Bald patches or hair loss across parts of the body is a surprisingly common problem in dogs, and can range from minor to severe. Because hair loss is not an emergency and in some cases will not seem to affect your dog particularly overall, the problem is often overlooked, as other than being unsightly, hair loss will often have no other associated problems.
However, loss of fur in the dog can be uncomfortable if it is also accompanied by itching or inflammation, and in some cases, it is a symptom of something more serious being amiss. In this article, we will look at some of the most common causes of loss of fur or bald patches on the dog, what they mean and what can be done about them.
Common causes of fur loss, bald patches and excessive shedding
- Normal or seasonal shedding, with some breeds shedding heavier than others.
- A parasitic infection such as fleas, mites, or mange.
- As a side effect of malnutrition and poor condition.
- Allergies that affect the skin.
- Skin or coat infections such as folliculitis.
- Autoimmune conditions.
- Hormone imbalances.
If the hair loss is accompanied by excessive scratching
Normal coat shedding as part of the fur’s natural renewal process will not be accompanied by bald patches or itching, and scratching to distraction can help you to narrow down the cause of the problem. If the loss of fur is accompanied by itching, some of the common causes for this can include:
- A significant flea infestation, or a hypersensitivity to flea bites due to a prior infestation.
- Allergies are another potential cause of hair loss accompanied by itching, and can be triggered by a lot of things including pollen, food, household substances and many other compounds. Allergies that result in loss of fur generally come accompanied by inflammation of the skin along with the bald patches, and often, seasonal symptoms similar to hay fever, such as itchy eyes and a runny nose.
- Mange is one condition that horrifies dog owners, but is much more common than you might think! Mange comes in two forms:
- Sarcoptic mange, which is acute and very itchy for your dog, and will lead to obsessive scratching and bothering at the skin to try to get some relief from the itchiness. However, this form of mange is relatively easy to resolve.
- Demodetic mange is the other form of mange, which can be mild and will tend to bother your dog much less than Sarcoptic mange, but can be very difficult to fully eradicate if it has become widely spread across the body.
Your vet will need to take a skin scraping from your dog to examine under a microscope in order to definitively diagnose mange and which type is present, and begin treatment.
- Ringworm is not actually a worm, but is a skin infection that can be either bacterial or fungal in nature. It is not always itchy, but does tend to lead to scaly skin and loss of fur, which may cause your dog to scratch. Ringworm is relatively easy to identify, as it comes accompanied by round, raised patches of fur, and then loss of fur in the same pattern.
- Folliculitis of the skin is an infectious condition of the follicles of the hair, and some breeds, such as the miniature Schnauzer, are particularly prone to this condition. This condition may require antibiotics to resolve, and also requires bathing with a special shampoo to treat the infection topically.
- Hot spots on the skin are the sign of a localised infection that often arises under particularly thick areas of fur. Itching can both make the problem worse and spread the infection, but small, localised hotspots can usually be simply treated with either topical or oral antibiotics.
- Cellulitis of the skin is another form of infection, which affects the lower layers of the skin and may be itchy. It also tends to be rather sore and painful for your dog, and so they may itch or bother the skin to the point that the fur comes out. Your vet will again likely recommend antibiotics, and soaking the affected area in Epsom salts to ease the irritation.
Loss of fur does not always mean a skin irritation that will also cause scratching, and so if the cause is not immediately obvious, it is important to get your dog checked out by your vet to find out what is actually causing the issue. Some more serious conditions such as autoimmune disorders, hormone problems and other systemic issues can lead to loss of fur, and in some cases, this may be your first indication that something is actually amiss.
Finding out for sure what the problem is can help to put your mind at rest, and also, means that treatment (if needed) can be begun promptly, giving your dog the best chance of recovery.