Why Is My Dog Losing Hair?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM June 18, 2020
Your dog has always been a big shedder. But recently, it seems like there is much more to vacuum up at the end of the day. Is it just seasonal or could it be something else? When you take a closer look at your dog you start to notice the bald spots and the clumps of hair on your carpet. While some amount of hair loss is normal, it’s important to know when to seek a veterinarian’s advice.
Why Is My Dog Losing Hair?
There are many reasons for hair loss. Hair loss can be attributed to natural reasons or more serious health and dietary issues. Seasonal shedding is natural as oppose to hair loss from poor nutrition, disease, parasites, or inflammation. If your dog is losing more hair than normal, see your veterinarian to help determine why.
Reasons For Dog Hair Loss
All dogs experience hair loss, and it’s usually not a cause for concern. In fact, there are some very natural reasons for a dog to lose hair. Part of the normal hair growth cycle includes death of the hair shaft that then has to be shed in order to make room for a new hair. That’s what shedding is all about. Seasonal shedding is especially prominent because your dog is trying to get rid of all those extra winter hairs that have done their duty and now needs to make room for a sleeker summer coat.
Hair loss, or hairlessness, may also be natural for some dog breeds. Ever see a Chinese Crested? Other breeds, like Chihuahuas, greyhounds, dachshunds, and whippets, may naturally lose hair on their chest, belly, thighs, and in front of their ears. This is due to genetics and there is no real treatment.
However, there are also some very unnatural reasons that a dog loses hair. These reasons are:
Hair loss in dogs can be caused by mange and fleas. Mange comes in two main forms: demodectic and sarcoptic. Demodectic mange mites are normal inhabitants of your dog’s skin that cause problems when their populations get too high. They live in the hair follicles, and if there’s a mite in there, then the hair falls out.
Sarcoptic mange, on the other hand, is a very contagious form that can also be transmitted to humans. It is very itchy and causes a pup to scratch and rub so much that their hair breaks off and falls out.
Both types of mange typically show up as hair loss starting around the eyes and nose, with patchy hair loss moving across the body if left untreated. Mange is typically treated with a topical or oral anti-parasiticide.
Dogs can be allergic to any number of things, including foods, grasses, pollen, cleaning chemicals, and fleas. Allergies are always itchy, leading to hair loss from excessive rubbing and scratching. There is often a red bumpy rash left on the hairless or thinly haired areas as well. Allergies can be tough to treat, as it is often tough to pinpoint the exact allergic culprit. Treatments include symptomatic relief with antihistamines and anti-inflammatories to stop the itching and burning if the allergen can’t be completely removed.
Fortunately, hair loss due to a nutritional deficiency is pretty uncommon these days. That’s because most commercial dog foods are complete and balanced with everything your dog needs. Troubles may come when you try to feed your pup a homemade diet that is lacking in something, mainly protein. This may cause your dog to either lose more hair or for hair to grow back more slowly. Either way, bald patches, a thinning hair coat, or dry brittle hair may show up if your dog’s diet is lacking in something.
Ringworm and bacteria have a way of causing hair loss in infected skin. Inflammation from a hot spot may also cause hair loss in the specific area. All of these infections will initially show up with patchy hair loss with or without itching and redness. Ringworm may appear scaly and can be transmitted to you. Bacterial infections may ooze pus and have a foul odor. Hot spots may appear swollen and bloody. Any skin infection should be checked by your veterinarian to get the proper treatment.
Hormones are responsible for nearly every process in your dog’s body. Too much or too little of some of them can even lead to hair loss. Diseases like hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s) occur when there is too little thyroid hormone and too much steroid respectively being produced. Both of these diseases can show up as hair loss along both sides of your dog’s body. This hair loss is due to suppression of hair regrowth. Dogs with either one of these diseases may also show up with weight gain, lethargy, or a change in appetite. Always see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Anything that causes your dog to itch and scratch all day and all night can cause hair loss. We’ve touched on some already, but other itches would include insect bites, hair mats or tangles, and foreign objects.
Certain cancers, mainly cutaneous lymphoma and metastatic cancers can cause hair loss. This may or may not be itchy or irritable. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose either of these with a biopsy.
Clipper alopecia can occur in those double-coated dog breeds like Huskies and Malamutes. I’ve even seen it in Border Collies. Clipping for grooming or surgery can leave permanent bald spots or at least slow the regrowth of the hair. There is no treatment.
Which Dog Breeds Shed The Most?
As we’ve already found out, shedding is a natural process for every dog. No hair lives forever, and shedding is the only way to get rid of dead hairs to make room for new ones. With this in mind, it would make sense that the thicker a dog’s hair coat, the more they would shed, right? That mostly holds true, but there are some thinner-haired breeds that do their fair of shedding as well.
Heavy shedding breeds include: Labrador Retrievers, Akitas, Huskies, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Great Pyrenees, St. Bernards, and Malamutes, or any mix of these. These dogs require regular brushing to help remove the thick undercoat to prevent mats.
Which Dog Breeds Shed The Least?
There is truly no dog breed that doesn’t shed, it just doesn’t happen unless they are completely hairless. However, there are some breeds that shed remarkably less than others. Some of those breeds include: poodles, Yorkies, Bichon Frises, Chihuahuas, Maltese, Dachshunds, greyhounds, whippets, and, of course, the Chinese Crested. While these breeds may not lose as much hair as others, they still need frequent grooming to prevent tangles.
Does Diet Have An Effect On Dog Hair Loss?
We’ve already discussed the connection between dietary deficiencies and hair loss. A dog diet that is lacking in necessary nutrients, especially protein, will have slower hair growth since protein is a major component of a hair shaft. But protein isn’t the only nutrient that is important to your dog’s hair coat. Omega fatty acids are what give their fur the shine and softness that we all desire. A lack of omega fatty acids can lead to dry, brittle hair that breaks and falls out. Vitamins and minerals are also important in keeping the skin healthy so that it can support healthy hair.
When Is Dog Hair Loss A Sign Of A Bigger Problem?
Again, shedding is normal. Seasonal blow-outs when you could make a second dog out of the shed hair is normal. Abnormal hair loss is when the hair comes out in clumps, if there is excessive itching or inflammation of the skin involved, or if there is any other change in your dog’s behavior or eating habits. Shedding shouldn’t cause your dog’s skin to be red or itchy or make them lethargic or lose their appetite.
Home Remedies For Dog Hair Loss
For natural shedding, the best treatment is frequent brushing. This helps remove dead hair when and where you want it. Brushing can remove mats and tangles before they become an issue. It also helps spread the natural skin oils throughout the hair coat to give it a glossy shine and softness. Moreover, grooming is a great way to detect hot spots, sores, or hairless areas so problems can be checked while they’re still small.
For other causes of hair loss, make sure you are giving a regular anti-parasiticide. Fortunately, most of our flea and heartworm combination medications also treat mites, so you’re covered there. If your dog has allergies that cause them to scratch uncontrollably, you can try eliminating the allergen if you know what it is. Oatmeal baths may also provide some relief.
Veterinary Treatments For Dog Hair Loss
Most abnormal causes of hair loss in dogs are going to need a veterinary diagnosis and treatment plan. For hair loss that can’t be explained by shedding or genetics, your vet may take skin scrapings or biopsies, as well as do a thorough exam and history. Some hair loss issues, like Cushing’s, will require blood work as well.
Treatment will depend on the condition and may include anti-parasiticides for mange and fleas, antibiotics or antifungals for skin infections, and anti-inflammatories or antihistamines for allergies. Your vet may recommend a different diet or supplements for nutritional deficiencies.
Hormonal hair loss will require blood tests as well as medications to control the hormones. Hypothyroidism is often well treated by giving thyroid hormone, and Cushing’s may require surgery or a medication that blocks the production of cortisol.
Some of the conditions that lead to hair loss in dogs require on-going treatment and frequent re-checks to get under control. That is why it’s so important to catch these things early on to improve your dog’s outcome and treatment plan.
All dogs lose hair; it’s just a fact of dog life. The amount that they lose or the way in which they lose it can depend on a number of things, including breed and other health conditions. Anytime your dog is losing more hair than normal, or if they are experiencing other issues with hair loss, then see your veterinarian. They can help your dog through hair loss issues and in no time bring them back to having a soft and shiny hair coat that you just can’t keep your hands off of.