It is not uncommon for a dog to suffer from alopecia, or hair thinning and loss. This condition is separate from the natural act of shedding fur. Shedding is when dogs naturally lose their old or damaged hair, with the amount and frequency depending on health and breed. Alopecia in dogs, or hair loss, is a common disorder that causes partial or complete dog hair loss. It can not only affect your pet's skin, but also their endocrine system, lymphatic system, and the immune system. Alopecia can affect dogs of all ages, breeds, and gender.
For the most part, dog hair loss will be very noticeable to owners, and it may show up in different patterns and shapes. It can be sporadic or symmetrical hair loss, or may be shown as bald circles. Both can be accompanied by crusting and inflammation of the dog's skin. In very rare cases, the dog may have scaling of the skin too.
What Causes Dog Hair Loss?
Hair loss in dogs may be caused by a multitude of reasons, including allergies, infections, and parasites. Depending on the underlying cause, canine alopecia may be accompanied by infection and irritation, along with possible reddening of the skin and the affected area. There are five most common causes of dog hair loss that pet owners will encounter, along with treatments and preventative measures that can assist in the care of your pooch.
Allergies are a common underlying cause of many symptoms experienced by dogs. They can act as a trigger for pet hair loss whenever the dog has an allergic reaction to their environment, foods, or parasites. Dogs often suffer from a flea allergy, which can lead to increased licking and biting of the irritated areas. The flea bite can create an allergic reaction that can last for days, providing the dog with an extended need to itch, scratch, lick, and irritate the already irritated skin, ultimately causing hair loss.
Discovering what the exact allergen can help prevent allergic reactions in dogs. If it is a food allergy, switch brands or food types, or try homemade recipes. If it is fleas, take preventative measures such as monthly flea medication; and if there is an infestation on the dog, wash your pooch using a flea shampoo along with giving him a flea removing oral medication that kills fleas in 2-8 hours. If it may be an environmental allergen, talk to the vet about starting allergy medication or shots to reduce their irritation.
2. Cushing’s Disease
Hyperadrenocorticism, or Cushing's Disease, is a condition caused by an overproduction of a hormone called cortisol, which helps dogs respond to stress and modulates the immune system. Dog hair loss is not the only symptom of Cushing's Disease – it is usually accompanied by a lack of energy, bruising, obesity, and increased hunger, thirst, urination, and panting. It mainly affects middle-aged to older dogs rather than puppies or adolescent dogs.
After the vet has officially determined that your pooch has Cushing's Disease, the treatment will vary by how severe the condition is. If it's caused by medication, they will slowly wean the dog off the medicine. When the dog is only experiencing mild symptoms, they will be monitored instead of treated immediately. If the dog's symptoms become worse, a vet will prescribe trilostane. This medication comes with dangerous side effects, which is why your veterinarian will wait until it is necessary to specify it rather than using it as a preventative measure.
Mange is an inflammatory disease caused by the Demodex mite. As the number of mites living in the hair follicles and skin of the dog increases, it can lead to lesions, infections, and dog hair loss. Mange can either be localized, only affecting specific areas of the dog's skin, or it can be generalized and affect the entirety of your pup's body. Usually, the mites inhabiting the surface of the dog do not change their hair or skin, but when the numbers grow out of control, it becomes damaging to their fur.
Mange does not require treatment when it is to a small degree. It will usually disappear on its own, doing so spontaneously. Whenever it reaches a severe stage, often when generalized and not sporadic, the vet will recommend long-term medications to control the condition. If the dog is a female, they should be spayed. Fluctuations in hormones can exacerbate the symptoms. Changing to high-quality dog food and a low-stress environment may be able to reduce flare-ups.
Ringworm is a fungal infection that lives and grows in the skin and hair follicles of infected dogs, occasionally also infecting the nails. The infection is normally only a surface infection and only affects a few areas of the dog’s body. Any dog can get ringworm, although it affects puppies, senior dogs, and immunocompromised dogs more intensely and can lead to widespread ringworm infections on their bodies. Ringworm is infectious and spreads through direct contact, contaminated objects, and people. Dog hair loss is one of the common symptoms of this condition.
Again, the treatment of this infection depends on its severity, making it a dog by dog case. The vet will usually determine the severity after a physical exam and a diagnostic test using a sample of your pet's hair and/or skin cells. Typically, the treatment process goes through three steps. First, topical therapy consisting of either a cream, ointment, or medicated shampoo will be suggested. Second, they will prescribe an anti-fungal oral medication to fight the infection. The third step consists of environmental decontamination. The removal and cleaning of all loose hairs found on couches, grooming tools, furniture, clothing, and bedding to remove the infectious spores.
5. Rashes and Hives
Insect bites and stings, plants, chemicals, shampoos, and medications can all cause rashes and hives on the dog's body, and then lead to alopecia in dogs. These can also include allergic rashes, which are separate from allergies. Allergic rashes and hives typically appear within hours and sometimes minutes of exposure while other symptoms may arise such as listlessness, fever, and vomiting. The site of the allergic rash/hive in dogs often goes bald, as the reaction causes the hair to fall out or be irritated until your pup chews it out.
Allergic rashes and hives require further treatment than simply removal of the allergens. This is often a reaction that needs immediate treatment from the vet to prevent a more substantial, full body condition.
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