Why is my dog going bald? 1: genetics

Hair loss in dogs can have a number of causes. Here are some examples that you might be able to follow up with your veterinarian.

  • Part 1: Genetic Causes [you are here]
  • Part 2: Diseases and Disorders [coming soon]
  • Part 3: Parasites and Toxins [coming soon]

Also known as: alopecia.

Photo credit: russell.willmoth / Foter.com / CC BY

Genetic Causes

It pays to be aware of genetic causes of hair loss and all genetic diseases known to occur in dogs of that breed. Treatment for these conditions is often not covered by pet insurance.

There are three widely recognized genetic causes of baldness in dogs that are all similar in symptomology and appearance.

Genetic causes are much rarer in cross-bred dogs, where baldness is more likely to indicate an acquired disorder.

Pomerian with Alopecia X
Pomerian with Alopecia X | Source

Alopecia X

Also called: black skin disease, coat funk, cold funk, familial hair loss syndrome, follicular dysplasia, growth hormone response alopecia, hair cycle arrest, post-clipping alopecia, woolly syndrome

Found in: Alaskan Malamute, Chow Chow, English Spring Spaniel, Keeshound, Pomeranian, Miniature Poodle, Samoyed, Siberian Husky. (Schipperke's have a similar condition but it has not been definitvely identified as alopecia).

As the alternative name for this condition suggests, it is associated with dogs that have a thick, woolly coat--often those adapted to live in very cold climates. Alternative coat type are associated with hypotrichosis (thin or absent hair) in a number of species including cats.

Symptoms: Alopecia X in non-inflammatory, meaning the dog will not be itchy or irritated. It tends to occur with adult dogs, progressing gradually, mainly on the upper legs and torso. Once fully developed the skin will darken and patches or large areas of skin will be completely bald. the baldness will match n the left and right sides of the body.

Alopecia X occurs n both sexes and with neutered and intact animals, although some consider it is more common in female and may be treated by neutering in the male.

Cause: The exact cause of Alopecia X is not known so it tend to be diagnosed when other causes are excluded. The hair follicle become distorted, mostly likely due to a too high or too low level or circulating hormones.

Treatments: Spontaneous recovery sometimes occurs. As the baldness does not cause discomfort many owners opt not to pursue active treatments. Treatments available include growth hormone, melatonin supplements, testosterone supplements or neutering of males dogs.

Doberman with dilution factor alopecia
Doberman with dilution factor alopecia | Source

Dilution Factor Baldness

Also called: canine follicular dysplasia, color mutant alopecia.

Found in: Bernese Mountain Dog, Chihuahua, Chow Chow, Dachshund, Doberman, Great Dane, Irish Setter, Italian Greyhound, Miniature Pinscher, Poodle (Miniature, Standard, Toy and Teacup), Rhodesian Ridgeback, Schauzer, Saluki, Schipperke, Shetland Sheep dog (Sheltie), Whippet

Symptoms: In these breeds dogs with fawn or blue coats may show alopecia. The coat will gradually becomes dull and dry before being shed in areas covered by hairs of these colors. Hair follicles are atrophied and clumpes of melanin may be apparent, but the skin is otherwise normal in appearance.

Cause: The cause is linked to the dilution gene which causes a red-brown coat to be expressed as pale fawn, or black as "blue" (a blue-tinted pale gray).

Treatment: Diagnosis is conformed by microscopis inspection of the hair follicles for clumps of melanin. As with Alopecia X the animals experience no direct discomfort and so the condition may not be actively treated. There has been some suggestion that etretinatemay be effective.

Doberman with dilution factor alopecia
Doberman with dilution factor alopecia | Source

Follicular dysplasia (structural)

Found in: It has been found in the Irish Water Spaniel, Portuguese Water Dog, and Curly Coated retriever. Associated with curly coats.

Symptoms: Effected animals have hair that is weak and breaks easily.

Cause: Genetic.

Treatment: None.

Melanoderma and alopecia of Yorkshire Terrier

Found in: Yorkshire Terrier (a similar condition referred to as "pinnal alopecia" is seen in dachshunds)

Symptoms: Dark skin and hair loss appear on the extremoties: ears, muzzle, tail and paws.

Cause: Unknown cause.

Treatment: The dog may recover spontaneous. No effective treatment is known.

These three symdromes may have a similar underlying causes which isn't fully understood. The available treatments are semi-experimental and not effective in all animals, some also have serious potential side effects.

In all cases care should be taken to protect the bald skin areas from extremes of temperature (e.g. with clothing, sun screen etc).

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