One of the hallmarks of Golden Retrievers is their beautiful, flowing locks, so when your friend starts to get distinctly unfurry, it can be traumatizing to both of you. Knowing how to identify and treat underlying issues is the key to getting your goldy's tresses back in tip-top shape.
Those Troublesome Hormones
The most common reason Golden Retrievers lose their hair is hormonal. Luckily for you and your furry family member, the culprit usually is hypothyroidism. As in humans, this disease can cause serious issues if left untreated, but it is very easy and inexpensive to test for and treat. If your pup is losing hair evenly over entire portions of the body (especially the muzzle and tail), this likely is to be the diagnosis, and all you'll have to do is give your furbaby a pill once a day to get things back to normal.
A few more troublesome diseases can give your doggy an unconventional 'do, and to add to the confusion, some share other initial symptoms with hypothyroidism. These include Cushing's syndrome and Alopecia X. Both conditions are rare in Golden Retrievers, but if your pup's thyroid test comes back inconclusive, your vet will want to consider these and run further tests.
Allergies and Irritations
Our fair-furred goldy friends are prone to allergic dermatitis and hot spots. Not only do these look yucky, they are very uncomfortable. If the skin is red, acned, broken or crusty, suspect an allergy. Regular grooming and flea control can help nip hot spots in the bud. Keep in mind that your retriever's thick double coat can trap debris near the skin, causing unsightly and painful sores later.
But wait! Too much grooming also can be at the root of your pet's untimely baldness. This can be self-inflicted (a bald spot from licking or scratching that aforementioned trapped debris), or a clipper injury (in which case you should fire your groomer -- and do not shave a golden, as their double coat keeps them cool in the heat as well as warm in the cold).
A Case of the Icky Yucks
This is kind of a chicken-or-egg issue: germs can cause irritation, leading to scratching, injury and hair loss; and scratching can cause an injury, which gets infected, leading to further scratching and hair loss.
Infections can be bacterial or fungal, including the famed and badly named ringworm (yes, we know, it's not really a worm), but all can cause bald patches on your afflicted pet and require veterinary treatment.
The most disturbing and dangerous, and definitely the grossest, cause of doggy hair loss is mange. Mange means that microscopic (or nearly so) mites are munching on your friend.
This can be demodetic -- caused by mites that always are on every dog, everywhere. The problem isn't these mites, it's an underlying immune issue that is letting them grow out of control, and that needs veterinary treatment.
If your pet truly is unlucky, though, he may be sporting a case of sarcoptic mange, which is highly contagious and fatal if untreated. This absolutely must receive medical attention at the earliest opportunity.
If your pet has mange, hair loss usually is patchy, scaly, flaky or crusty, and possibly bloody and scabby, too.
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.