Loss of hair, also known as alopecia, is a common sign of poor skin health in dogs. Infections, parasites and immune disorders can damage hair follicles on the paws and legs, leading to patches of baldness. The itchiness and inflammation associated with many canine foot problems may also compel your dog to lick and chew the fur away as he seeks relief.
They are almost too small to see without a magnifying lens, but they can have a big impact on your pet's skin. Infestations of the sarcoptic mange mite, Sarcoptes scabei, are highly contagious and difficult to eradicate. Dogs with a deficient immune system can also suffer from demodectic mange. This form of mange is caused by Demodex canis, which is a native resident of canine skin from birth.
Symptoms of mange include:
- Expanding bald patches across the body, particularly on the face and legs
- Prolonged itching sessions throughout the day
- Abrasions and scabs from scratching
Isolate your dog from other pets and household members if you suspect mange mites are the cause of his hair loss. These parasites spread to other animals quickly, and they can bite humans as well.
Bacterial and fungal infections cause inflammation of the paws, or pododermatitis, which is often associated with hair loss. There are many types of bacteria that can cause this condition, including species of staphylococcus, mycobacterium and pseudomonas.
Ringworm is a contagious fungal pathogen that can easily spread to humans or animals upon contact with infected skin. The disease is characterized by circular patches of discolored, bald skin that expand and multiply.
Pemphigus foliaceous is one of the most prevalent autoimmune skin disorders in canines, and most cases occur without a discernible cause. Dogs suffering from this disease develop lesions as their immune system attacks the skin. Blisters and patches of bald or scaling skin develop as the condition progresses.
Acral Lick Granuloma
Stress or discomfort prompts many dogs to overgroom the tops of their paws. This behavior damages the skin, causing the tissue to become thicker and hairless. Lesions arise in the affected areas over time, which opens the way for bacterial and fungal infection.
There are many explanations for compulsive grooming, including:
- Lack of stimulation or prolonged confinement
- Skin irritation from parasites or hormone imbalance
- Exposure to dietary allergens
- Environmental stress factors, like a new pet or moving to a new home
- Hormone imbalance
Diagnosing the Disorder
Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a professional diagnosis. Do not attempt to identify and treat the condition on your own. In many cases, there are multiple factors contributing to the damage.
Evaluation of a skin sample from your pet reveals many of the common causes of alopecia, including mange mites, ringworm and bacterial infection. Your vet may also test his blood and urine for signs of an immune disorder or hormone imbalance. Allergy trials are prescribed to rule out dietary and environmental sensitivities.
Reversing hair loss depends on managing the primary cause of the skin disorder. Your vet will prescribe treatment depending on the underlying cause. Medicated shampoo and other products can alleviate some of the irritation and deal with parasites. Antibiotic and fungicidal medications may be necessary to combat an established infection.
Since many causes of alopecia are chronic, your vet may prescribe an on-going management strategy to keep your dog's skin healthy
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.