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what your dog’s hair loss says about their health

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

Hair loss (or alopecia) in dogs can be more than just an unsightly nuisance — it could signal an underlying issue. From contagious conditions to hormone imbalances, illnesses that cause hair loss can affect your dog’s overall health. So let your vet know right away if the fur starts flying!


at the skin of it


Your vet will want to do a few tests to get the skinny on your dog’s hair loss and rule out contagious things first – because some of those things can spread to you and your two-legged family! Be prepared to share a history of the problem, like if your pet’s itchy, how long it’s been going on and whether there’s a seasonal component.


There are a number of causes for alopecia in dogs, and some are more nail-biting than others. Hair loss can be categorized in one of four ways:


  • Self-trauma
  • Inflammatory
  • Immune mediated
  • Non-inflammatory, non-itchy


fighting the fur


Self-trauma hair loss occurs because your pet just can’t stop scratching or chewing. Allergies, fleas and other parasites can all be intensely itchy, and all of that scratching takes a toll on the fur. Some pets are burdened with behavioral issues that involve excessive licking or grooming that results in hair loss, too.


red all over


Bacterial infection is a common inflammatory cause of hair loss, and it often goes paw in paw with inhaled allergies and flea allergy dermatitis. Mites, like those that cause demodectic and sarcoptic mange, as well as the fungal organisms that cause ringworm can also cause hair loss. Sarcoptic mange (scabies) and ringworm can spread to humans, so you’ll want to get this under control ASAP if it’s the cause of your pet’s hair loss.


under attack


Immune mediated alopecia occurs when the body’s immune system targets the hair follicles for no good reason. While this is rare, we do see it from time to time. Pemphigus and alopecia areata are good examples of this kind of illness.


no burning, no itching


There are a number of reasons for non-inflammatory, non-itchy hair loss:


  • Endocrine-related: hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease), hypothyroidism, sex hormone imbalance
  • Hair cycle arrest: Alopecia X, telogen deflexion, post-clipping alopecia
  • Follicular dysplasia: color dilution alopecia, seasonal flank alopecia
  • Pattern baldness or congenital baldness


For some of the non-inflammatory, non-itchy causes of alopecia, the hair loss is purely cosmetic. It doesn’t affect your pet negatively other than exposing them more to the elements, so take the proper precautions given the weather (sunscreen in the summer, coat in the winter) to keep them protected.


For other causes, you’ll want to sniff out and follow your vet’s advice. Many of these conditions can be managed, and once the underlying cause is at bay, your pet’s fur will make a comeback over time.


In the meantime, you can encourage a healthy coat in your pet by feeding a nutritionally balanced diet, supplementing their meals with omega-3 fatty acids and keeping them protected against fleas, ticks and other parasites.

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