A dog’s coat is one of the first things another person might notice about a dog. If your canine companion has a healthy, shiny coat, you’ve probably received lots of compliments from strangers or the staff at your vet’s office. But what happens when your dog starts losing hair in certain places? It can be quite noticeable, especially if the hair loss is widespread and covers many parts of the body, and it can also indicate an underlying health issue. What are some things you should do to help your hairless dog?
Check your dog for fleas
Flea infestations are one of the most common reasons dogs can lose hair. Fleas are tiny insects that can jump on your dog and feed on his blood. When fleas bite, their saliva can cause inflammation of the dog’s skin. This can be intensely itchy and may cause your pup to bite itself. All of these effects lead to hair loss, which is most evident on a dog’s lower back. Hair loss in this area alone is a classic presentation of flea allergy dermatitis.
Sometimes it’s easy to find evidence of microchips. They are small black or brown insects that move quickly through the hairs of your dog’s skin. If he has a light coat, fleas can be easy to find, but it can be tricky when your dog has a black coat. A fine-toothed flea comb is a useful tool because there is very close spacing between the teeth, so it can pick up fleas easily. Another type of flea evidence is the presence of flea dirt or flea droppings. These look like small grains of ground pepper.
Consider other allergens in the environment
Besides flea allergies, environmental allergies can lead to hair loss. Your dog may be allergic to things outside like pollen, grass, weeds, and trees. Even indoor allergens such as dust mites, storage mites, and mold can cause problems. In the same way that flea bites cause inflammation and itching, these indoor and outdoor allergens also cause a breakdown of the skin barrier.
You can think of your dog’s skin cells as bricks in a building wall, and the skin’s protective elements are the mortar that seals the spaces between the skin cells. When inflammation occurs, it can affect the protective elements that seal cells. Bacteria and other invaders can then penetrate between cells, causing infection.
Hair loss can occur due to skin damaged by allergens. This type of hair loss can appear anywhere on the body. Food allergens can cause more generalized hair loss, while some contact allergens from outdoors, such as grass, cause hair loss around the legs or belly.
Make an appointment with your veterinarian
This is one of the most important milestones because hair loss can be caused by more than just allergies and fleas. Mild allergies usually respond to antihistamines, and some fleas can be treated with over-the-counter topical products, but there are many other causes of hair loss. Some of these causes cannot be helped with over-the-counter treatments alone, which is why immediate evaluation is so critical.
Certain types of skin parasites like mange (aka sarcoptic mange) can cause hair loss, intense itching, and can be passed on to other pets and other people. The same goes for fungal infections like ringworm, which can be contracted from other animals or from dirt and soil. Underlying hormonal disorders like Cushing’s disease, adrenal gland disorder, and hypothyroidism are also possible. Your veterinarian can perform skin tests and perform special blood tests to rule out some of these diseases. In these cases, the hair loss may seem to get slightly worse before it gets better, and it may take weeks or months for your dog’s hair to regrow.
Check your dog’s diet and consider a food elimination trial
A balanced diet is crucial for a healthy coat and skin. The vast majority of commercial dog foods are nutritionally complete diets, meaning they contain the right mix of vitamins and minerals dogs need to stay healthy. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids because, like humans, dogs cannot make their own omega-3s. These fatty acids are important for brain health, heart health, and kidney function.
If your vet suspects your pup has a food allergy, they will discuss a diet change in order to perform a food elimination trial. This means that your dog will need to eat a diet that is either novel in its protein source or the protein is hydrolyzed so that the immune system doesn’t detect it and trigger a reaction. Since many sources of omega-3s are fish oils, you may need to avoid any fish oil supplements during the trial.
Consider trying an omega-3 supplement
Food allergies aside, many dogs can benefit from omega-3 supplementation. There are many great products on the market, and they are generally safe to give to dogs of all ages. Omega-3s have been linked to reducing inflammation in many conditions, including skin disorders. They may also help dogs with chronic kidney disease, arthritis, and behavioral or brain disorders such as canine cognitive dysfunction in older dogs.
Most vets like me favor products that combine different elements. For example, Krillex joint formula is a supplement that I use for my own dogs and for many of my patients because it combines krill oil (a source of omega-3) with glycosaminoglycans. Glycosaminoglycans are complex sugars that are used in the development of cartilage and in the production of synovial fluid, a viscous fluid that lubricates dog joints. Glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid are effective in helping dogs with inflammation and arthritis, and they are all included in the Krillex formula.