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Hairloss in dogs and cats can be confusing and the cause is not always clear. Depending on the underlying cause, this problem can be a sign of a bigger issue or nothing to be concerned about at all. Here’s how to tell if you need to seek treatment right away or just ask your veterinarian at the next check up.

What’s going on with your pet? Why are they going bald?

Just like people, dogs and cats can be allergic to pollen, dust and mold. Different from people, most dogs and cats will only show signs of their allergies in their skin. Allergic cats may develop crusts or lick their fur excessively causing bald spots. Allergic dogs may scratch all over, but especially at their armpits, belly, groin, paws and ears causing hair loss.

Mites and fleas are another source of hair loss. We know what you are thinking. Not my perfect pet! We don’t even go anywhere, and I don’t see any bugs! Unfortunately, you might not actually see these parasites, only the aftermath of a bite or infestation, and it’s really easy to pick them up.It’s creepy but true! Some mites cause more itching than others, but all are treatable.

Skin infections (also known as pyoderma) can also be really itchy and cause fur to fall out. Infections with bacteria or yeast can cause redness crusting, flaky skin, hair loss, pimples or pustules, and bumps.

Some endocrine disorders are associated with thinning of the fur/alopecia. The majority of patients with this type of problem will not be itchy with this process but the skin may look flaky and/or dry.

How bad is it? Here are some signs to seek treatment sooner than later:

  • - Hair loss that is associated with itching, excessive grooming or biting 
  • - Crusting or scabs
  • - Spreading of lesions or rashes especially over the period of minutes to hours

Here’s what you can do...

Soothing baths: This can be a good way to rid the skin of irritants and help stop the cycle of itching. Oatmeal based shampoos can be helpful.

- If your pet’s feet are itchy, make sure you wipe the bottoms of the feet when coming in from walking on the grass and/or use protective boots on walks. You can use a moist washcloth or unscented baby wipes.

Topicals: It is tempting to put something on the area to stop the itching. This is generally safe to do unless the skin is broken. There are many over the counter products that can be safely used for itch. It is important that you do not allow your pet to lick ANY topical product without talking to a veterinarian. A good rule of thumb for any topical product is to use it on a small area first and watch for any adverse reactions. And if it doesn’t work the first time, don’t keep applying it.

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Does your pet need Urgent Care?

If you answered yes to any of the how bad is it signs OR if it seems like an infection, yes! Once itchiness turns into infection or gets so bad they can’t stop scratching, it is time for a formal evaluation.

What can you expect from your visit?

Your Scout veterinarian may recommend:

Cytology: The team may take a sample of the skin with a scrape or cotton swab to look at under the microscope. This helps narrow down the potential causes and be more direct with treatment.

Culture: Some skin infections are complicated and the standard treatment may not work. In this case, your Scout veterinarian may recommend a bacterial culture to help tailor the treatment specifically to your pet.

Bloodwork: If your Scout veterinarian thinks there could be an underlying health problem causing the hair loss, they may recommend starting with some bloodwork to look for hints of an issue. It is important to know that most endocrine diseases are diagnosed after a series of tests and that the initial screening may suggest but not definitely diagnose a problem.

Biopsy: While it’s not common, sometimes really stubborn skin issues are not diagnosed without a biopsy (sample of the skin). 

Treatments: Your Scout veterinarian may recommend topical treatments, oral medications, or a combination of these to help control the itching and treat the underlying cause.

Follow up appointments: Provided that the treatment is working, a follow-up appointment may not be necessary. However, for complicated, stubborn or difficult cases, they may recommend additional evaluations. This is typically best accomplished with your primary care veterinarian but Scout can help you out if you don’t have a vet at the moment.

Remember that you are the best advocate for your pet. If you think it’s a problem, it probably is! We are here for you in your time of need.

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