Alopecia In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Key takeaway

Alopecia in dogs causes bald patches and thinning hair. Depending on the type of alopecia, it can also cause dogs severe discomfort, making their skin incredibly itchy. There are many different causes of alopecia, ranging from infections and parasites to genetics. The cause of the alopecia will determine the treatment, so it's always best to visit your vet if you notice your dog losing hair.

Dogs lose hair in a process called shedding that you may notice when you wear black clothes and hug your furry friend. Dogs shed during different seasons to get seasonal coats that can help them either stay warmer or cooler. However, other factors can also affect hair loss in dogs. While some hair loss is normal and healthy, others are not.

Thinning hair, bald patches, and itchy skin can indicate alopecia. If your dog's fur is thinning or they're scratching their skin, it's worth finding out if they have a skin condition that can affect their quality of life. This article will discuss alopecia in dogs, its symptoms, causes, and treatment.

What Is Alopecia?

Alopecia is defined as a lack of hair or fur on a dog where they should have a full coat.1 Hair loss could indicate an underlying illness, so it's always best to take your pet to the vet for diagnosis and treatment. Ultimately, alopecia is an abnormal hair loss in dogs with the inability to grow hair regularly, which occurs when the body attacks the follicles and results in hair loss.

Some dog alopecia is temporary, and the fur and hair will return with the proper treatment. However, some forms of alopecia are permanent, and dogs have bald spots throughout their lives2. Luckily, alopecia isn't life-threatening, and dogs can live happy, healthy lives without all their fur. That being said, some of the side effects of alopecia are uncomfortable for dogs, so they should be treated and managed for their symptoms.

Symptoms Of Alopecia

Alopecia in dogs is often straightforward for vets to identify because of the hair loss a dog might have. However, other symptoms include:

  • Mild to severe itching
  • Irritated skin
  • Visible pustules, pimples, hives3

Along with licking and itching, a dog might have inflamed skin or flaky skin.2 Of course, the symptoms of alopecia depend on its cause. If the hair loss stems from an infection or allergies, dogs typically scratch themselves excessively, which can lead to scabs.

Causes Of Alopecia In Dogs

Hair loss has many causes in dogs. For example, alopecia in dogs can be born with the condition or acquire it over their lifetime.1 Determining the underlying cause can help vets properly treat the reason for the hair loss. Luckily, many forms of dog alopecia are treatable.

As we've mentioned, some dogs are born with this skin condition, which can mean heredity or hormonal problems. Dogs born with alopecia can often be treated and don't typically experience itchy skin. Dogs that acquire alopecia can get it as a secondary problem from parasites such as lice, fleas, mange, and even mosquitos.2 However, a dog can also develop alopecia from an unhealthy diet. Additionally, dogs with skin allergies can develop alopecia. Dogs that acquire alopecia will typically have symptoms such as itchy skin and irritation.

Some of the most common causes of alopecia in dogs include:

  • Parasites and insect bites/stings
  • Skin infections
  • Allergies
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Endocrine diseases like hypothyroidism
  • Genetics
  • Poor Nutrition
  • Environmental causes

Seasonal alopecia in dogs is also fairly common. Seasonal flank alopecia is a non-inflammatory hair loss that typically occurs in the winter. Typically seen around the sides of the abdomen, seasonal alopecia in dogs may occur due to shorter days and less sunlight during the cold months.2 The most common sign of seasonal dog alopecia is hair loss, and because it's a non-inflammatory type of hair loss, your dog should not experience any itching. However, many dogs get dry, itchy skin during the winter due to the dry air, so it's always best to consult your vet if you notice any signs of alopecia or itchy skin.

Ultimately, there are many reasons why a dog might get alopecia, so your vet will have to determine the cause to best treat them.

Alopecia In Dogs Treatment

The treatment of alopecia in dogs depends on the cause of the alopecia. Identifying the cause can take time because so many factors can contribute to the condition, so vets may choose to start treating some of the symptoms, such as itching and discomfort. At the same time, they try to determine what's causing it.1

Alopecia in dogs can indicate other health conditions, so it's important to take your dog to the vet if they have any symptoms of alopecia. Your vet will diagnose your dog using various techniques, depending on what they believe might be the cause. However, they will first perform a physical exam to look at the hair follicles. Depending on your dog's symptoms, a vet may also recommend blood tests or a biopsy to eliminate potential medical concerns.

A skin culture can help your vet identify bacteria, fungal, and yeast infections, and a skin scraping can help diagnose parasites. Once the vet has diagnosed your pet, they will create a treatment plan to treat the underlying cause and the symptoms. Depending on the cause, treatment can help prevent the alopecia from returning. However, some forms of alopecia cannot be prevented. For example, if an autoimmune disorder is the cause of alopecia, it cannot be prevented. However, other common causes, such as parasites, are easy to treat and prevent.2

As we've discussed, a treatment plan for alopecia in dogs will depend on the cause. However, some common treatments for alopecia in dogs are:

  • Food trials eliminate any potential for food allergies that can contribute to alopecia. A food trial can also help determine the most balanced diet for your pet.3
  • Medications to treat the underlying cause include antibiotics, antifungals, steroids, antihistamines, and more.2
  • Topical medications, such as medicated shampoos and ointments, treat itchy skin and other symptoms while removing potential parasites like fleas.3

Once the underlying cause of the alopecia is identified and treated, it can help manage the problem and prevent it from recurring in the future. Depending on your dog's needs, management may not only include medication and ensuring a healthy diet, but it may also mean flea and tick control, keeping your dog groomed, and helping them cope with allergies.3

Alopecia is non-life threatening, so if your dog's form of alopecia cannot be prevented or treated, it will not shorten their lifespan. However, it's still important to visit your vet if you notice any of the symptoms of alopecia so your vet can treat the symptoms that may cause your pet discomfort.

Alopecia In Dogs: FAQs

Is alopecia in dogs serious?

Alopecia in dogs is a non-life-threatening problem that affects their skin, but just because it isn't fatal doesn't mean it should go untreated. Dogs with alopecia may experience hair loss with no itching or hair loss with extreme itching and discomfort.

The best way to determine the cause of your dog's alopecia is to visit your vet to ensure your dog isn't in discomfort. Depending on your dog's symptoms, a vet might treat their itchiness immediately to improve their quality of life.

Is alopecia reversible in dogs?

Some forms of alopecia are treatable in dogs. However, other forms are not. Luckily, many of the common causes of alopecia in dogs can be treated by your vet to help treat the underlying cause and effectively improve your dog's alopecia.

However, some dogs are born with hereditary alopecia, so it might not be treatable or preventable in your dog. If your dog is experiencing itchy skin, take them to the vet to determine if their type of alopecia can be treated.

How much does it cost to treat alopecia in dogs?

The cost to treat alopecia in dogs depends on the type of alopecia a dog has and how a vet diagnoses it. For example, if your dog needs lab tests to help your vet determine what's causing the alopecia, the diagnostic visit will cost more. The cost of the treatment itself will depend on the diagnosis and the different treatments your vet uses to treat the dog. For example, if your dog has a treatable type of alopecia, your vet might prescribe you antifungals to treat your dog's skin infection.

Dog sitting in front of laptop computer attending telehealth appointment

Final Notes

Alopecia in dogs is a non-life-threatening illness, but that doesn't mean it should go untreated. Taking your dog to the vet as soon as you start to notice hair loss or extreme itching can help you treat the root cause of the alopecia immediately, no matter what it is. Additionally, getting your dog treatment earlier can prevent any prolonged discomfort. When your pet starts scratching themselves and seems uncomfortable, it's time to call in a vet you can trust.

That's where Dutch comes in. Dutch offers telemedicine for pets to ensure your pet feels comfortable in their own skin, helping pet parents treat the underlying causes of alopecia in dogs to prevent excessive itching and discomfort. Based on your dog's diagnosis, Dutch can help you determine the best medications and products to help treat your dog's symptoms and the underlying cause, bringing you the prescriptions your dog needs right to your door. Talk to a Dutch vet today to keep your pet happy and healthy.

References

  1. Moriello, Karen A. “Hair Loss (Alopecia) in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 21 June 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/skin-disorders-of-dogs/hair-loss-alopecia-in-dogs.

  2. Gewirtz, Elaine Waldorf. “Alopecia in Dogs: Why Is My Dog Losing Hair?” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 17 June 2022, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/alopecia-dogs-dog-losing-hair/.

  3. Sandi Huffman, DVM. “Hair Loss in Dogs (Alopecia in Dogs).” PetMD, PetMD, 7 Jan. 2022, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/skin/c_dg_alopecia.