When your older dog loses her hair, whether in one spot or over her body, it may be due to aging or to medical conditions that impact her more than when she was young. By treating the reason, you can often manage her hair loss.
Aging and Hair Loss
Hair loss may be due to aging. When your older dog loses hair, it does not grow back quickly and she may have bald spots. Her graying hair and dry skin are signs of reduced cell activity. Her hair is more sparse, easily damaged and brittle. Changing her food and adding supplements for senior dogs provides nutrients for aging skin and hair as well as overall health. Your vet may recommend more dietary protein and cutting back on grains and carbohydrates. Canned or wet food adds moisture to her digestive system so her body better handles and absorbs the nutrients important to healthy skin and coat.
As she ages, your dog is more easily affected by allergens such as pollen, dust, mold, chemicals and other irritants. The first time she is bitten by a flea, for example, she may have no reaction. Over the years, her immune system responds more aggressively to each exposure until one flea can cause frantic itching and inflamed skin or dermatitis. As her biting and scratching becomes more severe, she damages her skin and rips out hair, exposing herself to infection. Reducing exposure to allergens and treating symptoms ease her itching and reduce hair loss. Vet-approved antihistamines or supplements such as fatty acids, vitamin E and other skin nutrients help some older dogs regain their hair.
Hormonal Hair Loss
Your older dog is subject to hormonal changes that affect her coat. Hormones are produced by glands in the body, and when the glands malfunction, the hormones are out of whack and affect everything from your dog’s temperament to her overall health. Older dogs are especially vulnerable to these hormone problems such as hypothyroidism, a disorder when the body does not produce enough thyroid hormone. Your dog may gain weight, be lethargic and lose her hair. In Cushing’s disease, your dog’s body produces too much cortisol hormone. Common symptoms are hair loss, constant thirst and hunger. With your vet’s help, these and other hormonal problems can usually be treated to restore your dog’s health and hair.
Senior Hair Care
Your dog’s hair is her first defense against her environment. Protect her against weather extremes. Groom her gently, removing dead and matted hair, and massage her skin to improve circulation to hair follicles. Use round-tooth grooming tools that do not pull or tangle in hair. Wash with hypoallergenic or medicated shampoos, rinsing thoroughly to remove residue, and pat or blot dry instead of rubbing wet hair. Provide her with a therapeutic or orthopedic bed that cushions her body and minimizes sores that cause balding spots. She will not regain that young dog coat, but with your help your older dog can be comfortable and happy with a healthy senior look.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Phyllis Benson is a professional writer and creative artist. Her 25-year background includes work as an editor, syndicated reporter and feature writer for publications including "Journal Plus," "McClatchy Newspapers" and "Sacramento Union." Benson earned her Bachelor of Science degree at California Polytechnic University.