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Why Is My Dog Losing Hair and What Should I Do About It

Updated on October 12, 2016
DrMark1961 profile image

Dr Mark is a small animal veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.

Normal shedding may be excessive in some breeds, and those dogs lose their hair in clumps.
Normal shedding may be excessive in some breeds, and those dogs lose their hair in clumps. | Source
Hair loss can be mild or a sign of a much more serious disease.
Hair loss can be mild or a sign of a much more serious disease. | Source

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)
If mange is not treated, there can be secondary yeast and bacterial infections.
If mange is not treated, there can be secondary yeast and bacterial infections. | Source

If your dog is itching, it may be from:

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:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

A dog might start out with mange but will then have to be treated for an infection.
A dog might start out with mange but will then have to be treated for an infection. | Source

Sometimes they itch

4. 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.

· 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. If you cannot take her to the vet try cleaning the skin with this shampoo, 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:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

Traction alopecia is one of the few hair loss problems that can be avoided easily.
Traction alopecia is one of the few hair loss problems that can be avoided easily. | Source

5. Other uncommon diseases can also be recognized because of 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.

© 2014 DrMark1961


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    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 5 days ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Let me know the results, Trina, hopefully all will work out for him.

    • Trina 6 days ago

      Thank you for your feed back, that is really useful. Everything that I have researched is pointing me to getting a thyroid test, as he could be hypothyroidism . He's just so happy, it's a shame he now has this to contend with. I certainly know my huskies, I've had them for over twenty years. This hair lost is definitely more than moulting, as both his coats have fallen out and leaving a massive bald patch. The rest of his body and coat is fine, and I certainly know the difference between him blowing his coat and not. Thank you for your advice, really appreciated.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 6 days ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Trina, thanks so much for leaving that excellent description. It really helps. I think this is something that is coming along now, nothing to do with your feeding. Since the skin has not changed at all I think you should count out zinc-responsive dermatoisis and have a thyroid test (with TSH, T4, and T3) to find out if he is hypothyroid. (That may be an answer to his energy level too.)

      If your regular vet does not do the full thyroid testing, look around and find someone who can test this for you. It is not an emergency and you can definitely wait until he stops moulting so that your vet can get a better look at this skin/hair condition. (It sounds like you are familiar with huskies, but I have seen several dogs brought in because of heavy hair loss that were perfectly normal, just shedding in big clumps that the breed is known for.)

    • Trina 6 days ago

      I have a 7 year old husky who is on raw food. Six months ago, I got another husky to go with the pack that I have already. Unfortunately one of my dogs got bitten on the ear. After several bouts of antibiotics and steroid cream it's all cleared up. Over the last 26 days we have noticed that he is losing fur around his neck, it's literally from the left side to the right side. It doesn't itch, nor is it red in colour. It's as if the fur is dying and it's fallen out. He is moulting which isn't helping, but I don't know What to do. He is thriving on raw food, but was on convential dog food for over 6 years and within the last six months, so much as changed. With the amount that he eats, as we weigh the food, I thought he would have lost weight. Hasn't lost any. He weighs about 29kg. He's never been an energetic dog, but he's energy has risen, like a puppy again, which is great. So it appears he is happy and not stressed, I just don't know why the sudden change in his fur around his neck. He has a lovely coat other than that. Can you throw any light on the problem. I've checked and he has no pests nor ringworm. May it be an allergy? But why now considering his feed is raw and no chemicals or additives. He has natural treats, no shops treats and vegetables. HELP please. Thank you.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 8 days ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Elize, does your Min Pin have any other symptoms, like itching? How old is he? What are you feeding him now? Any of the good quality commercial diets are going to keep him in good shape, but if he is too thin you need to know that weight loss can be more serious than hair loss; I recommend you have him checked out by your regular vet, and run a blood panel to check his internal organ function. During his exam, the vet will also check his teeth, since the most common cause of weight loss in Min Pins is due to oral infections.

    • Elize. 9 days ago

      My miniature pincher is very thin and losing hair.What can I feed him to gain weight

    • Daisy 10 days ago

      Hello I just got a puppy and shes missing a little patch of fur on her leg but that's the only place it dosent seem to bother her she's 8 weeks she is a small Chihuahua

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 10 days ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Chelsie, did you have a thyroid test done on your Pug? Was she actually itching? If the hair loss is still going on, I would check her hormone levels.

    • Chelsie 11 days ago

      My pug is losing hair on the inner part of her legs and a little on the front of her neck. Vet put it her on some medicine to stop the iching, but is still losing hair and not sure what's causing it. Not sure what's up with her.

    • Stefanie Melim 12 days ago

      My new dog is missing fur on her elbows and toes. The vet didn't find anything wrong with her. Any thoughts?

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 2 weeks ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Heather, not really sure if you are saying that she is biting the area, or just losing hair around the base of the tail. Treatment is very different, so your vet needs to know this at the time she is examined. As far as the aggression, it may be because she was not properly socialized as a young dog. The only thing you can do to help now is give her a lot more exercise. Seperation anxiety is a whole seperate issue, but it can also be helped with more exercise, feeding at the time you are leaving your house, etc. Read my article on this, try some of the suggestions, and let me know. there is going to be a lot of work to do if she is only 2.

    • Heather 2 weeks ago

      I have a 2 yr old American pitbull and she has issues with hair loss toward her tail..and sometimes her skin gets red and irritated...also,shes my special girl,shes not all there I guess u could say...she's very aggressive to most people especially if they get near me...she's very possessive over me and has terrible separation anxiety...what can I do?

    • Cyndiebaum 3 weeks ago

      Thank you so much, I will call my vet tomorrow.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 3 weeks ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Cyndie--hair loss around the eye with no itching may be a sign of demodectic mange. You should have the skin around your puppies eyes scraped and examined under a microscope to confirm this diagnosis.

    • cyndiebaum 3 weeks ago

      My 8 month old puppy has started losing hair around one eye and now below the other. No itching. Do you know what might cause this? Thanks!

    • DC 2 months ago

      Hi, I just noticed a bald spot on my chihuahua mix's back thigh. It isn't red or irritated, just looks like the hair fell out or was shaved. It's about an inch long by half an inch wide. I checked her and no pests, can't afford a vet at the moment. So far, it's just the one spot. Trying to keep calm and looking for answers, any ideas? Thank you

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 4 months ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Tammy, the hair loss is only on the tip of the tail? Is your dog scratching at all, or does it seem like hair loss only? If it is hair loss without itching, the most common causes on the tail are from batting across hard objects (like a Great Dane that wags his tail a lot, and eventually builds up a sore on the tip of the tail that bleeds when he wags) or low thyroid levels. Hypothyroidism is one of the most common hormone problems in dogs, and hair loss on the tail can be an important sign. Ask your vet to check your dogs T3, T4, and TSH to find out if he has this problem. If he does, he will need to be on pills all the time but they are not expensive and he will never develop other hypothyroid problems.

      Hope it all works out for you. Drop another comment and let me know how he does.

    • Tammy 4 months ago

      I have a wookie and when we first got him as a puppy the vet visits have been normal. I give him the frontline flee prevention pill every month. Now for no medical reason he has lost all hair on end of his tail. I don't know as well as his vet has no suggestions. Please help what can I do to help my baby boy.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 4 months ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Roselyn, are the little black specks on her hair shafts or on the skin? Where is the bare patch that you mentioned? Sometimes dogs will have generalized hair loss after whelping, but it is not in a spot. Is she losing hair in a pattern on her body? Where?

    • Roselyn 4 months ago

      My dog has black little specs on her fur she also has a huge patch of her skin completely gone to the point where I can see her skin .She also just gave birth so things are really frustrating right now please help

    • V Knoxville 6 months ago

      I would like to just put out there, I came to sites like these for a LONG time trying to find answers for our rescued chihuahua mix breed - every Summer/Fall she would get this horrible pimple like rash on her stomach & her armpits. Later it would develop into bumps and scabs, usually due to her scratching. Finally the hair on her stomach and back would fall out and scabs take their place - it was AWFUL! We tried everything! Our vet tried everything and said it must be allergies. Test after test, remedy after remedy, product after product - all fails. I finally this past year tried "Be Well for dogs" (from 1800petmeds) as it looked better than Dinovite (that had been recommended to us) and was much cheaper. NO REGRETS! My baby not only hasn't lost any hair this year, but she hasn't had one single bump and her coat is thicker (for a short hair) and shiny! One thing I will say - they say to sprinkle a little on their food, while she will eat it that way now, at first it was no-go! But mix a spoon of it with a dash of peanut butter and it was tail-wagging deliciousness! I don't know if this is what is causing your dogs issues, but I'm trying to put the word out there, in case it may help other fur-babies feel better!! Good luck!

    • Tammy 7 months ago

      Really great article! I have been reading lots of these articles. My family has 4 dogs 1 by choice, 3 that were thrown out in my driveway. They range in age from 10yrs down to 3yrs. After reading the article I am even more convinced that we are still dealing with fleas. We (my brothers family & my parents a total of 14 dogs) have tried everything available over the counter for fleas. We collectively tried the diatomaceous earth. Everything provides relief from scratching for at the most 2 weeks. I am working to get them to the which as you know can be quite costly. We love our animals and want them to be calm and happy. One of the dog has gotten sores that bled, he has since healed however, I am worried that if we don't find something that relieves the problem they will all get in that condition. Is there anything over the counter that you might suggest? Right now we are bathing them with dawn every 3 days & looking for something that will work. I have had dogs my entire life and I have never seen anything this bad before. We do have coyotes in the woods here, if that makes a difference.

    • Deb battle 7 months ago

      About a year ago I noticed that there chocolate lab lost a hunk of his hair on his tail about the size of a half dollar. Last night we noticed small chunks of hair has fallen out on the floor and it was coming from the same spot as last year so it's bigger now can you help me

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 11 months ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Timberly, is your dog scratching a lot? If he is, red bumps may be mange or folliculitis. If the skin scrapes were negative, you may never find out the cause if it is folliculitis. He may just need baths and antibiotics. If your dog is not scratching, look at an autoimmune disease. Has he had his skin biopsied? Sometimes this is the only way to find an answer.

      Hope things go better for him. Good luck.

    • Timberly Schafer 11 months ago

      My husband and I are at wits ends trying to figure out what is going on with our German Sherphard. He has lost alot of his his and gets red pimple like bumps all over him. We have taken him to the vet but it seems like we are no closer to finding the cause. Maybe you could give some guidences on which to go.

      Please help

      Thank you

      TimberlySchafer from Eugene, Oregon

    • Solaras profile image

      Solaras 2 years ago

      Thanks Dr. Mark - I think it sounds like the estrogen - she was leaky when she was on prednisone and fish oil supplements for her nose.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 2 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Solaras, hypothyroid dogs sometimes have hair loss on top of their tails, but usually in other spots too. If it is hypoestrogenism (low blood estrogen, which fits her age and being spayed, usually early in life) they usually have hair loss around the vulva, not so much the tail. If her thyroid profile is normal, the estrogen problem does not even need to be treated, as long as she is not leaking urine when she sleeps.

      That treating for demodex mange every month, as a preventative, sounds like a really bad idea to me. It makes me think of antibiotic resistance! Why waste a medicine that works, if most dogs do not even need it?

      Elizabeth--hope your dogs will never need this! Thanks, and keep them healthy.

      Bat--I´m glad to hear your Chi´s problem was so easy to clear up. That is not the case with a lot of skin problems. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Solaras profile image

      Solaras 2 years ago

      Another great article Dr. Mark! I think one of the top spot manufacturers (Frontline Plus?) is adding a treatment for demodectic mange to their flea product.

      What would cause a 8 year old spayed female dog's tail hair to become very thin? She is the one that had the plastic allergy on her nose, but was tested for lupus and found to be clear of that.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 2 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      This is good to know. I haven't had a dog that has had this issue, thankfully, but anything could happen and it's good to know possible causes!

    • theBAT profile image

      theBAT 2 years ago

      Hi. I had this problem with one of my Chihuahuas. At first, I thought it was normal shedding. Then we discovered a wound in her ear. After checking with the vet, it was "ear mites". After a week of taking the vet's medicines and ear drops, the wound healed and the shedding lessened. Thank you for this very informative hub.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 2 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Hi Bob, I do not see many people leaving their dogs like this either, but it happens a lot in street dogs. Sometimes the cure is simple, but the diagnosis, as I hope anyone can see here, is not easy. (Every time there is a question on hair loss on Yahoo, someone tells the owner that it must be mange! There is a lot more to consider.)

      I cannot use diatomaceous earth here because it often rains every day. I wish I could, since it is one of those natural methods that really work.

      Thanks for reading. This thing took a lot of time to put together and I doubt that many will read, but I really do it helps some dog owners out there fighting some of these problems.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      I've never seen a dog in as poor condition as those in some of the pictures accompanying this hub, but friends who are shelter volunteers describe rescuing dogs that are likely in that condition. I can't imagine letting my dog get that bad.

      How do you feel about using feed grade diatomaceous earth as a desiccant for external parasites? During the last couple of years I had my store, I was seeing pet owners increasingly inquiring about it. We carried it, but it was hard to work with. It's a fine powder, like talc.

      Great work...voted up, useful and interesting.

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