Dogs losing fur

Why is my dog losing fur?

Photo credit: Lilly Full Haircut by BrownPolyester, on Flickr

Photo credit: Lilly Full Haircut by BrownPolyester, on Flickr

There are many reasons why a dog might be losing its fur. In general, a healthy dog is a hairy dog. So if your dog’s hair starts looking thinner, that’s a sign something’s wrong.

Learn six common reasons for dogs losing their fur, the symptoms for each and what you can do about them. Also included are links where you can find more detailed information.

This article is the result of research I did when my own dog was losing his hair. So I thought I would summarize what I learned and also share my experiences.

Common reasons for dogs losing fur

Is your dog losing hair? Find out why.

My samoyed Shanook

My samoyed Shanook

It’s normal for dogs to shed and some breeds shed all their hair seasonally. Dogs like malamutes, huskies and samoyeds have a thick undercoat that comes off about twice a year. It just requires a lot of brushing.

But if your dog has flaky skin, dull dry hair, thinning hair, bald patches or sores, these are problems that may be caused by:

  • Flea allergy
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Mange
  • Severe Hair Loss Syndrome
  • Food allergy
  • Vitamin deficiency

Flea allergy

Itching, biting and scratching can lead to bald spots

When a flea bites a dog, its saliva goes under the dog’s skin. A dog that is hypersensitive to the flea’s saliva will experience extreme itching. That of course causes the dog to scratch and bite. The scratching and biting leads to hair loss, usually around the rear end and back legs. Sometimes sores or hot spots will develop.

You must treat the dog, the house and the yard to kill the fleas. The conventional treatment is to bathe your dog once a month and apply a topical flea treatment. Alternatively, you can explore natural ways to prevent fleas.

Vacuum the house, especially where the dog sleeps, and dispose of the vacuum bag. After vacuuming, use a flea spray or dry product like Fleabusters.

For the outside, spray the yard every two months.

Fleas seem to be more attracted to dogs that are already having issues with their skin. A nutritious diet and vitamins could eliminate this problem.

My experience with flea treatments

Years ago I gave my dog monthly Frontline flea treatments. They worked pretty well but, as time went on, they became less and less effective. My vet informed me the reason for this was that fleas had built up a tolerance, and prescription medicine was becoming the preferred treatment.

Fleas inside the house were an issue until I discovered Fleabusters. Just one treatment pretty much eliminated the problem.

With that problem solved, I turned my attention to the fleas on my dog. I was unwilling to give him drugs to control fleas so I decided to try a brewer’s yeast and garlic tablet. I was very happy with how well it worked. Now I very rarely see a flea on him and there are no more fleas in the house.

Hypothyroidism

A sluggish thyroid can cause a dog to lose its hair

Photo credit: morgueFile

Photo credit: morgueFile

Hypothyroidism is caused by a sluggish thyroid gland. Also known as Cushing’s Disease. Some symptoms of hypothyroidism are:

  • Hair loss on the trunk and tail
  • Flaky skin, bumps or sores
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Joint pain
  • Hyperpigmentation (excessive dark spots on the skin)
  • Decline in mental alertness
  • Constipation
  • Slow heart rate

Your vet can do a blood test for hypothyroidism and will most likely prescribe thyroid medicine for your dog.

Mange

A serious condition resulting in sores and hair loss

Mange, also known as Canine Scabies, is caused by mites. They burrow into the skin and lay eggs which develop into larvae. Mites reproduce very quickly.

Mites are always present on dogs, but if the dog has a healthy immune system its antibodies will attack the mites. Bathing your dog regularly and giving him a proper diet will minimize the risk of mites becoming a problem.

Some symptoms of mange are:

  • Itchiness
  • Bald spots
  • Blisters and sores
  • Dry, crusty skin
  • Bad odor similar to strong cheese

If you suspect mange, take your dog to the vet immediately. He will probably prescribe antibiotics. Waiting too long for treatment will make it much harder or impossible to cure.

Photo credit: YearOfTheDog by zdian, on Flickr

Photo credit: YearOfTheDog by zdian, on Flickr

Severe Hair Loss Syndrome

A mysterious cause of hair loss in dogs

Not much is known about Severe Hair Loss Syndrome (SHLS) except that it’s thought to be genetic, affecting more males than females. Certain breeds are more prone to developing SHLS such as airedales, boxers, chow chows, keeshonds, pomeranians and miniature poodles.

Severe Hair Loss Syndrome is also known as Black Skin Disease and Alopecia X. Symptoms include hyperpigmentation (black skin) and symmetrical hair loss on both sides of the body.

Since very little is known about SHLS, treatment options are limited. Sometimes it can be attributed to a hormone imbalance and may be successfully treated. The good news is that SHLS is more a cosmetic issue than anything else.

Food allergy

The body’s reaction to poor digestion

Photo credit: Einstein eats a carrot by 4johnny5, on Flickr

Photo credit: Einstein eats a carrot by 4johnny5, on Flickr

Food allergies are thought to be less common than flea allergies, but a food allergy can cause hair loss as well as itching, rashes and pustules.

Allergies develop when dogs eat grains and other foods that aren’t part of their ancestral diet, which causes intestinal irritation known as leaky gut. The intestines develop tiny holes that allow undigested food particles to enter into the blood stream. So any food the dog normally eats, even appropriate foods, will pass into the blood stream. These particles are then attacked by the body’s white blood cells.

After a while, the body develops an immediate response to these “foreign invaders,” which is then seen as an allergy.

Conventional wisdom says to discontinue the old diet and introduce new foods one at a time to see if there’s a reaction.

I believe dogs are more likely to develop food allergies and other health problems if they’re fed commercial dog food, including the food sold by vets. Commercial dog food is highly processed and contains lots of cheap fillers. The first ingredient is usually corn meal. The meat they use is slaughterhouse waste, stuff that can’t be sold to humans.

The ideal diet for a dog’s coat and overall health is an ancestral diet of bones and raw food. The next best thing is to cook for your dog with the primary ingredient being high quality meat.

Following that, and only as a matter of last resort, is to feed your dog a premium grain-free, high protein product with real human-grade meat as the first ingredient. (See this dog food comparison chart for options.) But remember, even though a commercial dog food may not contain fillers, it’s still highly processed.

I now cook for my dog (meat, eggs and fish) and supplement with vitamins. I do also have a good grain-free dog food on hand as a backup.

Vitamin deficiency

Vitamin supplementation can restore a dog’s hair

grizzly salmon oil

Our bottle of Grizzly salmon oil

Vitamin A and D deficiencies can result in dogs losing their hair, and make them more attractive to pests like fleas and mites. Even with a quality diet, certain dogs like pomeranians may need more of these vitamins. Fish oil is the best source for vitamins A and D, along with Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

When choosing a fish oil supplement, look for one that’s free of mercury. The best source of high-quality fish oil is from wild Alaskan salmon. Wild salmon eat krill, an algae that gives salmon its pink color. Krill is also virtually free of toxins.

Farmed salmon are given chemicals to make them look pink. They’re fed a high level of antibiotics and pellets made from corn meal, soy, fish containing mercury, chicken droppings and GMO canola oil.

I buy Grizzly Salmon Oil for my pomeranian and he loves it! I keep it in the refrigerator so it stays fresh.

My experience with Grizzly Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil

Years ago my dog’s skin was flaking and his fur was thinning. I couldn’t understand why because I was feeding him premium grain-free dog food. My holistic vet said my dog needed more micronutrients and recommended Grizzly Salmon Oil. Within two weeks my dog’s flaky skin was gone and his coat was shinier. A couple of months later he was back to being the little fluff ball he’d been before.

Grizzly Salmon Oil is made in the USA from wild Alaskan salmon. It’s also tested to ensure their product does not contain significant amounts of mercury.

My pomeranian’s hair grew back

fluffy dog

My dog Choo Choo at 11 years old, September 2012

Here’s my dog, still fluffy and gorgeous at the age of 11.

Some useful links about dog health and nutrition

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