Post clipping alopecia and poor hair regrowth in pets

By Patty Khuly, DVM on Dec. 13, 2009
Post clipping alopecia and poor hair regrowth in pets

If you dog or cat has had surgery, chances are there was also some hair removed to make room for the IV catheter, ultrasound, or surgery site. Now, all is well again, and the only sign of its ever having taken place is the wide swath of hair loss the clipper blades left behind in their wake … but that was six months ago.

Six months!

Clearly that’s not right, you say to yourself. Your vet might even shrug his or her shoulders, in the way we do when more pressing cases are demanding our attention (like the cat dying in the oxygen cage in the back).

So, no, it’s not a major health concern, but hair loss can be frustrating. I can relate. This is true even more so when it seems to last forever, and even more so when no one seems to be taking it seriously.

Hair loss like this is relatively common. So common we even have a name for it: "post-clipping alopecia."

Some pets are so afflicted their hair may not re-grow for 12-16 months — if ever. In these cases (I usually jump into it after a couple of months if the owner is concerned), there may be something truly wrong with the animal.

Hormone (endocrine) related alopecia is a complicating factor in many of these cases. Disorders like Cushings disease, hypothyroidism and sex hormone alopecia may be playing a role here. And if that’s the case it’s crucial to diagnose the condition for more than just the benefit of your pet’s lustrous haircoat.

Once tests have been properly performed to rule out significant contributing factors, and let’s say they come up negative, you’re stuck with even more frustration: Dangit! Why isn’t my pet’s fur growing back??

Many vets throw up their hands at this point. No harm no foul, right? If it’s not causing a big problem why worry about it? After all, that cat in the back needs more of my brain capacity right now.

I speak from experience. A family member’s arctic breed mix (arctic breeds, with their heavy coats, are overrepresented among post-clipping alopecia patients) had gone months without hair regrowth at a clipped site. They kept asking me for ideas — and I admit I had none after recommending the necessary bloodwork for endocrine disorders, and adding basic dietary supplements including fatty acids (which are great for skin and joints).

Finally, I decided to take on the Web, like most of you do. I discovered that melatonin might make a big difference (thank you Veterinary Information Network). Administering this supplement three times daily, starting with once daily dosing in the evenings (because it makes them sleepy, especially at first) comes highly recommended.

(In case you're interested, the melatonin dose is 3 to 6 mg once to three times daily (3 for a small dog, 6 for a big one and somewhere in between for a medium dog.)

Since then, hair regrowth has been progressing nicely. After months and months of hearing "what should I do?" at last I had something to offer.

Now, you may think my lack of knowledge is astounding (especially those of you who already had the ready solution to this problem in hand), but even vets can’t know everything about everything, right?

For post-clipping alopecia, as for many other seemingly minor conditions for which we cave to our hectic schedules and choose to focus on our "needier" patients, being the squeaky wheel helps. And begging for help on the Internet isn’t too shabby an option either, is it?

Dr. Patty Khuly


Patty Khuly, DVM


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