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Alopecia (Hair loss) in Dogs

By: Dr. Mark Thompson

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Alopecia is the complete or partial lack of hair in any area of the skin where hair would normally be found. It may be caused by self-trauma by scratching or chewing, hair follicle diseases that cause the hair to fall out, or the failure of hair to grow after normal loss.

Severe hair loss makes your dog more susceptible to the elements. In addition, some of the diseases that can cause alopecia may also have harmful effects on other organ systems of your dog.

What to Watch For

  • Hair loss
  • Abnormal appearance of the skin

    Diagnosis

    As with any disease, a complete history is very important. Be prepared to answer questions such as:

  • How long has your pet had alopecia?
  • How severe is the hair loss?
  • Has any hair regrown?
  • Does your dog itch?
  • Have you used any medications and if so, were they helpful?

    Following a complete history, your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination of the skin paying special attention to the pattern of alopecia, the appearance of the skin and how easy the hair comes out. A flea comb may be used to look for fleas, flea dirt or other parasites.

    Diagnostic tests that may be needed to determine the cause of the alopecia include:

  • A trichogram. A microscopic exam of the hair may be done to determine if the hair is being pulled out or simply falling out.

  • Skin scrapings. Your veterinarian scrapes a blade against the skin to remove some surface cells to look for mange mites and other parasites.

  • A fungal culture. This determines whether ringworm is present.

  • A biopsy of the skin. A pathologist may examine the skin under a microscope to determine the type of alopecia that is present.

    Treatment

    There is no specific treatment for alopecia. Instead, treatment is aimed at eliminating the underlying cause of the problem.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Dogs with alopecia need to be kept groomed and free of fleas. If the hair loss is significant, some dogs may need to wear a sweater in the winter to protect them from cold weather. In the summer, sunburn may be a concern. If fleas are a problem, consult your veterinarian to discuss a comprehensive flea control program.

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