From the symptoms to at-home treatments, a veterinarian offers advice.

By Caroline Biggs
June 16, 2020
Person brushing a white dog
Credit: sonsam / Getty Images

If you have a pet that suffers from frequent hair loss, then you already know how troublesome and concerning it can be. "The medical term for hair loss (or fur loss, in the case of pets) is alopecia, describing an area of skin where there is partial or complete hair loss," explains Dr. Chad Dodd, veterinarian as well as president and CEO of Animatas Consulting. "Alopecia can occur at any age, in any breed, and anywhere on the body. It can be caused by a variety of conditions including allergies, skin infections, and endocrine disorders."

Luckily, Dr. Dodd says hair loss in your pet does not necessarily mean they have a serious condition. "It is normal for healthy pets to shed hair on a regular basis," he says. "In cases of routine shedding the pet typically doesn't have bald patches. If your pet is itchy and scratching, this might be a clue to what is causing the hair loss." Looking for more insight on why your pet is losing fur? From environmental factors to topical treatment options and beyond, here's what Dr. Dodd had to share.

Environmental Factors

According to Dr. Dodd, hair loss in pets is often caused by allergies, particularly environmental and food-related ones. In addition to airborne environmental contributors such as pollen, mold spores, dust mites, and fleas, he says common food allergies to beef, chicken, corn, dairy, soy, and wheat can trigger fur loss in animals. "It can take as few as one flea to induce an allergic reaction and a reaction can last for days," he says. "Just like in people, pets can also get stressed. If there's been a change in your pet's living conditions or other new stressors in their life, excessive shedding could be your pet's response."

Biological Factors

While some cases of alopecia in dogs are a result of environmental factors, Dr. Dodd says others are sometimes due to hormonal disorders. "Hypothyroidism (abnormally low thyroid hormone levels), adrenal gland dysfunction (hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing's Disease), sex hormone imbalances, and another hormone-like pattern of hair loss termed Alopecia X can all cause-varying degrees of hair loss and alopecia," he explains. "Your dog's breed, age, and the distribution of the hair loss along with other symptoms may make one or another of these conditions more likely." Fortunately, he says your veterinarian will be able to conduct diagnostic and blood tests to determine the specific cause.

Topical Treatments

Treatment options for hair loss vary based on the cause of the problem, but Dr. Dodd says in certain cases topical treatments can help. "For allergic reactions, your pet may require treatment with antihistamines while bacterial and parasite infections may require other kinds of medication," he explains. "Flea and other insect control methods may also help reduce hair loss due to fleas or other parasite infections, which is why it's a good idea to keep your pet on year-round protection." Additionally, he says dermatologically approved medicated shampoos for pets can help alleviate hair-loss related itching and scratching—just be sure to check with your veterinarian first to ensure it's not due to an underlying condition.

Nutritional Matters

Make no mistake about it: Dr. Dodd says providing your pet with a nutrient-rich diet is essential for both their hair and skin health. "Provide your pet with a diet that's enriched with high-quality, highly digestible proteins, biotin, and a good balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids," he explains. "Supplements and vitamins, including high-quality sources of omega 3 fatty acids, biotin, vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, and antioxidants can also help pets with skin conditions, just make sure to check with your veterinarian before adding any of these supplements to your pet's daily routine."

Talk to Your Veterinarian

If your pet is shedding excessively, or you notice sudden bald patches, Dr. Dodd says your best bet is to contact your vet asap. "Take a picture and share it with your veterinarian," he says. "They can help you determine if there is a need for an office visit to sort out what is causing the hair loss and how best to treat."


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