Keeping your dog looking (and smelling!) their best is a common struggle among pet owners. Seeing clumps of fur lying around during shedding season is normally no cause for concern but, if you've started noticing that your dog is losing patches of fur, it can ring alarm bells.
Your dog losing hair is probably nothing to worry about if it's shedding season or typical for the breed. In some cases, though, sudden hair loss in dogs can indicate an underlying health condition.
To help you get to the bottom of why your dog is losing its hair and whether it's time to contact a vet, we've broken down the potential causes and treatments below
As is the case for humans, hair loss can be caused by a range of underlying factors. Anything from allergic reactions to overgrooming or underlying health conditions can lead your dog to lose its hair. If you're left wondering what might be causing patchy hair loss in your dog, here are some of the most common culprits.
If your dog has itchy skin and hair loss, this is a tell-tale sign that your dog could be suffering from allergies.
Like humans, dogs can be allergic to things in their environment or even their food. Some of the most common allergies in dogs include:
If you suspect your dog has allergies, it's important to go see a vet. They'll be able to let you know if they suspect your dog has allergies and what these might be, as well as rule out any other causes of itching – such as underlying medical conditions.
If your vet suspects your dog has a food allergy, they may recommend a specialist diet or food trial. Normally over eight weeks, your dog will be put on a meal plan with limited ingredients to pinpoint the main allergen.
Once the underlying allergen has been identified, you can treat the allergies and – hopefully – see your dog's skin and fur start to improve.
Dogs experiencing patchy hair loss and flaky skin might be suffering from skin conditions. Everything from dry, cracked skin to full-blown infection can cause your dog's skin to be extremely itchy. As a result, dogs will relieve themselves from the discomfort by itching, licking or scratching. Over time, this can cause hair loss. Minor wounds (like animal bites or cuts and abrasions) can also cause hair loss, so it's worth checking your dog for wounds if you haven't already.
Nasty infections caused by bacteria, yeasts and parasites such as mites or fleas can lead to bald patches on your dog. These are usually present in the groin, armpits, abdomen or caudal dorsum.
Dogs with skin infections or infestations usually display other symptoms including:
Although smaller infections might heal on their own, it's best to visit your vet to rule out any contagious causes of hair loss. Your vet will also be able to prescribe medications or to soothe your dog's itchy skin and encourage new hair growth.
Although your dog's patchy hair loss and flaky skin might not seem serious, it can indicate an underlying health condition.
Failure to adequately diagnose these conditions in your dog can harm your dog's quality of life. Some of the main medical conditions to look out for include hypothyroidism and Cushing's disease.
Also widespread in humans, hypothyroidism is when your dog's thyroid gland produces too little thyroid hormone, leading to various symptoms in your dog.
Some of the most typical symptoms that indicate hypothyroidism include:
Hair loss due to hypothyroidism isn't usually paired with itchy skin and affects middle-aged dogs that are medium to large-sized. If you suspect your dog might be suffering from hypothyroidism, book an appointment with your vet to confirm or disprove the diagnosis.
Cushing's syndrome, also referred to as Cushing's disease, is a lesser-known condition that can seriously impact your dog's health, energy levels and appearance. It usually affects middle-aged to older dogs.
Caused by excessive levels of the stress hormone cortisol, if left untreated, this can have negative consequences for your dog. These excessive levels of cortisol can lead to a change in your dog's skin and patchy hair loss.
James Walker, Technical Services Manager at Dechra, explains: "One of the tell-tale signs of Cushing’s is changes to your dog's skin or any patches of hair loss.
"For some dogs, hair loss caused by Cushing’s can be extreme, leaving them only with fur over their head and feet. For other dogs, it may be more subtle – with signs such as having a dull coat, hair not growing back after being clipped or blackhead formation.
"In healthy dogs, the hair is grown and shed in a constant cycle. In dogs with Cushing’s, this cycle slows down or stops completely, meaning hair that falls out fails to regrow."
Cushing's will present itself differently in each dog. But there are 8 common symptoms to look out for. These include:
As many of these symptoms might seem like "just old age", Cushing's is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.
If you think your dog might be suffering from Cushing's, go to see your vet. They'll perform a clinical examination and likely some blood and urine tests. Several rounds of tests can be needed to diagnose the condition.
According to our recent survey of 1,000 UK dog owners, only four in 10 people will go to see a vet as a first port of call. However, it's important to see a vet if you suspect Cushing's as the condition can cause unnecessary suffering in senior dogs.
If your dog is diagnosed with Cushing's, it's important not to panic.
According to James Walker, Technical Services Manager at Dechra: "The good news is that, when diagnosed and treated, dogs with Cushing's can return to their usual good health, putting owners' minds at ease and helping enhance quality of life."
As well as underlying health conditions, some other potential causes of hair loss in dogs include:
If your dog is losing hair, the course of treatment depends on the underlying cause of the condition. For example, if you've noticed your dog has itchy skin and hair loss, this might indicate a potential skin infection or allergy.
On the flip side, if your dog has patchy hair loss and no other symptoms, this could point to a potential hormonal issue.
Hair loss in dogs is easily treatable but, for you to be able to get the most effective treatment, you'll need to speak to a vet so they can provide a correct diagnosis.
If you've noticed your dog has bald spots or are wondering why your dog's skin has changed colour from pink to black, it's important to go see a vet as soon as possible. This is especially important when hair loss is accompanied by other symptoms like:
A change in your dog's behaviour RCVS-registered vets will be able to thoroughly examine your dog to get to the bottom of your dog's hair loss. It's normally nothing sinister but it's always better to get your dog checked out as a precaution.