Alopecia is partial or complete hair loss in areas of normal hair growth. It is a common disorder that affects dogs regardless of breed, age or gender. Shedding -- even excessive shedding -- is normal, but bald spots or total hair loss are not. Alopecia can be caused by any number of underlying conditions, so it is vital that any instance of alopecia be examined by a veterinarian.
According to AKC Canine Health, the clinical sign of alopecia is hair loss. It may be obvious or well concealed. It may cover the entire body, appear symmetrically on both sides, or simply manifest in one or more small patches of baldness.
Alopecia is an external symptom of an underlying condition. There are two types of alopecia -- hereditary and acquired. Hereditary alopecia is passed through bloodlines. Hereditary causes include color dilution alopecia and black hair follicle dysplasia. Acquired alopecia covers a wide range of causes including demodex mange, sarcoptic mange, folliculitis, parasite allergies, food allergies, vaccination site reaction, trauma, gestational hair loss, cancer, immune disorders and endocrine system disorders.
Because of the varied conditions associated with alopecia, a thorough veterinary exam is a must. Your vet will ask for a detailed history on your dog. He will inquire about your dog's temperament, recent environmental changes, the duration of hair loss and whether your dog has been scratching or biting the affected sites. A careful examination of the pattern and extent of hair loss will be conducted. The exam also may include blood tests, urine analysis and skin scrapings.
According to Pet MD, treatment for alopecia depends on the underlying cause. The alopecia itself typically is treated with medicated shampoo, antibiotic therapy and vitamin supplements. Further treatment to address any other conditions or illnesses also will be necessary.
Once you and your dog have been sent home, it's up to you to be vigilant and follow all instructions as prescribed by your veterinarian. Keep in mind that dogs afflicted with alopecia need extra protection from the elements. According to the AKC Canine Health Foundation, dogs with alopecia are more susceptible to skin infections. Sweaters or T-shirts may be necessary to guard against cold or sunburn. Watch your dog's condition closely. If it worsens or shows signs of infection, consult your vet immediately.