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Alopecia

Alopecia (hair loss) can affect our “furry friends”.  Skin conditions are very varied but simple hair loss is quite common and can have many causes.

If pets are itchy they often get an associated hair loss due to excessive scratching, licking and grooming but in these cases you are aware of the animal’s irritation and the skin is usually red or scabby.  Alopecia is when the hair just falls out!

A vet can usually tell whether the hair is being pulled out or has fallen out by removing some and looking at it down a microscope, as each will have a different appearance.  In addition, when the hair is falling out the skin is smooth to touch but when pulled out it feels rough.

The most common causes of alopecia are hormonal abnormalities.  An under active thyroid gland can result in symmetrical hair loss over the back.  The thyroid gland is a very important gland that sits in the neck region and is responsible for controlling metabolism.
Hypothyroidism, an under active gland, is very common in dogs.  Often you will find your dog has become sluggish and it may put on weight despite having a poor appetite.  The hair growth cycle is under the influence of the thyroid gland so when it does not produce enough thyroxin hormones there is hair loss and poor growth.  This is diagnosed by measuring the level of thyroxine hormone in the blood and is treated simply by supplementing with artificial thyroxine in the form of a tablet.

Cushing’s Disease is another hormonal problem that affects hair growth. It is caused by an overactive adrenal gland.  This is a small gland that sits on the kidney and produces a variety of hormones.  The skin abnormalities in this case are usually accompanied by an increase in eating and drinking.  This disease is seen commonly in dogs (and hamsters) and occasionally in cats.

Seasonal alopecia is another common cause of hair loss.  The hair loss is usually symmetrical, but can be patchy and affects the back, tummy and hind legs.  As with other causes of hair loss it is non-itchy and the hair falls out in the spring and summer and usually grows back in the Autumn.  Often this is left untreated, as it does not affect the animal.

All cases of balding should to be checked by a vet because conditions such as Cushing’s disease can be fatal if left untreated.

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