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Has your once furry dog begun losing hair at an abnormal rate? Has the shedding become so pronounced that there are visible bald spots on your dog? Dog hair loss, also known as alopecia, can be an issue for some dogs and the root of the problem can range from physical to psychological.

Here are a few common causes for hair loss in dogs that should be discussed with your veterinarian.

1. Allergies

Allergies in pets usually present as itchy skin, ears and feet that can quickly lead to infection. “When the skin’s natural environment is disrupted by constant scratching this allows bacteria and/or yeast to proliferate, causing a superficial infection,” says Ashley Gallagher, DVM. “This infection can itself cause further itching [in the dog] making the problem even worse. If you see red, irritated skin, small bumps, crusts on the skin or hair loss, this may indicate infection is present and a visit to the veterinarian is necessary.”

The triggers for allergies in dogs can include environmental triggers such as pollen, molds, dust mites or parasitic triggers such as fleas or mites. Food allergies are another possible cause of dog hair loss.

If your dog’s hair loss is determined to be due to allergies, the veterinarian will establish a course of treatment based on the underlying trigger. In the case of hair loss due to flea allergies, for example, he or she may recommend that your dog take flea preventatives as a way to minimize threats of a full-blown flea infestation. 

2. Cushing's Disease

Hyperadrenocorticism, also known as Cushing's disease, is a condition that most commonly occurs in middle-aged to senior dogs. “The underlying cause of Cushing’s,” says Jennifer Coates, DVM “is overproduction of the hormone cortisol or overuse of corticosteroid drugs like prednisone.” This prolonged exposure to excessive levels of the cortisol hormone (either naturally or via drugs) can cause increased appetite, increased thirst and urination, panting, muscle weakness, darkening of the skin, a pot-bellied abdomen, and hair loss.

There are options when it comes to treating Cushing’s disease. According to Dr. Coates, “If a dog’s symptoms are not too serious, (e.g., he or she is panting more but is otherwise normal), treatment may not be warranted unless the problems worsen over time.” If the disease, however, is determined to be causing serious problems then your veterinarian may recommend treating with medication such as mitotane, trilostane, or selegeline. Non-invasive adrenal tumors may be dealt with surgically.

“Close monitoring of dogs undergoing treatment for Cushing’s is essential,” says Dr. Coates. “The goal is to suppress cortisol production enough to keep your dog healthy, but not so much that we create the opposite problem — hypoadrenocorticism, or Addison’s disease.”

3. Infestation or Infection

An infestation with parasites such as fleas, ticks, and mites (scabies, mange) is another cause of hair loss in dogs. Along with loss of hair around the ears, eyes, abdomen, and chest, signs your dog may have mites or fleas/ticks include inflammation, itching and redness.

There are a variety of flea and tick preventatives available that are specifically designed to kill the parasites and prevent them from infesting your dog in the future, including oral and topical medications. You should also treat in and around your home. Consult your veterinarian to discuss which flea and tick preventatives best suit your dog’s needs.

If your dog is suffering from a mite infestation, treatment will depend on the type and severity of the infestation, but usually includes the use of topical (e.g., shampoos, dips, spot-on formulas) and/or oral medication.

Bacterial or fungal infections, such as in the case of ringworm (which is actually a fungus), can also be attributed to hair loss in dogs. Symptoms of ringworm include circular or irregular hair loss, inflammation, and infected crusts. Treatment will consist of antifungal medication.

4. Genetics

There are some breeds of dog that are more genetically prone to baldness than others. First there are the hairless dogs that have been bred for the attribute such as the Chinese Crested, Mexican Hairless (Xolo), and American Hairless Terrier. Other dog breeds, such as the Doberman Pinscher, Dachshund, Chihuahua, Italian Greyhound and Whippet, sometimes suffer from patchy or pattern baldness on the outer ear, chest, back, thigh, or lower neck.

Often, the treatment options for hair loss due to genetics are limited. However, it’s important to consult your veterinarian as he or she may need to first rule out other causes of hair loss.

5. Pressure Sores

Pressure sores, also called bedsores or decubital ulcers, are localized injuries where the dog’s elbows or other bony pressure points (hips, hocks, etc.) come into contact with hard surfaces regularly. This constant pressure and friction causes the skin to callus, lose hair and sometimes crack and bleed. Pressure sores are more common older dogs, especially large or heavy breeds. You can help prevent hair loss in dogs due to pressure sores by providing cushioned bedding.

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