We’ve all seen dogs with patches of hair loss, usually from mange or another type of infection, but did you know dogs can go bald just like humans? Hair loss in dogs is a condition called alopecia; there can be a number of underlying reasons why it happens, and pattern baldness is one of them.
We first became aware of this condition during a check-up with our veterinary dermatologist—yes, they exist!—who noticed the thinning hair on our dog’s hindquarters. California Veterinary Dermatologist Dr. Nicole Eckholm assured us it’s a cosmetic issue, just like in humans.
“It’s non-inflammatory and does not cause itch or discomfort,” Dr. Eckholm says.
But we wanted to know more! Dr. Eckholm walks us through the signs of pattern baldness, who it most often affects, and what you can do about it.
Who It Affects
Pattern baldness mainly affects certain breeds of short-haired dogs like dachshunds, greyhounds, whippets, miniature pinschers, Boston terriers, and Chihuahuas.
Areas It Occurs
Balding areas are common behind the ears, on the thighs, under the neck, on the abdomen, and on the chest. Discoloration is also possible in affected areas.
Hair loss can start as early as six months of age, and complete hair loss is possible by age eight or nine.
Treatment for Dog Hair Loss
The only way to treat pattern baldness is with melatonin, which can be helpful in some cases.
“Melatonin can sometimes stimulate hair growth, but it’s not necessary,” Dr. Eckholm explains.
Doses vary depending on the size of your dog—consult your vet before giving this or any medication. It generally takes 90 days to see improvement and partial hair growth. Melatonin can cause diarrhea, but it’s not a common side effect.
Melatonin is a drug-free option generally used in humans and dogs to treat insomnia. It’s used for dogs to treat separation anxiety and to calm nervous dogs; some people even use it to correct behavioral problems. It’s over the counter but again, consult a vet for more information. There are also brands geared specifically towards dogs.
What Causes It
In some cases, there can be an underlying cause for balding—things like flea allergy or hyperthyroidism. But there is also straightforward pattern baldness, which is a non-inflammatory condition.
Issues can arise when a dog experiences total hair loss.
“If they sunbathe, sunscreen or clothing is useful to prevent sun damage,” Dr. Eckholm suggests.
My Dog’s Case
Pattern baldness often occurs on this thighs and behind the ears of dachshunds.Yellow Dog is an environmental allergy sufferer; he’s allergic to several types of trees, grasses, cats, and cockroaches. When his case got extreme, we sought the help of a veterinary dermatologist. Dr. Eckholm has been treating him ever since.
During a routine check-up, Dr. Eckholm noticed Yellow Dog is losing the hair on his thighs! We feared it might be due to steroid usage, which we elected to provide some relief from allergy itching.
“Steroid use did not cause the baldness,” Dr. Eckholm explains. “In some cases there can be an underlying cause, but for Yellow I think it’s just pattern baldness. But I don’t think he will lose all of his hair.”
The Bottom Line
Dog baldness happens. Sometimes there is an underlying cause, but other times it’s just cosmetic like humans! If your dog has thinning hair, consult a vet dermatologist to see if it’s pattern baldness or another issue.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.