Your pet’s coat is more than fabulous fluff. Whether long or short, furry or sleek, your pet’s hair provides their body with a protective and insulating barrier. And, while some shedding is normal, sudden or dramatic hair loss (i.e., alopecia), thinning, and bald patches can be cause for concern—not for your pet’s ego, but for their health.

If your pet’s “bad hair day” has become a bad hair week or month, it’s time for a visit to LaGrange Veterinary Hospital

Shed happens—normal pet shedding versus hair loss

If “My pet only sheds twice a year—for six months at a time” sounds familiar, you may wonder how to differentiate between shedding and hair loss. For pets who shed only on days ending in Y, look for the following signs:

  • Thinning hair
  • Broken hair
  • Changes in coat texture
  • Bald areas
  • Flaky, scabbing, or irritated skin

Hair loss location, which may be local (i.e., limited to a small area) or generalized (i.e., all over the pet’s body), can help the veterinarian make a diagnosis. Changes in your pet’s coat may occur in conjunction with other clinical signs, including:

  • Scratching or biting at the skin
  • Hair pulling or chewing
  • Excessive licking
  • Facial rubbing
  • Recurring ear or skin infections
  • Changes in thirst or appetite
  • Weight gain or loss

More than skin deep—common causes for hair loss in pets

Unexpected alopecia is always cause for concern. Left untreated, the underlying medical condition can worsen, causing your pet to suffer unnecessarily or, in some cases, experience significant complications. Here are five common reasons for hair loss in pets.

  • Allergies — While humans sniffle and sneeze, pets experience most allergy signs through their skin. Environmental allergies (e.g., pollen, grasses, dust, and mold) and food allergies, which most often are caused by proteins, not grain, can trigger inflammatory reactions that make pets so intensely itchy that they scratch, lick, and bite at their skin, resulting in hair loss, irritation, and secondary skin infections. Because diagnosing allergies can be challenging and medication to treat primary or secondary conditions is often necessary, a veterinarian needs to examine your pet to provide effective relief.

  • Parasites — External parasites, such as fleas and mites, can make your pet miserable. These microscopic menaces make themselves at home on vulnerable dogs and cats, and then create severe discomfort by biting and disrupting the skin barrier. Extremely sensitive pets may suffer from flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), a hypersensitivity reaction to flea saliva that can cause intense itching and self-harm from only one bite.

Parasitic mites—including Sarcoptes sp. and Demodex—aggravate your pet by burrowing into their skin and leaving droppings that cause irritation and result in a persistent and intense pruritus (i.e., itching), self-trauma, and hair loss, typically accompanied by crusty, scaly skin.

  • Endocrine disorders — Hormone-related conditions can alter your pet’s hair and skin health. Thyroid disorders (i.e., hypothyroidism in dogs and hyperthyroidism in cats) can cause thinning or patchy hair, especially along the body’s back half, and typically occur with weight and energy level changes. 

Cushing’s disease (i.e., hyperadrenocorticism) is an adrenal disorder that causes elevated levels of cortisol, a natural steroid that affects skin and hair growth. Thin or patchy hair and thin or fragile skin are Cushing’s disease characteristics, along with changes in appetite, thirst, and body condition. Diabetic pets can experience similar signs. 

  • Genetic disorders Some pets have all the luck, while others seem to inherit their ancestor’s pattern baldness. Several dog breeds are affected by genetic alopecia disorders, which do not irritate the pet, but the hair loss caused by hair follicle damage is typically permanent. 
    • Alopecia X — This condition can occur at any age, and mostly affects Chow Chows, samoyeds, pomeranians, schipperkes, Alaskan malamutes, and poodles. The progressive hair loss can result in baldness, or be replaced by a dull, wooly coat. Skin may become discolored (i.e., hyperpigmented).
    • Seasonal flank alopecia — This poorly understood condition that affects dogs during the winter causes hair loss along the flank (i.e., the abdominal area in front of the rear legs). The alopecia is symmetrical and non-irritating. Hair growth typically resumes during the spring. Because this condition can resemble hormone-related hair loss, a veterinary work-up is recommended.

  • Post-shave alopecia — Pet owners are often alarmed when their pet’s hair fails to regrow—or grows back in an abnormal pattern, texture, or color—after they are clipped for surgery or grooming. This condition occurs when clipping interrupts their hair growth cycle temporarily or permanently. Naturally double-coated dogs (e.g., those with a harsh guard hair layer and a softer undercoat) are most commonly affected. Patience and time are the best antidote, as well as unnecessarily (i.e., non-veterinary) shaving double-coated breeds. 

The bald and the beautiful—help for your pet’s hair loss

If your pet’s hairdo has become a hair-don’t, you may be tempted to try an at-home remedy. Don’t do it! Like a bad dye-job, this strategy simply covers up the problem—rather than getting to the root.

Heed the hair of the dog—or cat—and schedule an appointment at LaGrange Veterinary Hospital. Our compassionate team will investigate your pet’s physical health, ask questions about their daily routine, perform necessary testing, and devise an effective treatment plan to restore their comfort and health—and their dignity.