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

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

Learn the potential causes of hair loss in dogs, when you should see a vet, and what you can do at home to give your dog relief from itching.

Learn the potential causes of hair loss in dogs, when you should see a vet, and what you can do at home to give your dog relief from itching.

When Is Dog Hair Loss Urgent?

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 websites, and if you need help, take your dog to your regular vet as soon as possible.

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.

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:

  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.
  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. Sometimes itching is the sign of a secondary infection.
causes-and-treatment-of-hair-loss-in-dogs

Infections 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.

Using a Good Shampoo to Improve Infections

All skin infections can be improved through the use of a good shampoo, so if your dog it itching and you cannot figure out what is wrong, I have found that this brand helps. To use it correctly, wet your dog down thoroughly, apply the shampoo, and leave it on at least 10 minutes. That is a long time, so be sure to check your clock so that he is not let out too soon. If your dog does not like to be in the bath that long, you can massage him after applying the shampoo and the distraction will make many dogs forget the time.

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.
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Read More From Pethelpful

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 her 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.

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?

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 remedies 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

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: Both my dogs suddenly started losing fur about 1 week ago. I took them to my vet and they studied their skin and fur and found no parasites, mites, mange etc. They are not particularly itchy and seem OK other wise. Both dogs are yellow labs, ages 1 year, and 11years. We spent $300 to find to solution and they are still losing hair at alarming rates. The younger dog more dramatically. Do you have any ideas?

Answer: It certainly sounds contagious, and I would have checked for mites, fleas, etc. The only thing you can do at this point, assuming it is not seasonal shedding, is diagnostic treatment.

Question: How do you use the honey to prevent hair loss in dogs?

Answer: Local honey contains some of the allergens that a dog with atopy (allergic inhalant dermatitis) can be affected by. You use it by feeding the dog about one teaspoon daily.

This only works if it is locally harvested organic honey. If it is from the grocery store and has been processed it is worthless.

Question: My one-year-old German Shepherd is losing all of the hair on her abdomen, legs and now her back. She also scratches constantly, and has a rash all over, but the vet says it's not fleas. She took ten days of antibiotics, and the sores from scratching were better, but not gone. We have tried every food, shampoo, etc. Do you have any ideas?

Answer: If this were my dog, I would go ahead and give him an ivermectin injection as a diagnostic test. IF the itching improves, it is most likely caused by sarcoptic mange mites, which are very difficult to find during testing.

Has your dog been treated with steroids? If she gets better after an injection, that will lead you to consider an allergic cause.

Question: My dog has long hair a loses hair on his back, but I don't see anything wrong anywhere else. Why is he losing hair?

Answer: Your dog may have flea allergies and a flea or two that you have not found, hypothyroidism, or numerous other problems. You need to take him to your regular vet for an exam, and so that you can answer questions and find out what is wrong.

Question: My 4-month-old Rottweiler is losing hair around her right eye only, but she doesn't have itching or a runny eye or nose. What can I do at home?

Answer: There is not much you can do at home without knowing what is causing the hair loss around the eye. When you take your Rott puppy in for her rabies vaccination, ask the vet to scrape the skin around the eye and look for Demodex mites.

There are many alternative treatments for demodicosis, including some topical medications that may or may not help. Do not subject your puppy to the toxic dips that are sold for mange. If you want to treat her most effectively, she can be given ivermectin orally.

If you are really strapped and cannot afford to have this diagnosed, you can sometimes treat patchy Demodex infections in Rotties and Pitbulls with "benign neglect." No treatment is used at all, and most of the puppies will just grow out of the problem as their immune systems become more competent. I am hesitant to suggest this method since I have not seen the puppy and am not even sure if this is what the problem is, so if you are worried about this you should find out what is going on before making this choice.

Question: Why does my dog have a tiny patch of hair loss on his tail, which is not itchy? He is a Chihuahua, terrier and pug mix and is five-years-old.

Answer: It is possible that your dog has ringworm, a fungal infection. There are several ways to check if that is the case, but the tests do need to be done at your regular vet clinic.

If the patch of hair loss is due to ringworm, you should be aware that it is transmissible to humans. Get him checked out as soon as possible.

Question: My dog has a high amount of hair loss. It seems seasonal but the hair shedding is very high. What can it be, and what do I do?

Answer: I cannot tell if your dog has seasonal allergies, seasonal shedding that is normal for his breed, or even a hormonal disease. If you want to find a solution you need to take him to your local vet for an exam.

Question: My dog has redness up and down legs, belly chest, itching, and is losing hair. What causes my dog's itching and lost hair?

Answer: Any number of allergies can cause this. The symptoms you describe are usually due to inhalant allergies (outside pollens, inside molds and house dust mites).

Question: Every time I wash my dog, he loses his hair. Is that normal?

Answer: It is normal for dogs to lose a lot of hair after a bath. I brush my dogs before a bath to remove any loose hair, and that takes care of most of the hair that goes down the drain.

After bathing, put him up and groom him thoroughly. You will still get a lot of hair loss after a bath but at least you can gather it up in a brush.

Question: My seven-year-old Alaskan malamute had a clump of fur with what I thought at the time was some dirt that had gotten matted in. She had some loose bits of fur today that came out with a layer of this stuff again, I’m assuming it must be skin as you can see the hair coming through it but it’s brown and have now noticed she has a big bald patch on her leg (didn’t notice before as was hidden by her fur). Any ideas of what this could be?

Answer: Siberians and Malamutes will often develop a type of hot spot (a Staph infection) on the skin, and the pus will cause the hair to mat and fall out in a clump if it is messed with. The area has to be clipped and cleaned.

Question: I have a six to seven-year-old Siberian husky. The fur on her back is very thin. The fur starts getting thinner at her neck and down her back to about the middle and there are scabs under it all the way down! I have three Siberian huskies, and none of them have this problem. I don't know if it's because of her fur problem, but she also smells bad. We've given her baths with everything we could think of, but she still smells bad. Do you have any other ideas we could try?

Answer: The most common cause of hair loss and small scabs on the dorsal midline is flea allergy dermatitis. You may never see a flea on your Sibe because all it takes is one bite. Other dogs in the household may be bitten on occasion and be just fine.

Part the fur on the back and look for little bits of black dirt. Take the dirt and put it on a wet paper towel. If it turns red when it gets wet, that is blood.

I am not a big fan of chemical methods of flea control (I prefer natural), but your dog is a good reason to use these products. Talk to your vet and buy the most potent flea control product he or she has. Give it a month or two to see if the scabs go away; the hair loss will take a little longer.

The odor sounds like a secondary infection. If the bathing is not adequate, you need to ask your vet for antibiotics for a skin infection.

Question: Can my dog be allergic to the flea prevention solution that we use?

Answer: Some dogs are allergic to the oral flea preventatives but it is more common for a dog to be hypersensitive to the products applied to the skin. If you think this might be the case look for natural alternatives.

Question: My puppy is covered in itchy bumps. What could it be?

Answer: Your pup could have mange, flea bites, or even infected skin. I cannot diagnose his problem without an exam. You should take him in to your regular vet for an exam as soon as possible, before things get worse.

Question: My dog has been treated for mange, sebborhea, fleas, allergies and has been put on appaquell and is still losing hair. Do you have any ideas?

Answer: Based on these treatments, your dog has something that is causing her to itch, and since she has not responded to treatments, it is most likely food or inhalant allergies. These problems are very hard to treat. I would put her on an exclusion diet (ask your vet about setting up a diet for your dog based on what she might be allergic to) and give her at least 12 weeks before you have decided that this is not the problem.

If things are still not going well for your dog, you can ask your vet for a referral to the state veterinary college or a veterinary dermatologist.

Question: I have an 8-year-old Pomeranian with body hair loss and blackheads on its back. Blood work has been done and shows normal range. Any ideas that I can try?

Answer: It depends on the pattern of the hair loss. If it is not itching, and thyroid hormones are normal, I would try a bath to clean the pores (flush out those blackheads). The Amazon link in the article is for a benzoyl peroxide shampoo, which may be appropriate in his case.

If this were my Pom, I would also try to moisturize the skin after the bath with coconut oil. I can provide no scientific proof for this, but have seen great results when using the product on my family´s Poms.

Question: My dog had a hot spot on her neck, and it is healed up, but now she is losing the hair on her back and legs in patches. It is falling out in chunks. She has never shed before. Any ideas?

Answer: It depends on the breed. Since this is spring, it may be normal. You do not need to treat this as an emergency, but if it continues, be sure to take her to your regular vet for an exam. It does not sound like it has anything to do with the hot spot.

Question: My dog gets fleas at random and we also notice when he has flea bites he has rashes around the bites. Could that be an allergic reaction?

Answer: There are several possibilites to treat an allergic reaction to fleas. The best one of course is make sure the dog does not get bit anymore. I do not know what sort of flea control you are using but that would be the best thing.

Question: Both my dogs have the same sore in the same spot on the tip of their nose before where their nostrils are. Should I be concerned? What exactly is it? How can I treat it?

Answer: There is a possibility that it is ringworm (which is a disease that can spread to humans; especially any children you have in the house). You should have their noses examined, then scraped and tested with a black light, for proper diagnosis. Your vet will give you medication when he or she figures out why your dogs have a sore on the nose.

Question: We have a four-year-old male Chesapeake Bay Retriever that has a dark brown curly coat; his sides and the area in front of his tail have suffered hair loss, and sometimes he has sores. He has had thyroid tests, skin scrapings, and a Cushing's test- all came back negative. Any ideas as to what is wrong with our dog?

Answer: Skin diseases are divided up into itching and non-itching types, so I really need more information. If he is itching, the most common cause of the hair loss you describe is flea allergy dermatitis. You do not always see the fleas, and some dogs are so sensitive that it only takes a single bite to cause the hair loss. If he is on good flea control, and you are sure there is not a problem with fleas, the second most common problem is allergies. If it is seasonal, it is most likely an allergy to pollens. If he is an inside dog, it can occur year round, since he can be allergic to house dust mites.

If the problem is not seasonal, then there is a possibility that he is allergic to some protein component of his food. To find this out for sure he has to be on a STRICT exclusion diet for at least two months. During this time he is to eat only one protein source, and cannot get commercial dog treats or any table scraps or leftovers. Many people will allow their dog to get into something unknown during the test and then declare that the test did not work.

If your dog is not itching at all, then the hypothyroid test should be repeated. Make sure that the TSH is measured too.

If nothing else comes up, I would suggest that you consult with a dermatologist at a local referral hospital or veterinary college.

Question: My dog is a Weimaraner mix; she is losing long hair but has short hair (darker color) coming in where she’s losing long hair. Any idea?

Answer: There are several possibilities. If your dog is very young, this might just be a seasonal change. Nothing to worry about.

If she is older, and this is the first time this has happened, you have to decide whether she is itching or not. If not, a hormonal cause is most likely (hypothyoroidism). If she is itching, there may be a parasite problem.

This cannot be diagnoses without an exam. If this problem continues make an appointment with your regular vet and have her examined.

Question: Why is my old dog is developing warts on his back?

Answer: Skin changes are normal age-related changes in senior dogs. The hair becomes thinner, the skin becomes darker in some breeds, and it is very common to grow small "warts" on the back.

If any of them are growing fast or have irregular edges, they should be examined by your regular vet and possibly removed. Old dogs can develop cancer of the skin.

Question: My dog had puppies about four weeks ago. She's not regaining weight, and she's losing a lot of hair. What could be wrong?

Answer: You should take a stool sample to your local vet and have your dog checked for worms. If your dog is infected, which she probably is at this point, she and the puppies all need to be dewormed.

Question: My five-year-old Pomeranian started losing patches of hair. He just started on thyroid. It hasn't helped yet, and is getting worse. What can I do?

Answer: Hypothyroidism usually causes hair loss along the bottom of the neck, along the belly, and in a few other areas. The dog does not scratch. Is your Pom itching?

If he is not, and he really is hypothyroid, all you can do is continue the thyroid hormone treatment prescribed by your vet. Your dog may have another hormonal problem going on at the same time though so he may need to be tested for other problems, like Cushing disease.

If you are not happy with the diagnosis and treatment from your regular vet, you can ask for a referral to a dermatologist in your city or in your states vet college. It may cost more for the proper diagnosis and treatment.

Question: My six year old Pom has coarse hair and comes back differently in areas?

Answer: Have you taken your Pom to the vet so that he can have his thyroid levels checked? Are there other signs present, like a hanging belly? Your dog may have hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease, or any other serious hormonal problem. This is not an emergency but get him checked out as soon as you can.

© 2014 Dr Mark

Your dog's hair loss cannot be diagnosed over the internet, but if you have any questions, I will be glad to help.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 04, 2020:

Yomaris--have you taken your Shnauzer for an exam by your local vet? It may be Schnauzer Comedo Syndrome, and he or she will diagnose it during the exam. It may be a fungal infection, local, and can be diagnosed at the exam.

Yomaris on September 02, 2020:

Hello, I have a miniature schnauzer who’s 5 years old and his back is really itchy and as result of his itching he has two patches where he has no hair, I checked for fleas and it isn’t that but one of the bald spots is becoming scaly, what can it be?

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 03, 2020:

Madison, that is not enough info to diagnose the problem. She will need to go to your regular vet as it may be a fungus or many other things.

Madison butler on August 01, 2020:

My dog has a bald circle spot on her belly and she itches a lot and but if we give her tick spray and flea spray but nothing works

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on April 17, 2020:

Elizabeth, that cannot be over the internet. You will need to take your APBT in for an exam, check for fungus, maybe even a biopsy.

Rose Ann Hosking on April 13, 2020:

the hair loss around her bottom and back legs hae been going on for a while we take her to the vet get meds but when the meds finish the rash comes back with the itchy bum she is happy and loves walking and eating there is no fleas regards Rose Ann

Elizabeth Peraza on April 13, 2020:

my 12 yr old Albino APBT started showing hailoss issues plugg hair loss with brown like stains and moth eating hair patches on her crown, what is it

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 20, 2020:

Brett, the most common cause of hair loss at the base of the tail is fleas. Is your dog itching?

Brett on March 14, 2020:

I have a 8 year old red nose pit she is a house dog and is losing her hair on her tail what can this be

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 04, 2020:

Meghyn--that is not impossible but is very unlikely. The more common reason would be hormonal. Get your dog checked out by your regular vet and have his thyroid levels checked.

Nadine on March 04, 2020:

My sisters dog has been years with bad skin and he has no hair on all of his body. His face only has hair and front 2 legs. She will not take him to the vet grrr! What can I do to help his skin it looks so bad like it’s eczema or something? Please help

Meghyn on March 03, 2020:

My dog (a Doberman Pit mix-almost 2 y/o), is having hair thinning around his ears, elbows, eyes, head, and belly. Mostly the ears and leg joints. He is not itchy, but seems a little depressed, could hair loss be caused by emotional problems? He wasn’t recently separated from his best friend.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on February 09, 2020:

Wendy, focal hair loss like you are describing is pretty common after an injury. It is just scar tissue, the hair follicles do not come back and it is nothing to worry about. (My senior Pitbull has a spot like that on one of her rear legs. She was hit by a car as a puppy and the road rash area never grew back.)

Wendy on February 08, 2020: