet is important in preventing hair loss. Lots of fresh water to aid in metabolism, a high protein diet, with supplements if necessary to provide all minerals and vitamins required so deficiencies do not occur, fatty acids, vitamin D and melatonin will reduce hair loss. Dietary allergies are common causes of hair loss. Experimenting with your dog's diet to identify and eliminate food allergens will prevent unwanted hair loss.
If you are able to identify an allergen causing an allergic reaction resulting in hair loss, removal of the allergen or treatment for the allergy will reduce hair loss associated with allergic dermatitis. Medications such as antihistamines or steroids for allergic reactions, antifungal preparations for yeast infections and antibiotics and anti-inflammatories for bacterial infections are effective in treating these conditions and preventing their progressions, which can result in loss of hair.
Hair loss due to a reaction to a medication should be noted, so that unnecessary medication can be avoided in the future, or alternative medications provided.
If hair loss does occur, topical medications, shampoos, and dips with hydrocortisone or other soothing medications may be useful in relieving skin conditions and preventing hair loss as a direct result of the skin condition, or as a result of your dog licking and chewing at the irritating skin condition.
Anxiety and stress can result in unwanted behaviors such as scratching and chewing, resulting in hair loss. Pet owners can attempt to eliminate stressors, and use behavior modification techniques to eliminate inappropriate stress and anxiety reactions. Use sedation when necessary, or try anxiety wraps--commercial pressure coats which provide comfort to your dog in stressful situations.
Be sure to protect your dog from sunburn or exposure to chemical substances that may irritate or damage your dog's skin, as these factors can cause hair loss.
If nervous or boredom related licking and chewing is occurring or licking and chewing due to a medical condition occurs, owners can try applying a vinegar solution to their dog's coat to reduce the behaviors and prevent hair loss. If your dog has fleas, and vinegar prevents your dog from biting at and swallowing fleas, this can also protect your pooch from tapeworm eggs present in ingested fleas.
Importance of Prevention
Preventing conditions that cause hair loss helps prevents damage to your dog's skin and the development of unwanted behaviors such as chewing or scratching, as well as improving your dog's overall health. Many conditions that result in hair loss cause damage to your dog's health in other ways, including organ damage in the case of hormonal or endocrine imbalances. Treatment of the the cause of hair loss benefits the dog's overall health. In addition, you will want to deal with parasites and fungal infections that could affect other pets in the home, or you and family members, before they become an issue that could be transmitted throughout your household. Hair loss in cold climates can expose your dog to frostbite from exposure to cold, and steps need to be taken to protect dogs experiencing hair loss if exposed to extreme cold conditions, which can be inconvenient, difficult, or costly. If hair loss occurs, and conditions causing it are not resolved, damage to the skin, including scarring, can prevent regrowth of hair, leading to a permanent condition.
Factors to Address
There are many factors and conditions that can contribute to hair loss in your dog and identifying the cause so that efforts to prevent hair loss can be taken is challenging. Careful observation of your dog's symptoms and overall health will help you and your veterinarian identify the source of your dog’s hair loss and come up with a plan to prevent and treat the condition. Hair loss is usually not serious, however, if left unchecked, damage to hair follicles can occur, resulting in permanent hair loss.
Hair loss can be a symptom of a much more serious disorder that requires treatment or your dog will become severely ill. So, in a way, hair loss may be a valuable warning sign, to prevent or get treatment for a much more serious condition.