Hair loss in dogs – 7 common causes of alopecia

1st May 2018

Alopecia is a medical term used to describe abnormal hair loss. It’s a common problem that can cause the animal to have partial, or in extreme cases, complete hair loss. It can affect dogs of all ages, breed and sex, and if it’s happened to one of your pets, you may want to read on.

Look for the signs

  • Bald patches – these areas may be initially insignificant, but soon you’ll notice thinning of the hair, eventually turning into a distinct bald patch.
  • Poor condition – the coat will often lose its natural lustre and condition. Sometimes the hair is dry, greasy and has flakes of skin.
  • Symmetrical – there are several forms of alopecia in dogs which will typically present equally on both sides. Some dogs will develop bald patches, of similar size and shape, on both sides of the body.
  • Itchy skin – hair loss can occur with and without irritation. If your pet is licking and scratching, it’s time to take a closer look.

What causes alopecia?

There are many potential causes of alopecia in dogs, so it’s essential that we make an accurate diagnosis to be able to treat your pet successfully. The most common causes of alopecia in dogs are listed below, along with suggestions on how to identify and treat them. 

  1. Parasites - fleas, ticks, mites and lice will live quite happily on your dog unless you take action. The parasites will usually cause inflammatory reactions on the skin as they bite and feed, leading to pruritus (itchiness) and hair loss. Prevention is better than cure, so start early with safe effective flea and tick control treatment. Ask us for more information on what we recommend.
  1. Allergies – many dogs will develop a hypersensitivity to common substances or plants in and around the home. Some of the most common reactions result in itchy skin, scratching and fur loss. Allergic reactions such as these can be managed in the short term with antihistamines, but we will need to find the cause. Spring is one of the more common times of year for these problems to show, so if your pet has started itching and losing fur, call us now. At Bollington Veterinary Centre we can also run skin and blood tests to check for a wide range of common allergens.
  1. Skin infections – a superficial pyoderma is a common form of bacterial skin disease in dogs. It usually presents as small patches of hair loss with a ring of white dry skin around the lesion. You may also notice nodules with or without pus, scaling, redness and hot spots. If you find patchy hair loss, let us take a look. We may need to prescribe a course of antibiotics and some medicated shampoos.
  1. Fungal infections – there are two fungal infections we see regularly at Bollington Veterinary Centre. Malassezia infections often produce hair loss and a very noticeable unpleasant smell. Ringworm (Dermatophytosis) will usually cause patchy hair loss, and can be spread to humans, so beware!
  1. Hormones – there are a number of endocrine (hormone) disorders that can result in alopecia. Hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease and testicular tumours can all lead to hair loss in the dog. All of these conditions can be potentially serious and require medical or surgical treatment. They’ll often cause a symmetrical form of hair loss without itchiness, so if you’ve notice this developing, do let us know.
  1. Stress - just like in people, dogs can suffer from stress, and if exposed to a high level of stress for a prolonged period of time, they may begin to lose hair. The good news is that the coat will usually grow back when the cause of the stress is removed. There are also several treatments that may be able to help short term with the symptoms of stress. Book and appointment with us to talk this through.
  1. Self-inflicted trauma - hair loss caused by chronic licking of the fur is common. The skin can become inflamed very quickly, and we sometimes refer to these as ‘hot spots’. Some dogs are more prone to these than others, such as the Golden Retriever and Springer Spaniel. They generally need treatment to stop them spreading.
Is your dog itching, scratching and losing hair? Call us now