Browsing tag: fur loss dog

Ask a vet online- ‘my Bichon friese keeps goin for his side and making bald patchers’

Question from Shell Cottam:

My Bichon friese keeps goin for his side and making bald patchers, we are have in to keep his cone on to stop it, is there anything you can recommend to stop him doin this please

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Shell and thank you for your question regarding your dog going for his side.  I will discuss some possible reasons for your dog’s behaviour and then possible ways to tackle these.

From what you are describing it sounds as though your dog is biting and or scratching at himself to the extent that he is losing his hair.  I am sure that both you and your dog would be a lot happier if he did not have to keep a cone on his head long term to prevent his hair loss.  The first think we need to do is find out the history of how your dog is in general and how long the condition has been going on.  Your vet will ask you some of the following questions:

Is your dog generally well?

By this we mean is he eating, drinking, toileting, happy to exercise and generally acting as normal other than the condition you have brought him in for.  We ask this as underlying illnesses can sometime show up in unexpected ways, so something you may not at first think is linked to the hair loss could be.  An example of this would be if your dog was generally listless and not as keen to exercise along with hair loss this may suggest an underactive thyroid gland.

How long has the condition been present and has it changed?

Your vet will want to know when the condition first started and if there were any particular changes at this time e.g. getting a new pet, change of food, starting a new job all things that can help us to work out why your dog is losing hair and if the situation is stable, improving or getting worse.  It is really important to tell your vet if you have already tried any treatments even if these are over the counter shampoos or anti parasitic treatments.

What are some possible causes for the biting and hair loss?

Top of the list is always parasites; they can sometimes be tricky to spot at first.  We would consider fleas(both cat and dog fleas) and mites(sarcoptes and cheyletiella) as possible causes, these can be diagnosed by examining your pet, and sometimes we need to take skin scrapes, hair combings or hair plucks to look at under the microscope.

Bacterial infections can sometimes lead to irritation and hair loss, this may be seen in the form of spots, scabs, crustiness and or areas of raw wet skin.  In some cases we would take swabs or biopsies from the skin to make sure we were treating with the correct antibiotic and for the correct length of time.  The samples can be looked at by your own vet but are sometimes sent away to a laboratory to be analysed.

Allergies can cause a dog to lose hair, these can be to something your pet has been in contact with such as shampoo/new bedding/plants, something your pet has eaten such as a new food or scavenged items or something inhaled such as pollen and dust (we call this atopy).

Hair loss can be due to a behavioural problem such as boredom or stress.

Hopefully the questions your vet asks will help narrow down the list of possible causes for the hair loss and will point to the answer or at least the most appropriate tests to carry out.

What tests will they do on my dog?

After the basic examination and history taking your vet may suggest doing skin scrapes, hair plucks or combings to look for parasites as mentioned above.  If examining the sample in house(at your own vets) did not give enough information they may ask if the samples can be sent away to an external laboratory, the results may take days to week to come back.  Blood test and or biopsies can give us information as to what is happening in your pet’s body/skin e.g. certain white blood cells are increased in cases of allergies, there may be bacteria present in the blood and or infection fighting cells. Specific blood tests to look for allergies and or hormone imbalances which could be causing the hair loss can also be useful.  Special diets, shampoos or medications may be tried and then the how well your dog responds to these can help us to work out the cause of the problem and if we are on the right track.

What treatments are there?

If parasites are suspected or detected then routine flea and mite treatment will be advised including treatment of the home environment.

For some bacterial infections shampoos are very effective but they may need to be used in combination with the appropriate antibiotics also.

Allergies can be treated by avoiding the substance if possible, anti-allergy drugs, special diets and special vaccines or a combination of these.

Behavioural conditions may need treatment by retraining your dog, strengthening the pet owner relationship, making the home environment more stimulating and sometimes the use of behaviour modifying drugs.

I hope that my answer has helped you to understand that we need to take a logical step by step approach to helping your dog, this would most likely start with ruling out parasites followed by a thorough examination and diagnostic work up by your vet.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)

If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.

Baldness in Dogs (Alopecia)

Bald SetterI’ve been seeing a number of bald dogs in the consulting room recently, and it made me wonder how common a problem it is – and how many conditions there are that can lead to a dog losing his hair!

Baldness (or alopecia, to give it its technical name) isn’t generally a disease in its own right – it is almost invariably a symptom of an underlying disease condition. So, when I’m faced with a poor, balding dog in the consult room, my first task is to try and define what the underlying cause is. With a symptom with so many possible causes, what we do to narrow down the possibilities is to work out a differential list – a list of all the possible conditions that can cause baldness – and then eliminate them until we come to the actual cause in this specific case.

So, in no particular order, here are the more common causes of hair loss in dogs, along with their other major signs or symptoms:

Firstly, those disorders that give a symmetrical pattern of hair loss (i.e. the same pattern of hair loss on both sides of the body):

Hypothyroidism

Hair loss is symmetrical along the trunk and may also involve the tail, armpits and the belly. The skin isn’t inflammed or itchy, but there may be a darkening of colour and dandruff or greasy skin. Caused by production of too little thyroid hormone, other common symptoms include lethargy, weight gain, and sometimes muscular weakness. To diagnose hypothyroidism, your vet will take a blood sample; treatment is simple, with daily tablets containing replacement thyroid hormone.

Cushing’s Disease

Once again, hair loss is symmetrical, and there may be hard lumps in or under the skin (calcinosis cutis). Cushing’s is caused by too much cortisol (an important natural steroid hormone) being produced by the body. Other symptoms include increased hunger, thirst and urination, development of a pot-belly, muscle weakness, skin thinning and “spots” or “blackheads” developing. To diagnose it, your vet may have to do a series of blood tests to see how your dog’s body responds to injections of steroids or other hormones. Tablets to treat Cushing’s usually act to reduce production of steroids, although some destroy the adrenal glands that make the excess hormones.

Iatrogenic Cushing’s Disease

This is a form of Cushing’s disease caused by long term use of steroid medications (e.g. Prednisolone for severe allergies). The only treatment is to VERY GRADUALLY reduce the steroid dose – but this needs to be done carefully, following advice from your vet, because if you reduce it too far, too fast, it can result in severe withdrawal effects, or even death, due to a lack of cortisol in the body.

Sex hormone disorders

Excess production of sex hormones (e.g. due to a testicular tumour) or insufficient sex hormones (usually after neutering) can, in rare cases, cause symmetrical hair loss.

And now, those diseases where there are patches of hair loss in various sites across the body:

Flea Allergic Dermatitis

This is probably the commonest cause of all! Dogs with a flea allergy scratch and scratch, and wear the hair away. FAD is usually straightforward to diagnose (very itchy dog plus fleas is something of a giveaway), although in extreme cases, a single flea bite can set it off, which is harder to detect. Prevention is simple – avoid and kill fleas – although it can be hard in severe cases to keep the flea population low enough, and anti- allergy medication may be required.

Sarcoptic Mange

Mange mites burrow into the skin, creating a very itchy patch covered in little bumps. The dog scratches away at it, wearing the hair away, creatng a bald patch. The most common site is on the ear; fortunately, there are some spot-on treatments available from your vet that will kill the mites and stop the itching.

Demodectic Mange

This is a different variety of mite, and unlike the sarcoptic mite, it doesn’t itch at all. Most dogs have a few, and they don’t cause any problems, living harmlessly deep inside the hair follicles. However, sometimes they can start to multiply, and the sheer numbers start to result in hair loss. Typically, it is a patchy disease, with hair loss in distinct regions that get bigger over time. Sometimes there is a bit of scale forming, but the mites themselves do not cause itching, although secondary bacterial infection may occur, which can. To diagnose Demodex mites, your vet will have to take a deep skin scrape, usually with a scalpel blade, and then look at it under the microscope. If Demodex mites are found, treatment may involve spot-ons like Promeris Duo, or bathing with Aludex for several months – sadly, it can take a lot of work to get it under control.

Primary Pyoderma

Bacterial skin infections are common in dogs, and can result in hair loss. The skin is usually reddened and inflamed, and there may be pussy “spots”. Often the area is itchy and sore, but occasionally there are cases where the skin looks almost normal, but hairless. The vet can diagnose it by taking scrapes and smears from the skin, then looking at them under the microscope. Treatment nay involve antibiotic creams, washes, and sometimes tablets to kill the bacteria.
Sometimes a yeast infection can cause the same symptoms; treatment then is usually with anti-fungal washes.

Ringworm

(Or dermatophytosis) is often diagnosed in practice, generally by using a Woods Lamp, which makes the fungus glow. Its appearance can vary widely, but most looking involves patches of hair loss, sometimes with scales, sometimes itchy (but not always). It’s particularly a problem in dogs that are ill with something else, and have reduced immunity. To get a definite diagnosis, hair plucks have to be sent to a lab and cultures, but that can take weeks so vets will often start treatment while waiting for confirmation to come back. Treatment usually involves washes, shampoos and occasionally tablets to kill the fungus, but it can take a long time to completely clear a bad infection.

Allergic Reactions

(e.g. to a spot-on medicine, or a new floor cleaner, sometimes even to food!). Usually, there is reddening and inflammation of the skin, and itching, before the hair comes out, but occasionally hair loss is noticed first.

There are other causes (e.g. genetic disorders, immune diseases like pemphigus) but they are generally far less common. It’s important to remember the old adage that “common things are common” before jumping to cocclusions.

Baldness and hair loss in dogs can be a marker for a serious underlying condition – it’s almost never due to simple old age! – but most of these conditions are either curable, or at least manageable.

And the dogs I saw this week? Well, one was a nice simple skin infection (although it didn’t look like it to begin with, the tests were clear and she responded really well to antibiotics). The other one had been on steroids for several years, and the effect over that time had given him Iatrogenic Cushing’s. His owners are working to reduce the dose (very, very gradually, as his body has become dependant on the tablets now), and to keep him warm, they’ve bought him a coat to wear when he goes out in the cold for a walk!

If you are worried about bald patches on your dog, talk to your vet or check any other symptoms using our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help decide how urgent the problem may be.

More Useful Information

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Worming & Flea Treatment

Information and advice in treating your pet for worms and fleas.