Why Is My Dog Losing Hair and What Should I Do About It?
Most of us dog owners have had to worry about hair loss at some point. Hair loss can be normal, or it can be from itching and scratching (self-inflicted hair loss, like from sarcoptic mange, fleas, and allergies), and sometimes the hair can fall out in small patches (like ringworm), or in large areas (for example, hypothyroidism).
None of these problems are emergencies. Your dog might be uncomfortable, so you should take care of things as soon as possible, but you do not need to worry about finding a clinic in the middle of the night.
If your dog is losing hair, take a deep breath and try to figure out what is going on. Do not jump to conclusions—read through all of the conditions to see what might fit. Look at the photos and videos here, do more research on other web sites, and if you need help take your dog to your regular vet as soon as possible.
Normal Causes of Hair Loss in Dogs
• Normal shedding (seasonal or year round)
• Poor condition (starvation)
• Parasites (like fleas, mange, ringworm, yeast, and others)
• Allergies (Can be inhalant, food, or even contact allergies)
• Infection (Hot spots, folliculitis, cellulitis, and some others)
• Hormonal problems (hypothyroidism, Cushings, estrogen excess or deficiency)
• Autoimmune diseases (Secondary to ulcers in the skin)
• Other uncommon diseases (like acanthosis nigrans, sebaceous adenitis, zinc responsive dermatosis, blue Doberman syndrome, black hair follicle dysplasia, and others)
What Causes Your Dog to Itch?
Sometimes a dog losing hair is just shedding. The dog will not have bald patches. If he is itching and scratching that will help you decide what condition is causing the hair loss.
If your dog is itching, it can be:
- Fleas: Even if you do not see any fleas, this is a problem if you see “flea dirt”, the black specks of dried blood that you sometimes find on a dog. Take a few of the specks and put them on a wet paper towel—if the paper towel turns blood red around the specks your dog has fleas. Most readers are aware of how to get rid of fleas, either with monthly spot-on products or natural methods. Unfortunately, fleas become resistant to spot-ons and natural methods do not always work. Some dogs still have hair loss and excessive itching from fleas, especially on the back just above the tail.
- Allergies: The first thing many people think about after fleas is allergies. They can be caused by something in the air, something in the food, or even the food dish or a favorite blanket. Allergic dogs may have inflamed skin, red ear canals, swollen lips and red eyes, and even a runny nose. If your dog has many of these signs, and is scratching a lot, allergies are a possibility.
- Mange: There are two kinds of mange; sarcoptic is easy to treat, demodectic is sometimes a mild infection but if it becomes generalized will require lots of meds and many visits to your vet. Both can itch, but the sarcoptic type will drive a dog almost crazy, and demodectic mange might itch a little but can become generalized and lead to other serious health problems; if you notice the hair loss and itching the best thing you can do is take him in for a veterinary exam and skin scraping.
- Ringworm, yeast or bacterial infection: You may not even notice itching with these problems, but the skin will become thickened, scaly, and the hair will fall out in an uneven pattern. Sometimes itching is the sign of a secondary infection.
Additional Conditions That Cause Your Dog to Itch
- Hot spots are a local infection that usually starts under a patch of thick hair. If you know what they look like, and want to take care of the infection at home, you can clip the hair, clean the skin with betadine from your first aid kit, then apply a topical antibiotic cream from your drugstore. Your vet might put your dog on oral antibiotics too, and might give him a shot of steroids to keep her from scratching the spot and making the infection even worse.
- Folliculitis is an infection of the hair follicles. Some dogs (like Miniature Schnauzers) can have this infection by itself but many times it is secondary to other infections like mange. The dog can be treated at home with twice daily Pyoben shampoos, but your vet may need to put him on oral antibiotics.
- Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and tissue just underneath. Like with folliculitis, there is not always hair loss, but since it is painful your dog might rub it and the hair will come off. Treat it by soaking in Epsom salts (about 30 grams or ¼ cup to 1 liter of water, about 3 times a day) and keep the skin above the infection clean with betadine. If this is not enough your vet may want to treat your dog with antibiotics.
If your dog has a skin infection, you need to do something as soon as possible. If you cannot take her to the vet try cleaning the skin with this shampoo that I use, twice daily. If it does not work, she may need to be put on oral antibiotics.
What About When My Dog Is Losing Hair Without Itching?
If your dog is not itching but is not just shedding normally, the cause of hair loss can be:
- Hypothyroidism: Since the thyroid gland controls your dog´s metabolic rate, the first thing that some people notice is a gradual weight gain. The hair is dry, brittle, and falls out easily in an even pattern (it is the same on the left side as on the right). Since there can be many other symptoms, including aggression, the dog needs to see his vet and have a blood sample taken so this disease can be diagnosed and treated.
- Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushings): This disease is caused by an excess of steroids in the body and there are many clinical symptoms, but the changes in the skin are sometimes the most obvious. The skin becomes dark, the dogs lose hair all over, dogs can have blackheads on the belly, and on top of that the belly is large and swollen. Some owners will notice that the dogs are really thirsty and so have to go outside more often. These problems can sometimes be treated successfully, so, like with hypothyroidism, the dog has to be seen and diagnosed by the vet for treatment to begin.
- Other hormonal diseases (Estrogen excess, estrogen deficiency, growth hormone-responsive alopecia, ) If your dog has a tumor that is causing extra estrogen, his or her skin and coat will start turning dark about the belly, and then the hair will become brittle and fall out. She will need testing to determine if this is the problem, but can be treated by being spayed or neutered. If there is not enough estrogen, the hair falls out on the belly. Hormonal diseases can only be diagnosed after blood tests, so you need to take her to your vet.
- Autoimmune diseases: The hair loss caused by these diseases is minor compared to the skin ulcers and secondary infections. If your dog has skin ulcers, hair loss is the least of his problems; the only way to diagnose this is to have a skin biopsy sent to a laboratory.
If your dog has symptoms similar to the Tibetan Mastiff seen in this video, go ahead and take her in for an exam and blood test. There is no cure for this hormonal disease, but the medication to treat hypothyroidism is inexpensive and will make look better and act like herself.
Uncommon Diseases That Cause Hair Loss
- Sebaceous adenitis is an inherited skin disease. In long haired dogs (like the Akita, Samoyed, and Standard Poodle) there is hair loss on the neck, tail, and top of the head. In short haired breeds (like the Viszla) there is hair loss on the ears, legs, and head. All the breeds have scaly, greasy skin, and it has to be diagnosed by a skin biopsy and then treated by a vet.
- Zinc-responsive dermatosis can show up in some dogs fed cheap food but in sometimes breeds like Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and Doberman Pinschers develop this even when eating enough zinc. The dogs have hair loss around the ears, eyes, and mouth, but also have crusty elbows and feet. They need zinc supplements to get better, and if it is genetic the supplements have to be given for the rest of the dog´s life.
- Acanthosis nigrans is thick, black skin with hair loss that is found in young Dachshunds. The armpits, ears, and folds are greasy and black. There is no cure, but your vet might be able to make your dog a little better by treating with a shampoo, vitamin E, antibiotics, and melatonin.
- Color diseases like Blue Doberman Syndrome and black hair follicular dysplasia. The Blue disease is also seen in blue Newfies, Chows, Whippets, Italian Greyhounds, and other blue dogs. The hair looks healthy, but then becomes infected. Dogs suffering from the black hair disease never develop hair in the black areas. There is no cure for either disease.
- Although there are a few even more uncommon causes of hair loss, like Alopecia X and Pattern Alopecia, the one cause of hair loss that can be dealt with is Traction Alopecia. This problem affects small dogs with their hair tied up in rubber bands and barrettes, and when they are too tight and left on too long they make the dog go bald on top of the head. The only way to cure it is by removing the bald spot—the best way to prevent it is by giving your dog a haircut that does not require a rubber band!
What can I do at home?
What can I do at home?
If you cannot take your dog to the vet for some reason, the first thing to do is check for fleas. If he does not have a flea problem, and his symptoms fit some of the other diseases that I describe above, there are some other things you can try.
· If the problem is seasonal, and you think it might be inhalant allergies, try some natural cures like raw honey.
· If the ears and GI tract are involved and you think it might be food related, try a hypoallergenic diet (a new protein that the dog has never been exposed to before). A raw diet with whole natural proteins is best.
· If the problem seems to be mainly with her feet and belly, a contact allergy might be the problem and you can try switching the bedding.
· If the problem is hair loss around the nose and lips, get rid of the plastic food bowl and replace it with a ceramic or stainless steel dish.
· No matter what the cause of itching, you can provide some relief by bathing your dog in oatmeal shampoo, and many holistic veterinarians think it is helpful to rinse the dog with apple cider vinegar after bathing.
More About Your Dog's Skin
- Why does my dog have crusty sores on her nose
If your dog has a scaly and ulcerated face, you need to find out what is wrong and start treatment as soon as possible. Find out what to do.
- Honey, Herbs and Other Natural Ways to Treat Skin Allergies
In holistic veterinary medicine symptoms like itchy skin and allergies to flea bites are considered to be caused by poor quality food, over vaccination, and continual exposure to toxins in the environment. These are some alternative treatments.
Questions & Answers
© 2014 Dr Mark