The medical term for hair loss in pets is alopecia, which can result from numerous concerning conditions. Our Ambleside Animal Hospital team wants to help by providing information about alopecia, in case your pet is affected.
Pet alopecia causes
Numerous conditions can cause alopecia, which is often unattractive in pets. Some potential causes include:
- Ectoparasites — Parasites, such as fleas, lice, and mange mites, can cause hair loss in pets. Affected pets typically also have other signs, such as mild to severe scratching, red, inflamed skin, and skin lesions.
- Skin infections — Skin infections caused by bacteria and yeast can cause hair loss. These pets also typically have itchy, inflamed skin, skin lesions and, in many cases, malodorous discharge from their skin folds.
- Ringworm — A fungal infection can cause circular, hairless, flaky, red patches.
- Allergic dermatitis — Pets commonly have flea, food, and environmental allergies, and allergic dermatitis frequently results in hair loss. These pets are usually extremely itchy, and may have skin lesions from excessive scratching.
- Endocrine diseases — Endocrine diseases, such as hyperadrenocorticism and hypothyroidism, can cause hair loss.
- Vaccine site reactions — Some pets have vaccine site reactions that result in localized hair loss.
- Psychogenic alopecia — More commonly seen in cats, stress and anxiety can cause overgrooming, which leads to hair loss.
- Cancer — Certain cancers, including cutaneous lymphoma, thymoma, and pancreatic carcinoma, can cause hair loss.
- Nutritional issues — Starvation, vitamin deficiencies, and an unbalanced diet can cause pets to lose their hair.
- Spider bites and insect stings — A spider bite or insect sting can cause localized hair loss.
- Seasonal flank alopecia — Dogs can experience seasonal flank alopecia, a non-inflammatory hair loss that typically begins in early adulthood and occurs during the winter months. Hair loss usually occurs on the abdomen in front of the rear limbs, but can also affect the pet’s chest, tail base, nose, and ears. Breeds at highest risk include boxers, bulldogs, Dobermans, and Staffordshire bull terriers.
- Alopecia universalis — This condition is caused by a genetic mutation that results in cats being born without hair.
- Hereditary hypotrichosis — Pets with this condition are born with a thin hair coat that they lose over time. Siamese, Devon Rex, Birman, and Burmese cats are at higher risk.
- Follicular dysplasia — Follicular dysplasia is a genetic condition that causes a hair follicle abnormality that results in hair loss. This condition is most common in Cornish Rex cats and dilute dog breeds, such as dachshunds, greyhounds, and whippets.
Pet alopecia diagnosis
The numerous potential causes can make diagnosing pet alopecia tricky. A thorough history is the most important tool for diagnosing pet hair loss, so your veterinary team will likely ask questions that include:
- When did the hair loss start?
- What other signs is your pet exhibiting?
- Are other household pets affected?
- Does your pet live inside or out?
- Does your pet receive regular parasite prevention medications?
- Does your pet have other health conditions?
- Can you provide a detailed description of your pet’s diet?
Possible diagnostic tests include:
- Blood tests — Our veterinary team may recommend blood tests to check your pet’s overall health and rule out endocrine disorders.
- Skin scraping — Our veterinary team may use skin scraping to test for parasites such as Demodex and Sarcoptic mites.
- Cytology — We may view a tape sample under a microscope to look for bacteria and yeast.
- Wood’s lamp — We may use a Wood’s lamp with ultraviolet light to detect ringworm infection.
- Skin biopsy — If the skin appears abnormal, we may perform a punch biopsy to collect a sample to send for pathology.
- Allergy testing — If we suspect allergic dermatitis, we may recommend allergy testing to determine what allergens are causing the hair loss.
- Food elimination trial — If we suspect a food allergy, we may recommend a food elimination trial to determine what ingredient is causing the issue.
Pet alopecia treatment
Treatment will depend on the cause of your pet’s hair loss. Possible treatments include:
- Parasiticides — All pets should receive year-round parasite prevention medication, and our veterinary team can recommend appropriate products for all your household pets if they are not currently on a parasite preventive.
- Topical therapy — Our veterinary team may prescribe medicated shampoos and ointments to address your pet’s hair loss.
- Systemic antimicrobials — We may prescribe antibiotics or antifungals if a skin infection is contributing to your pet’s hair loss.
- Anti-itch medications — Our veterinary team may prescribe anti-inflammatory and anti-itch medications to help reduce your pet’s scratching.
- Hyposensitization therapy — If your pet is allergic to environmental allergens, we may recommend hyposensitization therapy to desensitize them to the problematic substance.
- Enrichment — For pets affected by psychogenic alopecia, we may recommend environmental enrichment improvements. These pets may also benefit from behavior modification medications.
Watching your pet’s beautiful coat fall out can be disturbing, but knowing the underlying cause can help you successfully address the problem. If your pet is losing their hair, contact our Ambleside Animal Hospital team, so we can determine what is causing their alopecia and remedy the problem with the appropriate treatment.