A dog’s coat is often a great indicator of his overall health and well-being. A full, lustrous coat generally means your pup is feeling as good as he looks. For this reason, it can be particularly disconcerting when you begin to notice that your dog is suffering from hair loss. Hair loss in dogs can indicate a wide array of health problems, so it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the most common causes of this unfortunate symptom so you can be prepared to act. In this article, we will outline the most common causes of hair loss in canines and give you an idea of what to do if your dog is suffering from alopecia.
Infection and Infestation
Pests such as mange, ear mites or fleas, various bacteria, and ringworm fungus are all capable of inducing infections that lead to hair loss in your dog. Mange mites and fleas are both tiny parasitic organisms that inhabit the skin of dogs. A common sign of these parasites is hair loss – generally localized to the ears, eyes, chest, and abdomen. These organisms cause your dog intense itching when they burrow into his skin, and his incessant scratching at infested areas can quickly lead to hair loss.
Bacterial or fungal infections can also contribute to alopecia in your pup. Ringworm is a particularly common parasitic fungal infection. Symptoms include dandruff, scales, reddened skin, and of course – hair loss. A definitive indicator of ringworm is its namesake symptom – hair loss that occurs in circular patterns. While this is quite common in ringworm cases, the hair loss can also appear patchy. It’s a good idea to bring your dog to the vet to be tested whenever you notice significant hair loss.
Allergies in dogs are a very common cause of hair loss in canines. Your dog can be allergic to a number of environmental elements including pollen, mold, and dust. Additionally, allergic reactions to parasitic organisms such as fleas are common in dogs. Finally, your pup might have an allergy to one or more ingredients in his diet. The allergic reaction itself does not cause hair loss. Rather, allergies often cause intense itching of the skin, which cause your dog to scratch and bite incessantly. Over time, this response to irritation can result in hair loss. If your dog is suffering from alopecia and you suspect an allergy is responsible, your veterinarian will first have to rule out all other causes for the symptoms before beginning the process of testing to find the allergen.
Cushing’s disease, also referred to as hyperadrenocorticism, is an endocrine disorder that causes your dog to produce an excess of the hormone cortisol. Hair loss, accompanied by increased thirst and urination, obesity, and lethargy, often point to Cushing’s disease as the culprit. The combination of any of these symptoms, and indeed hair loss alone, is enough to warrant a visit to your veterinarian. Treatment varies slightly from dog to dog, but it is likely that your pup will be placed on a long-term medication. While these medications can sometimes have adverse side effects, it is common for dogs with Cushing’s disease to live a normal and healthy life when treated properly.
Pressure sores – commonly referred to as bedsores or decubital ulcers, are small areas where your pup’s elbows or other protruding regions of his body come into contact with the floor or his bed regularly. Such constant pressure can cause his skin to callus and lose hair. Bedsores are most common in older, larger dogs. While not the most aesthetically pleasing condition, pressure sores do not pose an immediate health risk to your dog.
Hair loss does not always indicate a health problem in your dog. Some breeds – namely the Doberman Pinscher, Chihuahua, Italian Greyhound, Dachshund, and Whippet, sometimes suffer from patchy hair. Generally, the hair loss will begin to occur after the first year of life. In these cases, there’s not much an owner can do. While the alopecia does not indicate an underlying health problem, it can be an eyesore for owners and a lesson in learning to love your pup regardless of his flaws. Do keep in mind that if you own one of these breeds and notice hair loss, a trip to the vet is still a good idea to rule out more serious causes.