Hair Loss (Alopecia) in Dogs

Alopecia is defined as a total or partial deficit of hairs in places where they are usually present. The underlying cause of hair loss has to be established in order to effectively treat the condition. In case the dog is also severely scratching the area, then it is important to investigate the cause of the itching first.

There are numerous reasons why hair loss occurs; some of these are acquired while others are congenital. It is important to note that not all cases of congenital hair loss are hereditary. Congenital hair loss is due to a defect in normal hair follicle development, which may be evident when the animal is born or slightly after. It is also possible for the animal to have a normal hair coat at birth yet begin to develop hair loss as it matures.

An animal that suffers from acquired hair loss is born with a normal coat of hair. It probably had hair follicles that were normal at one time. Acquired loss of hair may be either inflammatory or non-inflammatory. Diseases that affect the hair follicles have the ability to cause loss of hair. There are particular diseases that can inhibit hair growth or even damage the hair shaft or follicle. Some diseases lead to distress, resulting in loss of hair and self-trauma.

There are certain diseases that result in hair follicle or hair shaft destruction. These diseases are usually inflammatory. They include skin trauma like burns; parasitic, fungal, and bacterial infections; and iodine, mercury, or thallium poisoning.

The diseases that may limit or interfere with the development of hair follicles include hormonal irregularities (for example hypothyroidism), or nutritional deficiencies (especially deficiency in protein). Pregnancy, lactation, or severe illness (fever) can also cause temporary loss of hair. Such types of hair loss are usually non-inflammatory except if there is some kind of secondary infection.

Acquired inflammatory hair loss can be due to itching, and the diseases that bring about this itching are allergies, parasites, and infections. Ill-fitting collars or halters may also cause loss of hair due to friction. It is quite rare for excessive grooming to result in hair loss in dogs. Symptoms of acquired hair loss are linked to the underlying reason, and include scaling, inflammation, itching, colour change, and extreme shedding. Some of these causes result in secondary skin diseases, such as discharge of fluid or infection. Sometimes there is itching.

Depending on the disease involved, the symptoms of hair loss may either be slight or obvious. Hair loss that is congenital is usually either on both sides of the body or on a single area. It does not usually involve inflammation.

A precise diagnosis of the source of hair loss necessitates a thorough history and physical examination. The main points to consider include the tendency of the breed to develop congenital or hereditary hair loss; the extent, presence, and sequence of problems; evidence of infection; the presence or absence of itching; and common health difficulties.

During a physical examination, the veterinarian will examine both the dog’s general health and the condition of the skin. Your veterinarian will also analyse the distribution and pattern of hair loss. An examination of the hairs will be conducted in order to find out whether they are breaking off or being shed from the hair follicle. Skin scrapings and combing of the hair coat for fleas, mites, and lice is also necessary, so as to check for signs of secondary skin infection or parasites. The bits of skin obtained during combing will be stored carefully and sent for tests in a laboratory.

Diagnostic laboratory tests may be ordered by your veterinarian. Examples include smears and skin cultures to confirm the presence of yeast, bacterial, or fungal infections. In case the tests aren’t able to determine the underlying cause, a skin biopsy may be done. Skin biopsies are regularly required to verify parasitic and bacterial causes of hair loss or to discover its cancerous causes. Blood and urine samples can be tested in the event that your veterinarian suspects a hormonal problem.

Effective treatment is dependent on the actual diagnosis and the underlying cause. Identifying the underlying cause of a skin condition requires time, so most veterinarians tend to recommend medication that lessens any pain or itching associated with the hair loss.

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