Our dog’s hair is falling out. And not just a little bit, we’re talking tufts of hair rolling down your hallway like a tumbleweed in the Wild West. But before you start freaking out, here’s some information about dog hair loss that you need to know.
“Some breeds are naturally going to shed a whole bunch and some breeds aren’t going to shed very much at all,” says Dr. Chris Reeder, a veterinarian at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Nashville, Tennessee, who is board-certified in dermatology. “You have to look at what kind of breed of dog you have and if it’s normal and natural for them to shed a lot, versus the dogs that don’t normally shed a whole lot.”
The first step, research your breed and determine whether regular shedding is a common occurrence for them.
“If a person has a Labrador retriever and it’s shedding a lot but there’s no actual alopecia, there are no bare spots, there’s no baldness on the dog, then it’s usually not a problem,” Reeder says. “Just about every breed’s going to go through bigger cycles, one or two times a year anyway. That’s something that’s a natural phenomenon.”
What’s not natural is bald spots on your dog’s body.
“[If] there’s some degree of alopecia (a.k.a. baldness) and that’s the concern,” he says. “That’s when owners may want to investigate it a little further.”
Hair loss around the eyes or on the trunk of the body, or extreme hair thinning where you can almost see the skin or there is no hair at all, would all be something to investigate the cause of, according to Reeder, so schedule a vet visit. But Before you go, note your dog’s symptoms.
“There are two main categories of hair loss: itchy and non-itchy,” Reeder says. “If the dog’s scratching, licking, chewing, biting, rubbing, rolling, any of those things, and the hair’s coming out because of [this behavior], that’s different than the hair falling out and the dog doesn’t seem bothered by it. It’s not itchy, it’s not scratching, it’s not having a problem. So we try to classify that from the owner.”
How Often do Labs Shed?
While Labradors regularly shed some amount throughout the year, the hair loss is especially evident in two short periods during the year as the season's change.
For around three weeks apiece, you’ll find your Lab will shed a lot of hair in the Spring as they lose their heavy winter coat, and again at the turn of Autumn as they lose their Summer coat and get ready to ‘bulk up’ for the winter.
Lab owners often refer to these periods as “shedding season”, and you can expect to be using your vacuum cleaner a lot more during these weeks
Why do They Shed?
Labs tend to shed more than other short-haired breeds because their hair is incredibly dense and boasts something called a double coat.
This double coat is made up of a sleek outer layer of hair, which is waterproof, as well as a fluffy undercoat to keep your Lab warm whatever the weather.
This fabulous coat is what makes Labs so tolerant of different temperatures and rainfall.
Causes and find out how your vet can help.
Nutritional hair loss in dogs
Dogs can lose hair when they’re not receiving proper nutrition.
There’s a lot of owners who are really interested in home cooking diets, and that’s one of those that I would be cautious about, To make sure that the diet is well-balanced.
If it’s a commercial food, most of the time it will be balanced, but if you’re making it yourself you’ll need to make sure it’s packed with what your dogs need to stay healthy.
Hormonal hair loss in dogs
There’s a ton of different hormonal reasons for why dogs lose their hair, adding that with hormonal hair loss, it’s typically very symmetrical and usually affects the trunk of the dog.
One of the most common causes of hormonal hair loss is Hypothyroidism or low thyroid.
I feel like it’s over-diagnosed, but it certainly causes hair loss,
Additionally, Cushing’s disease or atypical Cushing’s disease are other common causes.
That’s an overproduction of hormones. So you’ve got too many of these hormones produced by the adrenal gland that causes suppression of the hair growth, then we get hair loss.
Allergic hair loss in dogs
Three types of allergies are most common, according to Reeder, environmental or what they atopy — meaning something they’re allergic to in the environment — and then flea allergy and food allergy.
Any of those can create traumatic hair loss, meaning the dog’s itchy, scratchy, they’re going to have symptoms of being allergic, other than hair loss. Symptoms include scratching, in some of these cases you may or may not see fleas. They’ll be really itchy.
Allergic hair loss is not typically symmetrical.
Hair loss with infection
Examples of this are bacterial or yeast infections and also ringworm, which is a fungal skin infection. Bacterial or yeast infections are usually secondary to some underlying cause. Occasionally you can have more than one cause for the hair loss and so a lot of times those can be piggybacked onto parasitic infections, hormonal imbalances, or these allergic conditions. Those can be a secondary complicating factor with those other things that
Parasitic hair loss
This type of hair loss can be caused by mange, a skin disease involving parasitic mites. There are two common types, demodectic mange, which cannot be transmitted to people, and sarcoptic mange a.k.a. scabies, which can be transmitted to people.
Demodex mites live in the hair follicles, because of where they live, the hair falls out. Sarcoptic tends to be very itchy, the hair loss results in the fact that the scabies mites kind of live in these tunnels under the upper layers of the skin.
Hair loss due to cancer
One of the more common kinds of cancer veterinarians see, is cutaneous lymphoma and which’s diagnosed through a biopsy during a veterinary visit.
The other one we see is metastatic cancer, sometimes we call that paraneoplastic, where you’ve got something internal and it happens to manifest on the skin and that can cause the hair to be lost as well.
Treatment of Hair Loss in Dogs
Depending on the diagnosis, a variety of treatments are available for dog hair loss.
(oral or topical) will treat bacterial infections.
(oral or topical) can treat yeast and ringworm infections.
may be required to treat certain skin conditions.
- Immunosuppressive Drugs or Anti-cytokine Drugs
may be needed for environmental allergy (Atopy) control. Often life long treatment is needed.
may be needed orally or by injection for allergy desensitization.
- Behavioral medications
can treat nervous chewing or licking.
- Medicated shampoos
or dips can treat cases of mange.
- Hypoallergenic diets
will often solve hair loss due to food allergies. Allergies to foods take some time to define. The veterinarian will recommend a prescription or over-the-counter hypoallergenic diet and explain the proper method of transitioning to the new diet.
- Monthly flea prevention
can clear up hair loss associated with flea allergies
- Thyroid medication and hormone therapy
can reverse hair loss in hormonal and endocrine disorders.
- Vitamin E, Vitamin A, and fish oil supplements
maybe recommended for pets with certain conditions or a predisposition to dry skin or skin infections.
- An Elizabethan collar
(e-collar or cone) may be required to prevent your pet from licking at or itching the affected site until healed.
may be required to remove sections of skin cancer or tumors. Neutering or spaying your pet may be required for sex-hormone disorders.
Hair loss due to chemotherapy normally clears when chemotherapy sessions are completed. Hair loss may be permanent when caused by genetics, scarring, callouses, or pressure sores. Most hair loss, when treated properly, will resolve. Recurrent skin conditions may require ongoing treatment.
Hair loss may need to be treated more than once, depending on your pet’s predisposition to skin infections. Always administer treatment according to the veterinarian’s instructions. Follow-up appointments may be necessary to ensure the problem is resolving and any infection is clearing. Monitor your pet’s skin and hair regrowth and communicate any changes or concerns to the veterinarian so they can adjust treatment accordingly.
We’ve had dozens of Labs at our house as puppy raisers, sitters, and of course our own personal pets. I can tell you first hand Lab’s shed!
However, individually some shed more then others. Archer, by far shed more than any other Lab in our house. He was an almost white Lab. On the other hand Stetson, our black Lab was a more moderate, year round shedder.
Every individual Lab is different, but we haven’t come across one that did not shed.
Do you have a Labrador Retriever?
Does your Lab shed?
Tell us about your Labrador Retriever in the comment section below.