Alopecia in dogs - What to do if your dog is losing his fur
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Alopecia in dogs - What to do if your dog is losing his fur

Noticing that your dog's coat is starting to develop bald patches or thinning hair, or finding that the coat is losing lustre and condition is always a cause for concern in the caring dog owner. There are many potential reasons for hair loss, pattern baldness and thinning of the fur in dogs, and it can take a significant amount of detective work to definitively identify what's causing the problem in your own dog.It's estimated that between five and ten percent of dogs will go through a period of hair loss, alopecia or coat irritation at some stage in their lives- but the good news about this statistic is that there is plenty of information available on canine alopecia and associated conditions, and help is at hand. If you are concerned about your dog's coat and any underlying health conditions and want to know what to do about it, read on to find out more!

What is alopecia?

Alopecia is a term used for hair loss on any animal with fur or hair- including people as well as dogs. The term 'alopecia' refers to any deficiency of the normal healthy hair or coat regardless of the cause, and can be used either to indicate an internal condition affecting the growth of the hair from the follicle outwards, or an outside irritant or external factor leading to hair which grows in the normal manner to later be lost.

What causes alopecia and what can you do about it?

There are many potential causes of alopecia in dogs, and the key to successful treatment of the condition comes from identifying the root cause of the problem in your own pet. To begin with, it is helpful to work out whether your dog's hair is simply not growing or is falling out of its own accord, or if the loss of hair or associated bald patches are being caused by your dog scratching, chewing or otherwise irritating areas of the skin to the point that fur is lost.The most common causes of alopecia and bald patches on dogs are listed below, along with suggestions on how to identify them and what to do about it.

Alopecia without an obvious external cause

This section covers hair loss and alopecia which seems to be occurring without any external irritation or intervention (such as the dog scratching or chewing at the skin) involved.

Endocrine disorders

Hormonal imbalances leading to conditions such as hyperthyroidism and canine Cushing's disease can both potentially lead to alopecia in the dog, where the alopecia is an effect rather than a cause of the illness. Both of these illnesses can be potentially serious and do require veterinary intervention, so if you can rule out any of the other potential causes of alopecia in your dog, then its important to go to the vet for testing.

Stress hair loss

Just like people, dogs can suffer from stress too, and if your dog is a particularly worrisome pet or is exposed to a high level of stress for a prolonged period of time or to a severe degree, they may begin to lose their coat as a response. The coat will begin to grow back normally when the cause of the stress is removed and the dog gets back on an even keel.

Hair loss due to pregnancy

A bitch carrying a litter will naturally begin to lose fur on her stomach as she approaches the time to give birth. This is a normal part of the breeding cycle, and her full coat will grow back again in its own time.

Hereditary factors

Alopecia is significantly more likely to occur in some breeds than it is in others, much as some families are much more prone to baldness than others! Dachshunds and certain other breeds are well known to run to baldness is old age, and other than ensuring that the skin is not too dry and is kept clean, this is a natural process with no real cure.

Alopecia caused by external irritants

All of the conditions in this section are caused by external irritants which can lead to your dog itching or chewing at his coat to the point that bald patches begin to develop.

Parasites

Fleas, ticks, mites and lice are parasitic creatures which will live quite happily on your dog if left unchecked- unfortunately, that happiness only goes one way, and parasites can lead to a wide range of potential problems in your dog, with skin sensitivities, extreme pruritus (itchiness) and hair loss being among them. It's important to use a good quality veterinary recommended flea (and worming) treatment regularly in consultation with your vet, keep an eye out for the signs of ear mites, and get your dog treated promptly if they show any signs of infestation by an army of creepy crawlies.

Allergic reactions

Just like people, dogs will sometimes inexplicably show a hypersensitivity to common substances or plants in and around the home, which can manifest in many ways, including itchy skin, scratching and loss of fur. Allergic reactions such as these can be managed in the short term with antihistamine medications from your vet, but you will also need to work on removing the cause of the problem itself. In order to remove the cause of the irritant, however, first you must identify it, and this can be easier said than done!Household substances, dog shampoos, plants and even other animals can potentially cause allergic reactions and flare ups in your dog. It may take you some time to narrow down the culprit, and you can make the process a little easier and potentially faster by keeping a diary of your dog's movements and what they have come into contact with, and when and how the signs of irritation manifest. Your vet can also run tests within the surgery for a wide range of common allergens, which can often help to definitively identify the problem.

Diet and feeding

A great number of common and popular dog foods and supplements contain colorants, preservatives and additives which can cause sensitivity in your dog which manifests as a skin irritation- that includes complete foods and some good quality brands too. Try to feed a natural diet, and consider feeding a special diet designed for dogs with particular sensitivities and intolerances in conjunction with your vet.

While alopecia may only be localised and might not appear to be presenting too much of a problem, it is always important to find the cause and respond accordingly, as alopecia is generally indicative of an underlying problem which should not be left unchecked. Talk to your vet if you have any concerns- the vast majority of conditions and triggers of alopecia in dogs can generally be dealt with relatively simply, and your dog will become much happier as a result!

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