The loss of hair in dogs, also known as alopecia, is a common occurrence and does not necessarily point to an ailment. However, if the hair loss is too sudden and too rapid, there should be a cause for concern and a quick visit to the vet would help.
Hair loss in dogs follows certain patterns and these patterns are particularly important because they aid in the diagnosis of the alopecia. Some of the patterns include;
i. Hair loss around the ears
ii. Hair loss on the abdomen
iii. Hair loss around the neck
iv. Bald patches on the legs
v. Hair loss at the sides
Causes of Alopecia
Alopecia is usually caused by:
Humans are a lot similar to animals particularly in the aspect of allergies. When our body does not do well with a foreign object, it lashes out in bouts of inflammation and other reactions that range from mild to severe.
This is the same for dogs. Allergies leading to loss of hair in dogs come in three distinct ways.
Contaminants in the environment are a great cause of allergic reactions in dogs. Pollen and molds when ingested could lead to reactions that inevitably lead to hair loss.
While dogs are not known to be very picky eaters, certain foods they might not be used to could cause allergic reactions in them.
Therefore, it is very important to watch the reactions of the dog after trying out a portion of the new food.
This is because the severity of the allergic reaction is highly dependent on the amount or concentration of allergens ingested in as food.
When dogs are exposed to certain parasites particularly fleas and mites, they are prone to allergic reactions. Bites from fleas and mites make dogs so itchy so much so that they scratch off their hair in the process.
Hair loss usually accompanied by inflammations, skin redness and itchiness are highly indicative of infection or an infestation from a parasite or bacteria. Fleas and mites are the most common parasites associated with hair loss.
Infestations by ringworm are also associated with alopecia, they cause hair loss in a circular pattern. Infection by the staphylococcus aureus bacteria also causes hair loss symptoms likened to that of the ringworm infection.
Hair loss as a result of infections is seen in certain parts of the body like the ears, stomach, eyes, and chest.
Fungal infections are also a very common cause particularly the yeast infection caused by the candida fungus. Low immunity and cold weather conditions are predisposing factors for fungal infections.
Shedding of fur is a kind of hair loss that is beneficial to the dog. Naturally, when the fur becomes too old and loses its coloration, it falls off and is replaced. This is totally normal and requires no cause for alarm.
Unlike other hair loss causes that is usually accompanied by swelling, itchiness, and redness of the skin, this kind is not accompanied by any reaction.
In the winter certain breeds of dogs grow a lot more fur than normal, this is an adaptive mechanism to help them cope with the extremely cold weather conditions.
However, during spring you would find that such dogs undergo a rapid and sudden shedding of fur in a bid to help them cope with the new weather condition.
Even though this form of shedding is completely normal, it is reduced if the animal stays in an environment that experiences moderate climate changes.
The skin is the largest organ of a dog’s body and not surprisingly, a lot of nutrients are targeted towards nourishing the skin.
Lack of adequate nutrients in the dog’s diet would cause an imbalance and a reduction in the nutrients available for use.
As expected, this will result in the nutrients being solely used for the activities of the internal body system leaving the external system to be left malnourished. One of the most prominent markers of a malnourished dog is hair loss.
Dogs require proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, water, and vitamins. Skimping out on one or more of these nutrients can lead to effects like hair loss.
At certain phases in the life of a dog, there are some nutrients they require more than others.
The diet requirements of a puppy are different from that of a full-grown dog and the same goes for a convalescent dog. It is best to speak to your vet for a dietary regime to help you better care for your dog.
Hormonal conditions vary in animals and a lot of times, they contribute to hair loss. For the male dogs, when they get neutered, the decrease in testosterone resulting from the process might cause hair loss in some cases.
Also, female dogs undergo hormonal imbalances during pregnancy mostly because the hair follicles go into the resting phase during the period of pregnancy.
Apart from that, the body of the pregnant female directs nutrients away from the skin and towards the internal body to reserve more energy for the puppies.
Here are a few hormonal conditions that lead to alopecia
This arises as a result of prolonged exposure to increased or excessive levels of the cortisol hormone. It is mostly seen in middle-aged to older dogs and is prevalent in dogs that take an excess of corticosteroid drugs.
Hair loss associated with bloated abdomen, weakness, insomnia and darkening of the skin is highly indicative of Cushing’s disease.
This is also referred to as black skin disease and it is caused due to sex hormones imbalance. Hair loss here is seen on the neck, thigh, tail, and trunk.
The disease often presents itself with a depletion in melatonin production which leads to the blackening of the skin of the affected animal. The hormonal imbalance seen in this disease causes the hair follicles to go into the resting phase.
Since this is mainly a cosmetic disease that does not prove to be a threat against the wellbeing of the animal, veterinarians usually focus on the re-stimulating of hair follicles which could be done by using vitamins.
This is the direct opposite of Cushing’s disease. Here, the adrenal glands of the dog produce a reduced amount of corticosteroid hormones.
This occurs when dogs place too much pressure on a particular part of their body particularly their elbow and other bony joints. Pressure sores could develop when they continually press their bodies into hard surfaces.
That area of the skin turns scaly and hair loss in such cases is very common. This is very normal and is usually not accompanied by an underlying medical condition.
You just should be observant, if the dog’s sleeping space is a bit too hard, you could replace it with more comfortable bedding arrangements.
Pressure sores are mostly found in older dogs and even though they are normal, they aren’t to be ignored because they often cause tearing in the skin.
The tear in the skin might provide an avenue for infections to plague the animal and if left untreated, could be lethal.
Hair loss could also occur due to genetics. The desirability of bald dogs is on the rise and as a result, hairless dogs like the American hairless terrier and the Chinese crested dogs are bred with other dogs. For this reason, hair loss in such offspring is quite normal.
Genetic diseases also contribute. For example, the canine follicular dysplasia is a genetic disease associated with hair loss.
This disease occurs as a result of malfunctioning hair follicles due to a deformity or abnormality in the structure of these follicles.
Because great difficulty is encountered in treating this disease, and since it is not accompanied by any other disease or underlying condition, much concern is not given over it.
Canine follicular dysplasia is of several types namely: Structural follicular dysplasia, Atrophic follicular dysplasia, and cyclic follicular dysplasia.
As humans, when we get stressed, we do a variety of things to soothe and calm ourselves. Dogs are the same in this respect as they violently scratch their bodies and lick their paws to soothe themselves.
This is not exactly a bad habit, but the scratching of their body parts leads to injuries and sudden hair loss.
Dogs get stressed for a plethora of reasons, it could be separation from a puppy, separation from the owner, a move to a new home, bringing home a new dog and so many other reasons.
The stress also comes with anxiety which could make them soothe themselves by scratching and licking.
Dog behaviorists are recommended to help you deal with this situation especially if it goes on for an extended period. Pheromone sprays also come in handy here as they help the dog feel relaxed.
Prevention of Hair Loss
i. Regular grooming of dogs cannot be overemphasized in the fight against alopecia as it reinvigorates the skin and removes excess grease from the skin.
Excess grease on the skin causes irritations which inevitably lead to hair loss. Grooming is also very effective in removing bacteria from skin and hair follicles.
ii. We have already established that a lack of essential nutrients in dog feed is a cause of hair loss. Therefore, it is safe to say that you can prevent hair loss by ensuring that your dog feed contains all the necessary nutrients required for their growth and development.
If you are not sure about dietary requirements for your dog, a trip to the vet would help straighten things out for you. Supplements are also very helpful in nourishing dogs, particularly for convalescent dogs.
iii. For pregnant females, it is ideal that their diet is filled with adequate and essential nutrients to help them cope with the hassles of pregnancy.
iv. Whether your dog stays in the house or has a little space outside, always make it a point to disinfect where it stays as well as bedding materials, feeding bowls and so on.
This will help eliminate infections that could also lead to hair loss.
v. Regular check-ups are a must, they help assess the health status of your dog.
vi. Do not expose dogs to extreme weather conditions. If it’s too cold, take steps to keep them warm, if it’s too hot, take steps to reduce their temperature. Extreme changes in weather are predisposing factors to hair loss.
Overall, you would need to be extremely attentive to your dog to know what to do and at what time.
Keep in mind that hair loss is often a diagnostic symptom of many ailments and so it isn’t something you should see as trivial especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms.
Home care techniques are not exactly recommended for the treatment of hair loss if you are not a vet. Since there are a lot of causes of alopecia, there is no exact treatment, rather there are a variety of treatments against hair loss.
The first step is to see a licensed veterinarian who would diagnose the cause and show you what to do. Surgery may be required in some cases or it could just be oral therapy.
Treatment depends on the cause, if it’s an allergic reaction, antihistamines are in order. For hormonal imbalances, drugs containing the hormones that are lacking should be administered. Flea and insect control could be used for cases of flea infestation.
Just like birds need to fly, dogs need to shed. Hair loss is proven to be medically important as it shows the growth and development of a dog (when it is not accompanied by any other symptom).
It is also a diagnostic symptom of many diseases. You can never be too sure, if you see signs of hair loss on your dog, make a visit to the vet.
This video explains how to treat hair loss in dogs and other useful advice.