Why is my dog losing hair and scratching? 6 possibilities

Chihuahua scratchingWhy is my dog losing hair and scratching? Scratching is a normal behavior for dogs but when it’s excessive it can be a sign of a larger problem, especially when it’s accompanied by hair loss. It can point to underlying health problems. Here are the major reasons it’s happening and how to stop a dog from scratching.

Atopic Dermatitisdog with bad skin condition

Atopic Dermatitis is one of the most common skin allergies and occurs when your dog is reacting to an allergen. You’ll see her scratching and licking herself incessantly. She might also lose hair or pull hair out. It can be triggered by environmental allergens like mold, dust mites, weeds or pollen. It may be a combination of skin contact and inhalation. Something in her diet might also be a culprit. According to veterinary medicine literature, the condition usually shows up between 1 and 3 years of age.

Initial symptoms include redness, blisters, inflamed ears and licking of her paws. Itching can sometimes be localized in the armpits, face, feet and ears. Further, you might see hair loss, runny nose, excessive eye discharge, wheezing, diarrhea and even behavioral changes.

The itching may be generalized, or usually localized in the armpits, face, ears, and feet.

It’s also interesting to note that some breeds of dog are more prone to atopic dermatitis than others. These include Terriers, Retrievers, Shar Peis, Dalmatians, Irish Setters and Miniature Schnauzers.

How to treat Atopic Dermatitis

The treatment depends on what’s causing your dog’s allergic reaction. Your veterinarian will give her injections of the allergens to which she is sensitive. This will decrease itchiness in 60 to 80% of dogs and it may take up to a year to see improvement.

Your veterinarian may administer medicines like antihistamines. Cyclosporine is effective in controlling itching with long-term skin allergies.

Unfortunately, atopic dermatitis rarely goes into remission or spontaneously resolves. However, if you bathe your dog in cool water with anti-itch shampoos you can alleviate some of her itching.

There are also natural treatments available. A good diet is one of these. First, it’s a good idea to determine if there are food additives causing the condition such as by-products and soy-based fillers.

After several weeks on a new diet, you can also slowly add supplements like vitamins A, C, E (antioxidants) and Selenium. However, do this only under the guidance of your veterinarian. Omega -3 Fatty Acids, digestive enzymes, certain herbs and essential oils can also be added but again, under veterinary guidance.

For an external treatment, you can bath your dog in a natural aloe and colloidal oatmeal shampoo.

Flea Allergy DermatitisClose up of dog's skin with flea allergy

This condition is caused by a hypersensitivity to the saliva from flea bites. This allergy often attacks the base of the tail but hair loss can happen all over the body in serious cases. As you can probably guess, this condition worsens in the summer. At this time there are, of course, more fleas. The condition also occurs more in warm climates.

Your dog will experience severe itching and pain. Furthermore, there will be inflammation, scales, crusted skin and hair loss. Your dog will scratch and bite at the infected areas and this will cause further damage to the skin. This damage can develop into circular, red and painful sores called “hot spots.” In severe cases the skin becomes thickened and dark.

How to treat Flea Allergy Dermatitis

It may look like a skin rash so make sure there are actually fleas present. You can use white paper towels and apply these to your dog’s skin. If you find blood on these, your dog has fleas. The blood is actually flea feces. Then, look for areas that are red, swollen and irritated. There also may be wounds and hair loss in the infected areas. You will need a comb, scissors, cotton balls and a topical solution.

First, shampoo your dog with an anti-flea shampoo. Then, comb your dog to isolate the affected areas. Use the scissors to cut away the hair covering the area. This allows air to circulate which allows the wounds to heal faster. Next, apply the topical solution using the cotton balls to relieve the itch and help treat the dermatitis. Don’t let your dog lick the area. If the condition doesn’t improve in a few days, it’s time for a visit to your veterinarian.

dog with mange on face and headDemodectic Mange

Sometimes known as Follicular Mange, Puppy Mange or Red Mange. The mother passes Demodex mites to her puppies but it only affects those with compromised immune systems. By the way, nearly all dogs carry these mites. Scratching and hair loss are symptoms of this condition along with lesions and crusted, inflamed skin that can appear oily. The hair loss usually begins on your dogs face but can spread to other areas of the body.

How to treat Demodectic Mange

About 90% of young, healthy pets with localized infection get better within two months, even if they’re not treated. A topical antibacterial shampoo can benefit them. It doesn’t eliminate the mites bur it does help prevent infections caused by scratching

You can also take a holistic approach. First, flush your dogs skin with benzoyl peroxide shampoo. Then apply a pesticide-free mite treatment. You must also support your dog’s immune system by de yeasting. You can do this with an anti-fungal shampoo.

Your dog’s digestive tract must also be restored. In this case, don’t use steroids or antibiotics. There are yeast-reducing supplements on the market such as Milk Thistle and Ester-C you can use. Furthermore, avoid all stressful situations such as travel, loud noises and separation.

Sarcoptic MangeDog with terrible mange

Unlike Demodectic Mange, Sarcoptic Mange (also known as scabies) is highly contagious. The sarcoptic mite can infect  healthy or sick dogs of any age and breed and can live off its animal host for days or weeks. By the way, this type of mange can affect humans.

Intense scratching and hair loss are the main symptoms of this skin condition. Other symptoms include red pustules, crusted skin and swollen lymph nodes. It’s the scratching that causes the majority of the hair loss.

The most common cause is exposure to another infected animal and the mites will move quickly from individual to individual. Animal shelters, kennels, dog parks, groomers and veterinary clinics have a high exposure rate.

On a personal note: My brother lives in Bali where this condition is rampant. You will see dogs wondering the streets with severe sarcoptic mange and he and his wife have rescued and treated many of them. It’s really amazing to see how much a dog improves with the right kind of treatment and a little love!

How to treat Sarcopic Mange

The first step of treatment is to isolate your dog to prevent the condition from spreading to other animals and humans. Your veterinarian may prescribe anti parasitic medications and ones that relieve itching, inflammation and secondary skin infections.

Ongoing treatment is necessary. Your veterinarian may use a shampoo that contains a scabicide. This is a drug that kills the mite. Oral medications may also be prescribed.

Be sure to mange your dog’s psychological stress during isolation by spending time with her and giving her lots of love!

Make sure to also thoroughly wash all items that come in contact with your dog.

Complete response to treatment may take 4 to 6 weeks. Once the condition has disappeared, it’s important that your dog maintain a healthy immune system to help prevent recurrence.

FolliculitisClose up of dogs skin with skin condition

This is an infection of the hair follicles caused by bacteria and may signal an underlying problem in the immune system. Some dogs like Miniature Schnauzers can have this infection by itself but often it’s secondary to other infections such as mange. It’s also a very common skin infection in dogs.

The bacteria lives on the skin of your dog. It tends to occur when there is a systemic disease, local trauma or a skin disorder.

The diseases that can lead to this condition are hypothyroidism, Cushing’s Disease and disorders of the immune system.

Common symptoms include redness, swelling, itching, pustules and hair loss. Sometimes there will be darkening of the skin, circular areas of hair loss with crusting or scaling, pain and drainage.

How to treat Folliculitis

You can treat it with Pyoben shampoos to eliminate organisms and debris on the skin surface. Your veterinarian may need to prescribe oral antibiotics as well and topical medications. These can include gels, creams, sprays, lotions or ointments. Note: many veterinarians will try to avoid excessive amounts of these so your dog doesn’t develop antibotic-resistant strains.  She may also conduct a skin-scraping to look for possible mites and a bacterial culture. Your dog might also have to wear a cone to prevent her from gnawing the infected area.

Your veterinarian may also look for underlying health conditions.

You can also use “natural” treatments such as tea bags applied directly to the skin. Tea can reduce the itching. Witch Hazel can protect the skin when applied lightly. Coconut oil is useful for soothing the skin. However, don’t allow your dog to lick the oil as it can cause diarrhea or pancreatitis

Ask your veterinarian if you can treat the condition with supplements. Furthermore, probiotics may increase good bacteria in the digestive system and fight infections in other parts of the body. And don’t forget Omega-3 Fatty Acids which can increase your dog’s natural anti-imflammatory ability.

Human holding a dog's snout with skin conditionCellulitis

This is an infection that’s usually caused by bacteria known as Streptococci and Staphylococcus. Dogs will develop cellulitis when they have deep wounds that don’t heal, lacerations or animal bites that allow bacteria to enter.

Your dog will experience pain and tenderness and a change in color. You might also notice red streaks in the skin and feel enlarged, lumpy glands in the groin, neck or armpits as well as hotness in the infected area. The infection can spread from the wound to the sub-dermal lymphatic system.

Because of the pain your dog is experiencing, she may refuse to walk or eat.

How to treat Cellulitis

Since your dog might be in a great deal of pain, your veterinarian should diagnose the condition immediately. She will prescribe antibiotic medications. If there are large abscesses, she will ask you to apply warm soaks to drain them. After this, large cavities may be left and you should treat these with antiseptic medication. During treatment, you should also keep your dog in a clean environment


So, when you ask “Why is my dog losing hair and scratching?” consider that it might be due to one of these 6 causes. Keep in mind that your best friend is miserable so make sure you find the cause and get treatment right away!

We love comments so be sure to leave yours below. Please tell us about any experiences you and your dog have had with skin disorders. Thank you!

PS: I know the images on this page aren’t very pretty!


10 comments on “Why is my dog losing hair and scratching? 6 possibilities

  1. Eric Cantu

    I can feel your dog love in every word you’ve published here. How do you feel about diet change as a remedy to skin irritations? I ask because when my dog Guinness was a puppy I noticed he was having skin irritations. He’d scratch and they’d become infected. The vet gave me a spray, and while it helped with the rash, it didn’t stop the problem from happening again. Then I changed his dog food to one that had grain free and especially good for skin and coat. Guiness has been a happy camper ever since! I was so happy that the diet change fixed it as opposed to having to take meds. Great article! Well written 🙂

    1. Christopher Mitchell Post author

      Hi Eric:

      Thank you for your kind comments!

      I’m a firm believer that health really starts from the inside – for dogs, humans and all beings. I know I talk about medications in this post but I always would opt for diet change before drugs.

      So glad to hear Guinness has been a happy camper!

      BTW, is he named after that delicious, frothy concoction that we find in our neighborhood pub?

  2. Emmanuel Buysse

    I love this article, since it is so detailed, and I see you’re a dog lover, like me.

    Also that is a reason I love reading it, but it helps me to understand more why my dog is scratching all the time (and losing lots of hair).

    Think he has the Fleas Allergic Dermatitis.

    You have more reasons or possibilities why my dog is losing lots of hair, even in October?

    1. Christopher Mitchell Post author

      Hi Emmanuel:

      Thank you for your comments!

      Do you live in a warm climate? If so, there’s more of a possibility that he has fleas. But if not that, my guess it’s one of the other causes I listed.

      I’m so glad to hear you’re a dog lover, too!

  3. Paul

    Reading your article, it made me aware that dogs do get sick. Most of the time I see dogs as full of energy, bounce and craziness. Your pictures bring home that we as humans should take note when dogs are scratching excessively rather than shouting at them. Besides, just like us humans who run to the doctor when we’re not feeling well, we should as responsible dog owners take our pets to the vet when they aren’t feeling well. Dogs shouldn’t have to suffer to the extent that your pictures show.

    1. Christopher Mitchell Post author

      Hi Paul:

      Thank you for your comments.

      As you say, we are responsible for our pet’s well-being. Neither dogs nor any other being on this planet should have to suffer. I know the photos are graphic but I think they will help people identify the causes of their dog’s misery.

  4. Scott Penton

    Very in-depth, thank you for this. Some of the pictures are painful to see, but I understand they are needed so people can visualize and compare if their dog has these diseases. Hopefully it helps and people will get the help their dogs need. Dogs try and let us know, but we don’t always pick up on it. 

    1. Christopher Mitchell Post author

      Hi Scott:

      Dogs try to let us know when something is wrong but I believe many humans are slow to pick up on the cues. I hope the pictures will help people identify a specific problem even though they are painful to look at.

      Thank you for your comments!

  5. Rob S.

    While I don’t own a dog we did have two when I was a kid. I never realized there could be so many issues when it comes to scratching. But it’s just one of many conditions that you describe that are possible.

    Some of the images you show are pretty graphic and you certainly don’t want your dog to suffer. I don’t like to see any living creature suffer at all. So all dog owners should be extremely aware of their dogs skin and scratching issues.Do you suggest that dogs should be checked regularly by their vets for this?

    1. Christopher Mitchell Post author

      I would say that regular checkups are necessary for your dog whether you suspect a skin condition or not. However, if you think your dog has a skin disorder, take her to the vet at the very first sign that something has changed.

      You are right – no living creature should suffer and we as humans have the power to protect them!


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