While shedding is normal in dogs, hair loss—also known as alopecia—is a troubling thing to notice in your assistance dog. It may manifest as bald spots of any size and in any location, or it may be body-wide or localized thinning of the coat.
Hair loss in dogs has numerous possible causes, and while many of them certainly aren’t medical emergencies, it should prompt a visit to your veterinarian. Whenever you notice a change in your service, guide, or hearing dog’s appearance or behavior, it may be an important clue that something’s wrong. Often, early detection and timely treatment make a huge difference in how well and how affordably a condition can be managed.
Here’s a quick look at some of the most common causes of bald spots or thinning hair in dogs.
Your assistance dog can suffer from all sorts of allergies that can trigger quite a lot of itchiness. This itching often causes excessive scratching, biting, licking, and/or chewing, which easily turns into bald spots or areas of thinning fur. Here are some allergy possibilities:
- Flea bite dermatitis, a hypersensitivity to flea bites, is the most common canine allergy
- Contact dermatitis, an allergic response to contact with a particular material such as plastic, metals, rubber, wool, dyes, detergents, and chemicals
- Environmental allergies to things like grass, pollen, or dust; these are often seasonal allergies
- Food allergies account for about 10 percent of allergies in dogs; the most likely allergens are beef, dairy, wheat, egg, chicken, lamb, soy, pork, rabbit, and fish
- Dogs can also have allergic reactions to medications
Parasites that crawl around on and bite your hearing, guide, or service dog can drive her mad with itchiness and irritation. Just like with allergies, this frequently triggers excessive scratching, biting, chewing, and/or licking that leads to bald spots or a thinning coat.
Fleas are of course a common possible culprit. Mites (e.g., scabies and mange) are another potential explanation, and dogs may experience allergic reactions to mite bites as well. Ticks can also cause itching and irritation.
If your assistance dog develops a superficial infection, it can affect the skin and coat in the area, even causing hair loss. These typically result from cuts or other wounds in which bacteria begins growing. Fungal infections are another possibility, with ringworm being a common example.
If you notice localized bald spots or thinning hair, take a close look at the area. Check for any injuries that need attention, and for redness or other discoloration, discharge, warmth, and swelling. Infections are generally easy to treat with a topical antibacterial or antifungal medication, but more severe ones may require oral antibiotics or other interventions.
Some dogs have genetic conditions that cause hair loss, or even just a genetic predisposition to thinning hair with age. Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism are the common canine endocrine disorders, and hair loss is a hallmark symptom of both. In fact, most types of hormone imbalances can cause thinning hair or bald patches, and hormone imbalances are associated with lots of disorders and diseases.
Get It Checked!
These aren’t all the explanations for hair loss in dogs, of course. Other common causes are much more likely to affect pets than assistance dogs, though. For example, dogs that lie down a lot—especially if they’re overweight—may develop pressure sores on and around their elbows that lead to calluses and hair loss. Also, lick granulomas or hot spots are seen in dogs that are chronically bored or stressed, which can prompt excessive licking or chewing.
You may very well be able to diagnose and treat something like a flea infestation yourself, but if the answer isn’t obvious and easily manageable, take your assistance dog to the vet. Mention any other possible symptoms you’ve noticed. Obviously, treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your service, hearing, or guide dog’s hair loss.