Dog Scratching and Hair Loss

Dog scratching is normal behavior, but when it happens frequently and is accompanied by hair loss scratching, it can be a symptom of an underlying health problem. Often intense scratching and hair loss can also cause secondary health problems, such as bacterial infections caused by damaged skin and self-trauma from frequent itching and will require further treatment, like antibiotics.  

Causes of Dog Scratching and Hair Loss 

Flea allergy dermatitis - This skin condition is caused by hypersensitivity to the saliva from flea bites and causes intense itching, hair loss, inflammation, scales, and crusted skin. With this allergy, scratching and hair loss frequently affects the base of the tail but dogs with severe cases will scratch and lose hair all over their bodies. Symptoms of flea allergy dermatitis tend to worsen during summer and fall during peak flea season 

Demodectic mange - Demodectic mange is caused by mites that are passed from almost every mother to her puppies, but only affect dogs that have weakened or compromised immune systems. Also known as follicular mange, red mange or puppy mange, some scratching and hair loss are symptoms of this condition, along with lesions and crusted, inflamed skin that often appears oily. Hair loss generally begins on the dog's face but can spread to other areas of the body in generalized cases.

Sarcoptic mange - Unlike demodectic mange, sarcoptic mange, also known as scabies, is highly contagious. Intense scratching and hair loss are the main symptoms of this skin condition caused by mites. The sarcoptic mite can infect healthy or sick dogs of any age and breed, and can live off of an animal host for days or weeks, so direct contact with an infected dog is not necessary for the mite to spread. Other symptoms of scabies include red pustules, crusted skin, and swollen lymph nodes.

Atopy and contact allergies - Allergies caused by inhaled allergens such as dust mites or pollen, also known as atopy, and allergies caused by contact with substances like chemicals can cause scratching and hair loss when the allergies are a chronic condition. Initial symptoms of contact allergies include redness and blisters while atopy causes inflamed ears, redness and licking of paws.

Treatment Options

Treatment will depend on the cause of the scratching and hair loss. Talk to your veterinarian about other symptoms and changes in behavior that have accompanied the itching and loss of hair in your dog in order to determine what is causing the problem. Test like skin scrapings may be necessary in order to diagnose the condition.

Often antihistamines and/or steroids are prescribed by vets to ease itching in dogs with allergies to physical allergens, atopy or flea allergy dermatitis. Dogs that have experienced self-trauma due to intense scratching will sometimes need antibiotics to deal with bacterial infections. Treating the dog and his environment for fleas and the cause of allergies will also help with dog scratching and hair loss.

With demodectic mange, dips, lotions and shampoos used consistently can help treat the condition. Steroids should never be used in these cases of mange.  For scabies, topical treatments like Revolution and Frontline are often used to treat the mites. 

A multivitamin or fatty acid supplement may also be recommended to improve the skin and coat, prevent atopy and boost the immune system.