HEALTH & CARE

Hair Loss in Dogs: Understand Why Fido Is Getting Bald Young

Dog lost his back hair
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

One of the best features of any fur baby is its hair. Whether the hair is long and silky, short and wiry, or thick and curly, it adds to a dog’s overall charm and appeal. This is why many pet owners go to great lengths to ensure that the hair of their pets remains healthy. Any indication that the hair is unhealthy, such as brittleness and hair loss, should be addressed immediately to avoid any further damage.

Hair loss is considered as a normal body process for dogs. This mechanism allows the growth of a new set of hair for another season. However, hair loss becomes a problem when it becomes excessive, possibly due to disease or a particular condition.

Dog shedding

There are also several other factors that may cause hair loss in dogs. These factors may be hereditary or treatment-induced.

The normal hair loss process

Now before you freak out that your dog is losing a significant amount of hair, here is a quick list of dogs that shed the most and the least on a regular day. Most of the dogs that lose a significant amount of hair are double-coated breeds with profuse coats that are configured to endure harsh weather. The dogs with minimal shedding, on the other hand, have hair instead of fur or have short coats.

Dogs with Heaviest Shedding
Akita
Alaskan Malamute
Chow Chow
German Shepherd
Great Pyrenees
Pomeranian
Saint Bernard
Samoyed
Siberian Husky
Dogs with Minimal Shedding
Bichon Frise
Bulldog
Chihuahua
Chinese Crested
French Bulldog
Poodle
Pug

Most common causes of hair loss

Numerous factors can be identified to cause hair loss in dogs, but they can be segmented into five common causes.

Dermatitis

Dermatitis in dogs is a condition that is sub-categorized into three general types:

  • Allergic Dermatitis
  • Contact Dermatitis
  • Atopic Dermatitis

These conditions can arise if your dog is particularly sensitive to any of the following materials or substances:

  • Certain types of Antibiotics
  • Poisonous Plants, such as Poison Ivy
  • Plastic Materials
  • Dyeing Agents
  • Household Cleaning Agents
  • Latex
  • Deodorizers
  • Flea

Acral Lick Dermatitis

This kind of dermatitis is not included in the list of dermatitis sub-categories because acral lick dermatitis is more of a psychological condition in dogs. Obsessive licking caused by stress, boredom, or anxiety causes it. Enzymes from saliva can create an irritation, resulting in localized or generalized dermatitis.

Dog licking

Pets can develop hair loss because they have behavioral problems. For example, dogs with a separation anxiety behavior disorder can be observed licking patches of hair off their legs. This is called acral lick dermatitis. With this condition, dogs can lick the skin so vigorously that the skin breaks down and harbors infection. What started as anxiety turns into an either yeast or bacterial infection that can be difficult to cure because the dog will lick the open wound whenever it is left alone.

Acral lick dermatitis usually involves the front legs just above the wrist, as well as the back portion of the legs near the ankle. Over-grooming due to stress or anxiety can also cause bald spots from which the hairs were broken down or chewed. This can occur in any area that your pet can reach with its tongue. Therefore, the back, head and neck are never involved in acral lick dermatitis.

Allergies

Allergies in humans can manifest as symptoms like watering of the eyes, a runny nose, and even itching. In dogs, allergies commonly appear in the skin and ears. Thus, allergic dogs have itchy skin, and their response will be excessive scratching or chewing of hair to relieve symptoms. Dogs can be allergic to:

  • Foods
  • Inhaled Allergens
  • Other Materials

Common food allergies are caused by grains, such as soy and wheat, as well as by meats, fish, milk, and yeast. The most commonly inhaled allergens include smoke, pollens, and perfumes. Pets can experience contact allergies when they stroll through grass, across decks with chemical treatment, and even carpets with chemicals in them.

One of the most common skin allergies is flea allergy in dogs, which you should definitely check out to see if your dog is afflicted with this condition.

Mange

Mange is a type of skin disease that is caused by mites. These mites, depending on the genus, bury themselves into the hair follicles of dogs. Demodectic mange is caused by the Demodex species, whereas the Sacroptic mange is caused by the Sarcoptes species.

What separates the one type from the other is that demodectic mange appears as localized spots, whereas sarcoptic mange appears as a more generalized infection with significant hair loss and crusting. Demodectic mange is not contagious to humans. In contrast, sarcoptic mange can be acquired by dogs and humans.

Hormone problems

Hormones are manufactured in one part of the body for eventual transport and use in other parts. There are hormones that travel throughout the body, whereas other hormones travel only as far as the surrounding cells. Several hormones influence hair growth. These hormones include estrogen, melatonin, testosterone, growth hormone, cortisol, and thyroxin. When these hormones reach abnormal levels, whether overproduction or underproduction, it may cause the hair to be too thick or thin.

Hypothyroidism is considered as the most common hormonal disease that affects dogs. This occurs when the canine thyroid gland is not functioning properly and thus produces hormones below normal levels. Hypothyroidism can speed up hair loss and can make the hair strands brittle and dry.

Cushings disease in dog

The thyroid gland is located in the neck. It makes a hormone called thyroxin, which travels through the bloodstream and affects almost every cell in the dog’s body. Thyroxin accelerates cell growth and multiplication because it serves as a stimulant for the cell’s nuclear machinery. Skin cells and hair follicles are strongly affected by thyroxin. Hair growth is normal under appropriate thyroxin levels. However, insufficient thyroxin, which usually occurs in dogs, makes hair growth considerably thin, especially over the back.

Cortisol is a hormone released from by adrenal glands and is carried by the blood. This hormone affects most cells in the body. In conditions such as Cushing’s disease or cortisol overload attributed to medication that the cortisol level is way above the normal levels, hair from the back all the way to the tail becomes thin, thereby leaving a rat tail-like appearance. Hair growth is considerably slower and can be very noticeable in dogs that are groomed regularly. When cortisol levels are too low, hair loss may also occur.

Abnormal organ function

Because organs like the kidneys, intestines, and liver regulate the nutrients in the blood, diseases and medications affecting these organs may lead to hair loss. For example, dogs with inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, or who are undergoing regular chemotherapy often have dull and thinning hair. Dogs that have kidney failure can be observed to have unkempt, dull coats and may have a musty smell coming from their skin. For dogs with liver failure, they may have orange-yellow skin and nails that grow but are flaky and brittle.

Poor blood circulation

The complex structure underneath a dog’s hair is nourished by and is thus heavily reliant on blood. When there is poor circulation, hair shafts will not grow well. Dogs with cardiovascular issues, such as a weak heart, chronic anemia, and low blood pressure, may have skin that is cold to touch. Thinning of the coat is due to the constant hair being lost from the follicle.

Parasite-induced Alopecia

Itching due to fleas, mites, and lice can lead to hair loss. When your pet scratches or bites vigorously, it is the hair is chewed or broken off. The moist, chewed skin will contain abundant pathogens that may lead to infection. Ringworms, bacteria, and yeast also cause itching, inducing even more hair to be chewed off. The location of the hair loss in the dog’s body can help identify which parasite is involved.

Fleas mainly attack the back area over the hips. Lice are more actively located at the back and hind legs. Mites are more commonly found around the eyes, mouth, ears, and elbows.

Poor nutrition

To remain securely anchored in the skin, the hair requires a constant and rich supply of nutrients. The nutrients that support healthy hair are the same nutrients that promote healthy skin, which include vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, as well as Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Hair that that looks dull does not receive a balanced supply of nutrients. It can also break apart, loosen, and eventually fall off. It can be observed that pets on starvation diets have noticeably thin, dull coats.

Hair loss due to poor nutrition presents as a holistic hair loss, although there are more obvious areas on which hair loss is evident. These areas include the back and hips, where hair follicles have shorter growth cycles and longer inactive periods.

Thin dog

The Siberian Husky and some other northern dog breeds, have a tendency to develop zinc deficiency, which results in coat and skin problems. The problem lies in the breed’s inability to absorb the mineral zinc, which is usually present in adequate amounts in a balanced diet. This condition is called Alopecia X of the Northern breeds.

Treatment-induced hair loss

For dogs that are undergoing chemotherapy, there may be cases of accelerated hair loss as part of the adverse effects caused by the treatment. This hair usually grows back after the completion of the treatment as long as there is no underlying cause for hair loss other than the reaction to medication.

Genetic predisposition

While hair loss is a general condition that leaves no exception, some breeds often have their own particular problems. Dachshunds have a breed tendency for thinning of hair around the ears, abdomen, and neck. There is also hair loss due to hypothyroid disease that affects the following dog breeds:

  • Afghan Hound
  • Airedale Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Dachshund
  • Chow Chow
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • English Bulldog
  • Golden Retriever
  • Great Dane
  • Irish Setter
  • Standard Schnauzer
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Newfoundland
  • Poodle
  • Shetland Sheepdogs

Cushing’s disease can affect these dog breeds:

  • Beagle
  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Dachshund
  • Poodle

In addition, there are breeds that grow hair in a considerably slower rate after being clipped:

  • Siberian Huskies
  • Alaskan Malamutes
  • Chow Chows

You can discover what other infections there could be by reading this article on skin problems in dogs.

Identifying the cause

Because there are a wide variety of causes, the main cause of hair loss should be diagnosed properly to provide the proper treatment or course of action for your dog. Your veterinarian may conduct a thorough physical assessment to identify what kind of hair loss your dog is having. He may take a sample specimen and have it checked under a microscope for potential parasites or infection. In this case, topical or oral medications might be prescribed.

Dog lost hair

In cases of progressive or severe hair loss, medical management will not just address the existing infection or localized spots, but will include a plan to help improve the dog’s current condition. A holistic approach that will cover a series of treatments, a diet plan, and even a bathing regimen will be prepared to ensure that the dog will have its well-being restored.

Treatment plans

Treatment for dog hair is specific to the cause of hair loss. If the dog has fleas, which is considered as the number one cause of skin problems in dogs, your veterinarian will prepare both immediate relief and long-term treatment. Combing your dog with a flea comb and bathing your pet with a medicated shampoo are examples of immediate relief.

In addition, all of the pets in the household should undergo treatment, so that no untreated pet can serve as a flea reservoir that will simply lead to more infestations in the future. The house and the yard should be thoroughly cleaned and treated because the flea population primarily stays in these locations.

Diet modification

The key to a healthy dog is always optimum nutrition. Depending on the type of agent that triggers hair loss, your veterinarian will prepare a specified diet plan to help the dog regain its healthy coat. For allergy-induced hair loss and skin irritation, some food options might be removed from the list, and protein intake will be modified to aid in muscle and skin repair.

Bathing and topical medication

In cases of moderate to severe hair loss, expect a slight modification in bathing frequency. Several medications will be included in the medical management. Your veterinarian may prescribe a combination approach that includes medicated shampoo, topical medication, and oral medication to cover all bases of the condition and prevent future outbreaks. It is important to follow any special instructions to ensure that the treatment is properly implemented. One of the best ways to relieve your dog’s itchy skin is to read up on and provide him with oatmeal baths for dogs.

Prevention of future occurrence

The absence of allergens and other irritation-inducing agents is the best way to prevent the future occurrence of hair loss. This is proven effective for dermatitis and parasite-related hair loss. By maintaining a clean environment, you could inhibit the chances of harboring parasites that will harm your dog.

Pet medications

Numerous oral, topical, and injectable medications can cause hair loss. For example, high doses or long-term use topical, oral, or injected steroids may induce hair follicles to shrink and hair to break and fall out. There will be a delay in hair regrowth until the follicles are no longer affected by the levels of steroid in the bloodstream. There are topical topically applied flea medications that induce hair loss at the area of application.

Moreover, vaccines can cause hair loss at the site of injection and can result in widespread hair loss over the next few months on rare cases. The bottom line of these medications is that they all affect the follicle, such that a noticeable slow growth of hair could be expected.

Importance of observation and compliance

To be able to improve the symptoms of hair loss, it is important for the veterinarian and the pet parent to have a collaborative effort to regain the lost hair and to develop hair that is healthy and strong. Depending on the cause, there will be several procedures and treatments to address the problem.

As a pet parent, be aware that hair loss is typically treated systemically, and compliance in terms of medications and regimen like combing and bathing is very important. In this way, the treatment plan will be followed accordingly, and the expected prognosis and improvement of symptoms will all be achieved within the anticipated schedule.

Dog skin problems infogprahic

At the first sighting of a spot that is unusual when compared with the surrounding hair structures, consult your veterinarian. Given that hair loss can be attributed to several causes, the sooner the spot is assessed, the faster the medical management could be implemented. As treatments can last from several days to months, you must understand the physical and emotional needs of your dog throughout this duration.

Although some instances that cause hair loss are not terminal, the dogs will still require an adequate amount of support that you can provide as a pet parent. Some symptoms of hair loss, such as dermatitis and the crusted sores caused by mites, can be painful. Promoting a clean and comfortable environment for the sick dog will enhance the quality of its well-being while it is being treated.

For pet parents that have more than one pet inside the house, make sure that every pet is checked by the veterinarian to ensure that the condition will not spread to other pets after an incident of hair loss due to infestation or disease. Having your other pets checked will inhibit the chances of recurring conditions, such as parasite-induced hair loss.

As a pet parent, you should never forget your well-being and hygiene as well. While most factors that lead to hair loss are canine-exclusive, there are some that may lead to irritation of the human skin as well. As you handle the affected dog, make sure that you clean yourself after. The house should also be maintained clean at all times. This way, the chances of recurrence is significantly decreased.

Remember that hair loss can be a sign of a more serious underlying problem. Being aware of the possible causes and the necessary treatments can help you identify this problem promptly. Addressing this condition early will lead to the best results. This will ensure that you can spend more years with a strong and healthy pet.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

  • Hilary Reddy

    A good organic shampoo may do the trick in most dog skin problems. Although my vet recommended home made food for my dog to lessen the chance of getting allergies. Any pet owners here who have dogs with skin problems?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Organic shampoos can be a hit or miss for dog skin problems, that’s why it might be a trial and error process for some. While there are organic shampoos claiming to be effective, this is not always the case. Pet owners can get recommendation from their vets and check if the shampoo is compatible with their dogs or if it is giving the expected effect after about a week of use.

  • Michelle Drew

    Sometimes the cause is pretty unusual. Our dog exhibited hair loss around his neck area, which we found during his weekly bath. We were very puzzled as our dentist ruled out fleas, etc. Until we showed our vet our pooch’s collar. She recommended that we change it! It sounds very weird at first but until after we went from a plastic buckle to a metal one, the hair began to grow back. Apparently the plastic buckle was the cause of the problem! Check those too, my fellow dog owners, you never know for sure!

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Friction and material allergy can really be one of the problems that should be taken under consideration. It is very important to determine if the material of the buckle, leash, or cord is not causing any reaction to your the skin of your fur baby.

  • Angela Pickles

    When my sister moved to another town with her Beagle named Bella last year, the dog’s skin turned red. Bella’s hair also started falling out. My sister has already taken her dog to 2 vets. They still can’t figure out what’s going on. Any ideas? My sister is getting quite worried. Help!

    • Wyatt Robinson

      You might have it checked by the veterinarian who best knows the dog’s medical history as he may order further blood test to determine what the actual problem is. Looks like this is a secondary problem that is part of the manifestation of a more serious and main problem.

  • harsh tomar

    I have a retriever ( black ) her hair start falling and rashes over body. I take it to docktor but after 1 month the problem were restart . So i change so many docktor but cant help anybody .

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Hi, Harsh,

      Your dog might have an underlying systemic problem that cannot be addressed by topical medications alone. Request for a comprehensive skin and allergy testing to be able to address the problem from its roots.

  • Rosa

    What does the dog in the very first picture (above the article) have?
    My lab has hair loss that looks the same and the vet ran all sorts of test and cant find anything!!!

    • Wyatt Robinson

      If there is no crusting happening around the edges, this is only the usual alopecia. It is not contagious or infectious, but it can be very alarming to look at.

  • Pati

    Our rescue bichon has balding soits on both sides . Took him to the vet & he did test & found no allergies. We are giving him melatonin. ..& it’s gotten worse. Where the vet took the biopsy of skin, the hair grew back, but only in that small spot. Now trying coconut oil topically, but we are so worried. He is playful & happy. Any thoughts? Thanks!

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Pati,

      First, stop the melatonin. Your dog might be getting complications from melatonin toxicity. VCO can be used every other day especially after bathing and let the solution sit a bit before letting it loose. Due to its viscosity, VCO can trap some dirt and microorganisms in the hair shaft which could impede proper hair growth instead of promoting it.

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