The German Shepherd is known for its supreme intelligence, family friendly demeanor and extreme loyalty. But their physical attributes stand out as well. Who doesn’t love those big fluffy perky ears and their beautiful double coat of fur? But sometimes GSDs will develop bald spots or lose their hair. And often times the cause may not be immediately evident. It is good to know what may cause the balding so that you can get a jump on the diagnosis and treatment.
What Causes German Shepherd Bald Spots?
There are plenty of different reasons for bald spots on your German Shepherd. Usually there is an underlying cause that may not be super evident.
Allergies are frequently the cause of balding or hair loss on a German Shepherd. They can be triggered by a number of different elements in the environment. They cause a reaction on the skin or atopic dermatitis.
Some of the most common environmental allergies are dust, mold, or pollen. These are usually seasonal and makes them easier to spot since your dog won’t be itching all year round.
Food allergies are a little less common. The immune response can be facial swelling, hives, itchiness and or diarrhea and vomiting. These allergies are sometimes confused with sensitivities which don’t involve an actual immune response.
Instead, the dog’s body gradually reacts over a period of time to certain ingredients. These include beef, chicken, corn, eggs, milk, soy or wheat.
Fleas are the most common allergy affecting German Shepherds and most other dog breeds. It only takes one flea to cause an allergic reaction.
When the flea bites the dog, the release a small amount of saliva into the wound. The proteins in the saliva cause an allergic reaction. This will cause the area to itch in dogs that are sensitive.
This is why it is so important to use flea prevention. Excessive itching can lead to bald spots or hair loss if the fleas aren’t eradicated.
2. Cushing’s Disease:
Cushing’s disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, could be another reason for bald spots or hair loss on your dog. It is caused when the hormone cortisol is overproduced due to a tumor being present in the pituitary gland.
Typically, they will lose hair around the abdomen close to the rear legs, neck or perineum. One of the first and most obvious signs of this disease is frequent thirst and urination to the point that they want to go out during the night to relieve themselves.
Normally this disease affects dogs later in life once they have reached the 6-year mark. If you think your GSD may have this condition, take them to the vet immediately. They will perform blood and urine test to diagnose this adrenal issue.
3. Hot Spots:
Hot spots, or acute moist dermatitis, is a fairly common skin condition that affects German Shepherds along with lots of other breeds.
They start with an itch from an allergic reaction, bug bite, wound etc and intensify because the dog proceeds to chew and lick the infected area making it worse over time. This can lead to bald spots or hair loss in that area. There is a device called the Lick Sleeve that protects the area from over licking.
Dog breeds like the GSD and Golden Retriever tend to be more susceptible because of their thick coats. The hot spot will be fairly large in size and look inflamed, raw and sore. It will usually be wet from licking and possible ooze blood or a yellow pus.
If not treated, the hot spot can become infected and start to smell bad. They shouldn’t be hard to notice and your vet should be able to diagnose pretty easily.
Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications are usually used to combat the itching and treat the secondary infection caused by the bacteria in the skin.
Another cause of bald spots or hair loss in dogs is mange. This skin disease is common in stray dogs that have been abandoned or neglected by their owners. There are two types of mange in dogs.
Demodex or red mange is the most common form of the skin disease even though it is fairly rare in dogs. It is caused by mites that are found on all dogs and subsequently humans as well. It is not contagious.
Most of the time, the dog’s immune system fights off the mites which are harmless in small numbers . But sometimes in puppies, a breakout will occur.
The first sign is usually a bald spot the size of a quarter up to a half dollar. It typically surfaces around the face and head area. It usually responds well to treatment such as amitraz or sulfurated lime which eliminates the mites and treats the skin infection.
In extremely rare cases, a German Shepherd can get generalized demodectic mange. It is hereditary and much more dangerous. This type of mange is life threatening because the dog develops large bald spots all over the body which get infected.
Sarcoptic mange on the other hand is contagious. This skin infection is caused by the parasitic mite called Sarcoptes scabei. Most of the time, a German Shepherd will catch the infection after coming into direct contact with someone that is infected.
Signs of this type of mange include extreme itching, bald spots, and red scaly skin. It normally targets areas such as the abdomen, ear flaps and elbows.
However, if not treated, it can spread all over the dog’s body. Diagnosis is straight forward and normally skin scrapings can find the little culprits.
Several different types of treatments are available depending on the breed.
5. Pressure Sores
Pressure sores can lead to balding or hair loss in older or disabled dogs. Similar to bed sores in humans, GSDs can form these sores from lying in the same position for long periods of time.
This is especially the case when the dog has lost the sensation in their front and back legs. They can also form due to weakness when the sit down. Instead of slowly sitting down, they plop down to fast causing an injury to an elbow or hip.
Originally pressure sores are topical wounds only affecting the upper layers of their skin. But when there is repeated pressure placed on the damaged area, the blood vessels get constricted and decubital ulcers form. This makes it hard for the skin to get its oxygen. Ultimately the skin will die if left untreated.
Look for these symptoms: areas on the bony parts of your GSD that are filled with fluid, constant licking of the sores, discoloration of the skin, patches of hair loss or red skin, stained hair near the wound, ulcers or wounds that are purple, red or leaking puss.
Take your dog to the vet immediately if you notice any of these symptoms. Pressure sores can be very hard to treat once they are formed. The best way to avoid them is prevention.
Ringworm is another frequent cause of bald spots on German Shepherds. Normally the hair loss will appear in circular shaped areas all over the dog.
Although not life threatening, it is very contagious and spreads when a dog comes into contact with animals or people that are already infected. It can also be spread through common household objects such as a bed, carpet, chair, couch or food bowls.
It is transferred through broken or shed hairs. Once the fungal spores are left on an object, they can remain transferable for up to a year and a half.
In contrast to fleas, ringworm doesn’t itch most of the time. This is because the hair follicles are extremely fragile and break off easily. This causes it to spread easier. Often times the dog’s claws will get infected.
7. Skin Rash:
A skin rash, or hives can stem from several different causes. Usually, they will appear in localized patches. The skin will be itchy, red and swollen.
This can lead to possible balding or hair loss because a dog will be itching and scratching the affected area. Rashes can appear in several different places all over a dog’s body.
Some of the causes can include: allergies, environment, genetics, intestinal worms, medication, stress or vaccinations. Here is a full list of causes to help you determine the culprit if you think your dog may have a rash developing.
Rashes will appear quickly after being exposed to a certain trigger and can make your GSD very uncomfortable. If left untreated, a simple rash can turn into a skin infection.
What To Do If You Find Bald Spots On Your German Shepherd?
If you find any bald spots or hair loss on your GSD, the best thing to do is to take them to your local veterinarian. A vet can examine your dog to determine any underlying cause.
Several different tests can be used depending on the signs and symptoms you describe. They will look at the specific pattern of hair loss along with the condition of the skin surrounding the bald area. They may also take into account the amount of itching and scratching.
Some of the tests may include:
- Allergy tests: They can narrow down the specific type of allergen affecting your dog using blood or skin testing. They may also use elimination of certain potential allergens to find the cause.
- Biopsy: Sometimes when an area of skin doesn’t heal or respond to medication, a biopsy may be performed using a sample of the skin to determine whether or not cancer or a tumor is present.
- Blood Profile: Blood testing can be used to determine several different conditions including abnormal hormone levels, Cushing’s disease, diabetes mellitus, and immune or thyroid problems.
- Impression smears: A microscopic slide is pressed against the affected area to look for certain problems close-up. They look for bacteria, inflamed cells or yeast.
- Skin scraping: A blade can be used to scrape the dog’s skin. It will produce hair follicles which can be examined on a slide to check for mites which can cause mange.
Hopefully this article gave you a better idea of why your German Shepherd may have bald spots or a loss of hair. Keep in mind that these are the main causes. There could be other explanations. Be aware of any other symptoms and contact your local vet for assistance.
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