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Alopecia In Dogs: Is Your Dog Losing More Hair Than Usual?


Last Updated: April 21, 2023 | 5 min read | Leave a Comment

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We all know that dogs shed their fur — we find it often enough on our clothes and furniture. But what if your dog’s coat is starting to look a bit patchy, or there are small bald spots on your dog? Hair loss in dogs is known as alopecia. Let’s explore some of the causes of alopecia in dogs, the diagnostic tests, and some treatment options your veterinarian might suggest.

What Is Alopecia In Dogs?

Alopecia means hair loss, either because the hair has failed to grow or it has fallen out. This can affect any part of the body and ranges from small bald spots (sometimes known as alopecia areata in dogs) to widespread areas. ‘Can dogs get alopecia?’ is a common question, but alopecia occurs in other species, too, including humans.

Why Do Dogs Get Alopecia?

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Alopecia can occur because of damage to the hair follicles, which usually happens due to trauma, inflammation, or infection. It can also occur because of underlying hormonal issues and other conditions.

Alopecia in dogs is not often due to an inherited genetic condition (dogs don’t tend to have it from birth — unlike some people). Instead, it’s often secondary to an underlying health condition.

What Are Possible Causes?

There are many different causes of alopecia in dogs. Most of them are treatable with the correct medication. However, some conditions can be a bit more complicated. Here are some of the common causes and types of alopecia in dogs:

1. Parasites

Dog with mange sleeping on sofa (caption: dog mange symptoms & treatments)

Mange mites can cause hair loss. Both demodectic mange and sarcoptic mange can cause bald patches and areas of inflamed skin. Fleas can also cause problems, particularly if your dog suffers from flea allergic dermatitis (FAD). An exaggerated reaction to flea bites can lead to skin inflammation and intense nibbling and scratching, which can all cause fur loss.

2. Fungal Or Bacterial Infections

Fungal infections like ringworm (dermatophytosis) can cause areas of hair loss along with scaling or crusting of the skin, but ringworm is not usually itchy. Ringworm is one of the more common causes of small bald spots in dogs. Veterinarians usually make a diagnosis based on fungal culture results from samples of fur and skin. Ringworm is zoonotic, meaning that people can catch it, so if you have any unusual areas of skin yourself, then you should speak to your doctor.

Bacterial infections can cause damage to the skin and hair follicles, leading to pyoderma. Nibbling or scratching due to inflammation can also further lead to alopecia.

3. Skin Reactions Or Trauma

Some animals react to topical treatments like flea medications, especially if they have very sensitive skin. This can lead to a patch of hair loss. Trauma to the skin caused by burns or scars from surgery can also damage hair follicles, leading to bald areas.

4. Seasonal Alopecia

Dog sitting next to bottle of Melatonin (caption: Melatonin For Dogs)

This cause is cosmetic rather than involving underlying health concerns. With seasonal alopecia, thinning or loss of fur occurs on one or both sides of dogs (on their flanks). So, this condition is also known as seasonal flank alopecia in dogs. It often occurs in the winter months, with the skin itself remaining healthy. It’s most commonly seen in breeds like Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, and English Bulldogs and is thought to be due to an underlying hormonal issue.

Since seasonal alopecia doesn’t cause pain or distress, vets generally don’t recommend treatment. However, some claim that melatonin can help in some cases. Check out the video below to see what seasonal flank alopecia looks like.

5. Alopecia X

Alopecia X usually presents as symmetrical hair loss on the dog’s body, tail, and neck. Your dog’s skin might appear darker than usual too. This is a cosmetic issue and doesn’t cause your dog any discomfort. The condition is rare, with the exact cause still unknown, but it’s likely due to unbalanced sex hormone levels.

6. Pattern Baldness

Is your dog losing hair on his head? Then he could have a type of alopecia called pattern baldness. This type of alopecia most frequently affects Chihuahuas, Boston Terriers, Whippets, and Bull Terriers. Thinning of the fur around the ears, head, and neck is common. There are no dog hair loss solutions for this. However, it doesn’t cause the dog any discomfort and doesn’t appear to be itchy.

7. Hormonal Causes

Endocrine Hypothyroidism

Endocrine hypothyroidism can affect your dog’s coat, causing non-itchy symmetrical endocrine alopecia. This underproduction of thyroid hormones can cause other symptoms, too, such as weight gain and lethargy.

Cushing’s Disease

Dog with cushing's disease on vet table (Caption: What Is Cushing's Disease?)

Another hormone-driven cause of alopecia is Cushing’s disease. Also known as hyperadrenocorticism, this condition is caused by the overproduction of steroid hormones in the body.

This causes side effects, including thinning of the skin, hair loss, a pot-bellied appearance, and changes in appetite and thirst. Both hormone issues are diagnosed through blood tests and can be managed with medication.

8. Testicular Tumors

Dog being held by vet (Caption: Benefits Of Spaying & Neutering Dogs)

Sertoli cell tumors are a less common explanation but tend to be found in male dogs with retained (undescended) testicles (aka cryptorchidism).

This tumor causes hormonal changes leading to alopecia, darkening of the skin, and enlargement of the mammary glands. Surgical removal of the testicles usually resolves symptoms.

Diagnosing Alopecia In Dogs

Your veterinarian will start by examining your dog’s overall health, as well as his skin. This may give your vet clues about underlying conditions like hypothyroidism or a Sertoli cell tumor. Your vet may also recommend blood tests to gauge your dog’s health and organ functions, as well as specific tests to look at hormonal conditions.

Depending on these initial findings, your vet may recommend taking samples of your dog’s skin for culture in the case of suspected ringworm or pyoderma. Skin scrapes also allow your vet to examine for parasites like mange mites. Your vet may also need biopsies of your dog’s skin, which involves cutting small pieces of the skin to send for lab analysis.

Alopecia In Dogs Treatment

Brown dog laying on the ground looking at skin issue on back (Caption: Alopecia In Dogs)

You might now be wondering how to treat hair loss in dogs. Well, the treatment for dog alopecia depends on what caused it in the first place.

There’s no specific dog shampoo for hair loss. Instead, any topical treatments advised are usually aimed at clearing up infections and helping to generally improve the condition of the skin.

If the hair loss occurred due to a parasite infestation then anti-parasite products will be prescribed by your vet. For fungal infections, special shampoos and oral medication may be prescribed. Pyoderma (bacterial infections) are often treated with medicated shampoos too. Oral antibiotics may also be required.

For hormonal conditions, your vet may prescribe medications to treat the problem. Animals with hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease require ongoing treatment. Neutering is recommended for dogs with Sertoli cell tumors and may be helpful with alopecia X as well.

It’s worth bearing in mind that some cases of alopecia are cosmetic, so treatment is not always warranted (as in the case of seasonal flank alopecia). Melatonin may be useful in a few of these cases but your veterinarian can advise you further.

Are There Home Remedies?

As mentioned before, there’s usually an underlying cause, so dog hair loss treatment revolves around getting a diagnosis for the underlying problem. You should always seek professional advice rather than just googling ‘alopecia in dogs cure,’ as many home remedies could be ineffective. There’s no single home remedy for alopecia in dogs — only your vet can help you understand how to fix alopecia in dogs, as each case is different.

Can It Be Stopped And Reversed?

The prognosis for dogs with alopecia is usually good, especially when diagnosed and treated promptly. Resolving any underlying problems like infections or hormonal issues usually leads to resolution of the alopecia and the fur starts to regrow.

If your dog has a slightly more unusual cause like alopecia X, then this tends to be a cosmetic issue. So while it may be harder to treat the hair loss, rest assured that your dog is comfortable. He also probably doesn’t care what he looks like, even if you do.

Does Your Dog Have Other Skin Problems?

Is your dog’s skin frequently itchy, rashy, scabby, or bumpy? Dogs suffer from a host of skin problems that don’t always cause hair loss. If this sounds like your pup, he could be suffering from skin allergies from something in his food or environment. Skin infections are also common in dogs, so you may want to know the signs of infection and when it’s time to see your vet.

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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