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Hair loss or Alopecia - genetics, nutrition or disease?

Updated: Nov 13, 2023



Hair loss or Alopecia - genetics, nutrition or disease

For many pets shedding hair is a full-time job, although frustrating for some owners, it’s a completely natural process and requires no intervention beyond any regular grooming. Conducting a thorough review of the pets’ history, understanding the specific tendencies expressed by their breed and carefully examining and combing their coat will all provide valuable insights into any underlying cause which is contributing to their hair loss.


Some breeds such as Boston terriers are genetically predisposed to pattern baldness; whilst this may be considered unsightly by some pet owners the genetics cannot be undone. If the dog is on a healthy balanced diet, with a healthy skin and coat, no further intervention is needed beyond perhaps a groomer to ‘tidy’ the pets appearance if the owner is unduly concerned about the pets appearance. For those not genetically pre-disposed to patterned baldness, excessive thinning or bald patches is indicative of an underlying condition which requires attention with care paid to any other associated symptoms.


When hair loss accompanied by constant scratching, licking or chewing the likelihood of an underlying parasite load, allergy or nutritional deficiency causing the itchy skin should be investigated as resolving the itch is required if a healthy skin and coat is to be restored for the pet. A full review of the pet’s history will aid in the identification of any environmental or dietary allergens whilst conducting a thorough examination and combing of the pet’s coat will dislodge parasites and skin debris for closer examination and determination of any anti parasitic required. If examining and combing the coat have ruled out the presence of external parasites and the presence of environmental triggers is considered unlikely then dietary considerations are the likely trigger for the allergy. Commercial pet foods are a common dietary cause of itching or skin allergies, therefore the pet would ideally be transitioned onto a raw, species appropriate diet[1]. Providing the pet with nutritional support is essential regardless of the trigger as this will improve not only the way the immune system responds but also the overall health of the pet [2].


There are some conditions which, in addition to hair loss present serious health implications for the pet and should be referred to a veterinarian for accurate diagnosis and treatment. German Shepherds are a breed genetically pre-disposed to hair loss with a condition known as ‘lumpy skin syndrome’ which aside from hair loss presents as lumps on the skin which may ‘erupt’, this condition is often associated with kidney cysts and therefore veterinary referral should be considered [3]. For pets that have not been de-sexed it’s worth considering hormonal imbalances with alopecia a clinical sign of compromised ovarian or testicular function. Alopecia, particularly on the neck and trunk of dogs can be caused by Endocrine disorders, these include hypothyroidism and Hyperadrenocorticism. Hypothyroidism is a condition involving decreased thyroid activity, the coat of the affected dog becomes brittle with hair ‘breaking’ and the skin becomes thickened, often with hyper-pigmentation. Hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing’s disease is a condition involving the excess production and release of corticosteroids, the skin becomes visibly thin with the veins becoming more prominent, additionally a chalky substance may be present on the skin which becomes very cool to touch [4].




Sources

[1] Syme, B. 2011. Scientific Guide to Natural Nutrition. Southbank, Australia: Vets All Natural Pty Ltd. [2] Billinghurst, I. 1993. Give Your Dog a Bone. Bathurst, New South Wales: Warrigal Publishing. [3] White, S. D. 2018. Whole-body Disorders that Affect the Skin in Dogs. Retrieved December 26th, 2020, from MSD Veterinary Manual Web site: https://msdvetmanual.com/dog-owners/skin-disorders-of-dogs/whole-body-disorders-that-affect-the-skin-in-dogs [4] Hill, F. W. 1991. Skin Disorders. In D. R. Lane, Jones's Animal Nursing, 5th ed. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press.

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