While working in the clinic the other day, a very interesting and not-to-common case walked through the door. It was a three year old Standard Poodle, let’s call him Hairless, and his very concerned owner, Mr. Worry-Wart. Recently, Mr. Worry-Wart had noticed that Hairless was losing the hair on his ears and tail, and that it seemed to be spreading to the top of his head and the sides of his body. Mr. Worry-Wart had also noticed that Hairless’ hair coat seemed to be drier and more brittle than usual. Hairless wasn’t scratching at himself; in fact, he didn’t seem at all bothered by the hair loss. Mr. Worry-Wart didn’t know what to think of poor Hairless’ conundrum.
It turns out that Hairless was suffering from a hereditary condition called sebaceous adenitis. It is a condition that causes inflammation of the sebaceous glands (glands that are located just under your dog’s skin surface and secrete an oil called sebum that helps keep your dog’s skin/hair healthy). When these glands suffer inflammation, they don’t function properly and hair loss may result.
At this time, we don’t know exactly what causes sebaceous adenitis, although an immune-mediated component is suspected. It is believed to be a genetically inherited condition seen in many breeds. The most common breeds, to date, are the Standard Poodle, Boxer, Airedale terrier, Bulldog, Schnauzer, Doberman, Scottish terrier, German wirehaired pointer, Samoyed, Akita, Vizsla and Weimaraner.
It is a non-pruritic (i.e.: non-itchy) condition, although some animals may develop a secondary infection that can cause them to be itchy. Usually the hair loss occurs on the face/head, ears, neck, trunk and tail, and it is symmetrical. The remaining hair is often dry and brittle, and may lose its natural curl. Some animals will get a flakiness to the skin.
As there are a number of more common metabolic and skin conditions that can cause the above clinical signs, it can be a step-by-step process to diagnose sebaceous adenitis, and it can be costly if you do not have pet insurance. Your veterinarian will probably recommend a skin scrape and/or cytology, bloodwork (including a thyroid panel), and a skin biopsy. Please understand that this isn’t an overly common condition, so it is more likely that your veterinarian will find a different reason/cause of your dog’s symmetric hair loss (hence the need for the other testing).
Treatment involves specialized bathing routines with specially formulated sprays to apply to your dog’s skin coat, supplements, and treating any secondary bacterial/yeast infections. There are a few other medications (including some immune suppressing medications) that have been shown to be effective in some cases. As usual, your veterinarian and/or veterinary dermatologist is the best source for determining your own dog’s best course of treatment (breed, severity of hair loss, and concurrent clinical signs play a role in determining the best course of action). Fortunately, this isn’t a life threatening condition, but it does require life-long maintenance.
After running a few tests and sending out a skin biopsy, I was able to tell Mr. Worry-Wart that he needn’t worry too much. Hairless was afflicted with sebaceous adenitis, but with a few trial-and-errors with treatment protocols, we have managed to find a combination therapy that makes Hairless a bit of a misnomer for this pet!
To more waggin’ and purrin’. rwkj