This article was updated on May 2nd, 2023
A dog losing hair in patches and scabs is a problem that many owners come to see me about at the clinic. No owner wants to see their dog’s beautiful hair falling out, let alone see their dog’s skin all scabby, so what does it mean when both are happening to your dog?
In this article, I’ll cover the most common reasons why your dog’s hair might be coming out in clumps with scabs, what you can do at home to help and when you need to seek veterinary intervention.
Most common conditions causing both scabs & hair loss in dogs
There are various causes of scabbing and hair loss in dogs, some are fairly insignificant and others can indicate a more serious underlying condition. It’s therefore important to be able to tell the difference between the two. Here are some of the most common reasons for hair loss and scabbing in dogs:
Just like ourselves, dogs can get allergies too. Hair loss, scratching, licking, redness and scabbing are symptoms that could indicate that your dog has an underlying allergy. This could be an allergy to something in their food (like chicken or wheat) or something in the environment (like pollen or chemicals). Often when a dog is exposed to something that they’re allergic to, it manifests as symptoms of skin disease. That is, red and itchy skin, hair loss and scabbing. Some allergies are easier to deal with than others, such as dietary allergens – hypoallergenic diets can help eliminate these. Others such as environmental allergens can’t be controlled but medication may be available to alleviate the symptoms. If your dog is suffering from hair loss and scabby skin and you think the cause might be allergies then contact your vet. The severity of the condition will depend on how allergic your dog is; allergies can predispose your dog to further issues such as skin infections. Blood tests are available to help identify possible underlying allergens.
2. Hormonal issues
Hormones are a vital part of almost all functions within your dog’s body. So a hormonal imbalance can play havoc on your dog resulting in many unwanted symptoms.
Hyperadrenocorticism, or more commonly known as Cushing’s disease, is a hormonal disease that is fairly common in middle-aged to older dogs and results in symptoms such as hair loss, an enlarged belly, muscle weakness, lethargy, and panting. Dogs with Cushing’s disease suffer from thin skin and hair loss and so are prone to getting wounds more easily, resulting in scabs.
WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]
Hypothyroidism is another hormonal condition affecting dogs and is characterized by a deficiency of thyroid hormone, essential for normal metabolism. A reduction in levels of this hormone results in lethargy, weight gain and hair loss. Dogs with this condition will often suffer from dry, scabby, and flakey skin.
Many hormonal conditions are treatable, usually with daily medication. The sooner these diseases are diagnosed, the better the outcome so be sure to seek veterinary advice if you suspect your dog may have either of these conditions.
Parasites such as fleas and mites living on or within your dog’s skin can result in hair loss and scabby skin. These small insects feed off of your dog, damaging the skin and hair follicles in the process. There are various types of mites that can affect your dog’s skin including cheyletiella, demodex and sarcopes. Demodex in particular likes to reside in your dog’s hair follicles and so the damage it causes results in hair loss.
Thankfully parasitic skin disease is quite easy to identify and treat. Some parasites may be visible on the surface of your dog’s skin; skin samples can be looked at under the microscope otherwise to identify these organisms. Treatment is also straightforward with many veterinary prescription products being available to get on top of the issue – just be sure to talk to your vet about the right products to use as many over-the-counter anti-parasite medications aren’t strong enough. Learn more about dog mites with more pictures & veterinary advice.
4. Pressure sores
Pressure sores develop when friction builds up on certain areas of your dog’s body for prolonged periods of time. Excessive rubbing or pressure affects the skin’s ability to heal itself and it reacts by becoming thicker over time. Common sites for pressure sores are the elbows, chest and hocks. These are areas that your dog may tend to lie on more than others – thick, scabby skin that has lost its hair is the usual appearance of a pressure sore. Pressure sores are normal and nothing to worry about however they can easily be mistaken for lumps or growths. If you’re unsure whether your dog is suffering from a pressure sore or a growth then visit your veterinarian.
5. Fungal infection
Ringworm, despite the misleading name, is a fungal infection of the skin that can result in circular ring-like lesions, characterized by hair loss and scabby skin. Ringworm is highly contagious and can even spread to humans. If you suspect that your dog has ringworm then take them to your local vet as soon as possible. Your vet will perform tests to help confirm the diagnosis of ringworm and start your dog on a long course of anti-fungal treatment.
Sometimes dogs that are extremely bored or anxious will bite at their own fur, pulling it out, and damage the skin resulting in hair loss and wounded, scabby skin. This is the equivalent of ourselves biting our nails – it’s a bad habit but a hard one to break and the solution is providing your dog plenty of other stimulation so that they don’t resort to self-trauma. Once your dog isn’t self traumatizing then the scabs should heal within 2 weeks and the fur should be fully grown back within a few months.
Can I just monitor my dog and wait? (if my dog has scabs & losing hair)
As discussed above, some causes of hair loss and scabby skin aren’t of too much concern and may resolve themselves but it’s important to know exactly when veterinary intervention may be required. If you can identify the most likely cause as pressure sores and these don’t seem to be bothering your dog then it’s okay to leave them. Similarly, if you suspect your dog is bored or anxious then the fix will be to provide your dog with more stimulation.
Signs that your dog need to see the veterinarian:
You should see a veterinarian as soon as possible if you observe any of the following:
- your dog’s scabs have been progressively getting worse
- your dog’s hair loss has been progressively getting worse
- your dog is displaying other symptoms of being unwell, such as excessive thirst/urination, lethargy, pot belly or anything else that appears unusual
- your dog is repeatedly scratching
If the lesions don’t seem to be bothering your dog and they’re not getting dramatically worse then it may be okay to try the home remedies listed later in this article, before seeing the vet. However, if after two weeks of trying these home remedies, your dog is not getting better, we do recommend taking your dog to the vet. Many of the causes above will require investigations and medical treatment.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
To understand when veterinary interview is required, we also recommend your read our article: Scabs on Dogs [With Pictures]: Our Vet Explains What to Do.
What can be done at home to help a dog with hair loss and scabs?
There are some steps that you as an owner can try first at home to resolve your dog’s scabs and hair loss. We recommend discussing these with your veterinarian. Steps include:
- Identify a possible underlying cause: Are the areas of skin affected where there is an area of high friction? Or is your dog anxious/bored at the moment? These are things that you may be able to resolve at home.
- Treat your dog for fleas/mites: If your dog is not up to date with their anti-parasite treatment then give them a treatment at home. Make sure to use a veterinary prescription product. Learn more: How to Tell If your Dog Has Fleas, or Dog Mites: What They Looks Like & What to Do.
- Improve your dog’s diet: Not all dog foods are created equal and as discussed before many dogs can have allergies to components within their food. Try switching them to a hypoallergenic diet in case allergies are to blame.
- Apply a moisturizing lotion to the affected areas: A moisturizing cream such as vaseline or sudocrem might help keep moisture into the affected lesions and help dry scabby skin to heal.
However, if your dog continues to suffer from dry, scabby skin and/or hair loss then they will require veterinary intervention. You should not delay meeting with your veterinarian if you observe that the scabs or hairloss get worse, or if your dog is showing any other signs of being unwell.
How will your vet help a dog with hair loss and scabs?
Following on from discussing the symptoms you’ve noticed and a thorough physical exam, a vet’s primary tool for investigating skin lesions is to take samples. These include hair plucks, skin scrapes, impression smears and culture swabs – essentially these are all ways of identifying different causes of skin disease by examining a small sample of your dog’s skin under the microscope. If your vet suspects allergies or hormonal disease then they might want to perform blood tests too.
Questions your vet might ask you
In order to get an accurate picture of the symptoms that you’ve noticed your dog displaying, your vet will ask you a range of questions. It’s therefore a good idea to have some answers to these questions in advance to save time and allow your vet to reach a diagnosis quicker. These questions include:
- What exact symptoms have you noticed your dog displaying?
- When did you first notice the scabs and/or hair loss?
- Do you think the symptoms are getting worse?
- Is your dog scratching at the lesions?
- Is your dog otherwise well in themself?
- Is your dog up to date with their anti-parasite treatment?
- Does your dog have any allergies that you’re aware of?
- What, if any, home remedies have you tried so far?
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