AutoShip and save up to 10% | Find out more

5 Reasons dogs lose their hair and how to stop it

Approx. 7 minutes read

The hallmark of good health in most dogs is a lovely coat of fur that is shiny and vibrant. Pet heroes know that optimal health starts with the right dog nutrition, regular grooming, parasite control, and regular vet visits to check that your pup is not hiding any underlying health conditions. However, if your dog starts losing their fur at a rate that’s definitely more severe than their seasonal shedding, it’s time to take a closer look.

What is canine alopecia?

Dog hair loss disease – or alopecia – is defined by bald spots on a dog’s skin where their fur has fallen out. There are various conditions, parasites, and diseases that may cause it to fall out in the first place, but the pattern is the same: either friction or rubbing has caused the hair to break or fall out, or the dog’s immune system targets their hair follicles, preventing fallen or shed fur to grow back (while the dog has the condition).

The hair loss may be patchy or it may occur symmetrically on both sides of the dog’s body. Usually, the loss of fur is not spontaneous – there are other symptoms that accompany the alopecia:

  • dandruff
  • darkening skin colour
  • dry, flaky skin
  • hives and/or spots
  • inflammation on the skin
  • skin redness, even bleeding

These skin symptoms usually cause pain and irritation to a dog, so it’s very likely that they will lick, chew and scratch their skin to alleviate the pain and dryness. Always note a change in your dog’s behaviour if there are physical symptoms as well. This will help your veterinarian to make a more accurate diagnosis.

Why does your dog’s hair fall out?

Before wondering how you fix your dog’s hair loss, it’s crucial to understand why it’s happening in the first place. There are a number of reasons why dogs could suffer from alopecia, but we’ll explore the five most common ones.

1. Allergies can cause dog hair loss

We’ve covered the common skin allergies in dogs in detail and you’ll notice that the symptoms of skin allergies are quite similar to the symptoms that may accompany hair loss in dogs. Skin allergy symptoms can include:

  • inflammation
  • redness
  • hives or welts
  • compulsive licking on or around the area
  • hair loss

Therefore, dog hair loss could be a symptom of your dog’s allergic reaction to food, environmental allergens, atopy, contact dermatitis or even a flea allergy. It won’t help trying to fix the hair loss without treating the allergy, so it’s impawtant to seek a diagnosis from your dog’s vet and to administer the treatment for his specific allergy.

2. Nutritional deficiencies can cause dog hair loss

It’s common to see stray or neglected dogs with thinned fur or bald patches on their bodies. This is because their nutritional needs are not being met. A huge percentage of a dog’s protein intake is used to grow and feed their fur, further supported by omega-3 and -6 fatty acids to keep their skin and coat healthy. High-quality dog food contains sufficient proteins and fats, as well as added vitamins, minerals and fatty acids to meet the growth and maintenance needs of our precious furry friends.

If your dog’s coat is dull and falling out, but they’re not suffering from allergies or other causes of canine alopecia, consider changing your dog’s diet to a higher-quality dog food to help them thrive.

3. Endocrine diseases can cause dog hair loss

A definitive difference between canine alopecia that results from allergies vs alopecia from a systemic problem is that your dog’s fur may fall out, but their skin isn’t red, flaky and irritated, and there’s no anxious licking and scratching going on. In this case, it’s possible that your dog may have an endocrine disease, which causes hormonal imbalance and can affect every organ and system in the body.

These may include:

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is the result of low levels of thyroid hormone because of changes to the thyroid gland. It causes problems with a dog’s metabolism, so symptoms may include:

  • weight gain
  • fatigue
  • intolerance of cold temperatures
  • dry coat with dull appearance
  • hair fall/alopecia
  • skin pigmentation (usually darkening)
  • high cholesterol
  • slow heart rate

Cushing’s disease

Sometimes older dogs can develop a tumour on their pituitary gland or adrenal gland, which affects these organs’ functioning and causes too much cortisol to circulate in their body. Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone, so too much cortisol has a negative effect on the dog’s physical health and can causes symptoms like:

  • increased appetite and thirst
  • frequent urination
  • thin skin
  • canine alopecia
  • fatigue/lowered activity levels
  • abdominal distension (pot belly)
  • panting

If your dog’s vet suspects that your dog’s hair loss is the result of endocrine issues, they will perform blood tests to determine whether your dog’s hormone levels are outside of the normal range.

4. Parasites can cause dog hair loss

The most common culprits for dogs’ allergies and hair loss are ectoparasites. Ecto- means ‘on the outside’, so these parasites are critters like ticks and fleas, mites (Demodex and Sarcoptes mites are the ones that cause mange), and other insects like spiders and bugs. These ectoparasites either cause an allergic reaction or an overgrowth, or they cause the dog’s skin to itch. When the dog scratches the itch, he can break the skin and introduce bacteria to the wound, causing a secondary bacterial infection.

Mange from the mites, allergies to ectoparasites as well as secondary bacterial infections can all result in hair loss. It is therefore critically important to treat the parasite infestation first before the alopecia can be resolved.

5. Medical causes of dog hair loss

Very rarely, dogs may have a reaction to their rabies vaccines or other medications being administered such as cancer treatments or steroid injections. The injection site may become bald as a result. Dogs can also get alopecia from chemical burns or fire burns, when the hair follicles are negatively affected or even destroyed and it’s impossible for the fur to grow back.

How are the causes of hair loss diagnosed?

As mentioned, your dog’s veterinarian will need to take a look at your dog’s physical condition and also look out for other symptoms. They will consider medical, nutritional, behavioural and emotional causes, and may need to perform diagnostic tests like palpation, blood tests, skin scrapes, cultures, smears, stool testing, and – where cancers may be suspected – biopsies.

The vet will also look at your dog’s pattern of hair loss, which can tell them a lot about what is causing it. The presence of hot spots could indicate insect bites and compulsive scratching, whereas dog hair loss around the anus could indicate a flea allergy. Hair loss on the paws and face is very often an indication of environmental or inhalant allergies. If the hair loss appears symmetrically on both sides of the dog’s body, it’s likely to be the result of an endocrine disorder.

The vet will look at all the possible symptoms and perform the necessary tests to make a concrete diagnosis for your dog’s canine alopecia, before recommending the requisite form of treatment.

Dog hair loss treatment

The treatment for canine alopecia will depend on what’s causing it – when the cause of the problem is tackled, the poor pup will either regrow a healthy coat of fur or the fur won’t grow back, but the hair loss will stop. If you are looking for a dog hair loss home remedy, it’s still crucial to determine the cause before attempting to treat the alopecia on your own at home.

If your dog’s hair loss is caused by:

  • allergies – the treatment will include lessening the allergen load, changing his dog food, or treating the reaction. When the symptoms improve, so too will your dog’s hair regrowth.
  • nutritional deficiencies – the treatment will include a nutritional check-up and switching your dog’s food to a vet-recommended brand of high-quality dog food designed to meet his needs based on his size, breed, and specific requirements.
  • endocrine diseases – the treatment will include hormone therapy, which should reduce the symptoms of imbalance and restore your dog’s health. When his endocrine system is balanced, his hair should grow back and his skin improve.
  • parasites – the treatment will include eradicating infestations as well as preventative treatment. Be sure to follow the vet’s recommendation for getting rid of parasites and keeping them away, and always keep track of when your pet’s preventative tick and flea medications as well as deworming medications are due.
  • medical causes – the vet will take note of your dog’s specific reactions to certain medications and offer alternatives (where possible). Where hair loss is caused by chemotherapy, it will be expected to grow back once your dog has recovered from their treatment.

Each case of canine hair loss needs to be treated individually, so get your veterinarian’s opinion and be sure to follow their recommendations for treatment.  Your dog’s diet, medication and even behaviour may need to be addressed, but if you follow your vet’s recommendations correctly, there’s (almost) no reason your dog’s coat shouldn’t grow back healthier and shinier than before!

Make an appointment with your vet if you are concerned about your dog’s health and wellbeing. While you wait for that appointment, sign up for the Pet Hero newsletter to get more infurmative content delivered straight to your inbox! You’ll also receive information about our latest promotions, competitions and online sales, so don’t miss out!

Subscribe to our newsletter
Share this article
Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents
    More like this...
    The different types of fur coats on dogs

    How many different types of dog coats are there? Does it matter? There are so many different lengths, densities and textures of dog coats, which is relevant to how we groom our dogs. Find out more about your dog’s coat and the ideal way to groom it.

    5 Ways to improve your dog’s skin and coat health

    If your dog suffers from an allergic, red, inflamed, itchy skin, you’ll want to restore his skin and coat health as soon as possible. Here are five ways to address your dog’s deficiencies and rebuild his healthy skin and coat gently, safely and effectively.

    The importance of taking care of your dog’s skin & coat

    Your dog’s coat is their identity, their armour, their all-weather apparel and – most impawtantly – a very good barometer of the state of their health. Taking care of your dog’s coat is right near the top of your pet parenting priorities, so Pet Hero has compiled a thorough guide on skin and coat care for your furry friend.

    Save with AutoShip

    Sit back and we will place your next order

    100% Secure Checkout

    MasterCard / Visa / America Express

    Pet Hero

    Leaving already?

    Sign up for our newsletter and get R50 off your first purchase.