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Does your pet have a bald patch? Don't take it lightly

Like humans, cats and dogs too contract alopecia, causing complete fur loss. In some cases, it's reversible. So, don't ignore it.

Like humans, pets too get distressed by heavy hair loss. 
Like humans, pets too get distressed by heavy hair loss.  (Unsplash/ Regine Tholen)

When I first met Buzo, a one-year-old boxer, he was completely bald. Not a single strand of hair could be seen on his body. His skin was grey and hardened, and he was extremely itchy and uncomfortable. His parents were distraught that their pet had gone completely bald so young. Buzo had been losing his fur little by little couple of months before his parents brought him to me.

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What Buzo was suffering from was Alopecia. The word might right a bell as actor Will Smith’s wife Jada Smith has alopecia, and which caused quite a stir at the Oscars this year. Alopecia not a condition that affects humans alone, pets suffer from it as well. The condition is fairly common in pets both dogs and cats, and can occur at any age and with any breed.

There are numerous reasons your pet may contract Alopecia such as infections, autoimmune disorder, hormone imbalances, allergies or parasitic infestations. The loss of a pet's lovely fur can be highly distressing for the pet as well as the pet parent.  

In Buzo’s case, we discovered he had mange by examining a small sample of his skin. Mange is a parasitic infection caused by microscopic parasitic mites. These tiny insects crawl into your pet's skin and affect hair follicles. Fur begins to fall out with the pet experiencing full-blown alopecia over time. Buzo was given oral drug and within a week, we noticed little tufts of fur growth on his skin. Within a month, Buzo was completely transformed into a new dog with a gleaming brown coat.

In the case of bacterial infection like mites, the bacteria grow beneath the skin's surface and harms the hair follicles. Infections caused by fungi have the same effect. It causes alopecia in patches accompanied by itchiness and crusty skin. Alopecia caused by yeast infection is accompanied by a strange odour on the skin, making it uncomfortable for both the pet and the pet parent. German Shepherds are particularly predisposed to yeast infections.

For these reasons, it is critical to take proper care of your pet's skin. Bacterial and fungal infections are opportunistic in nature. In fact, fungal and yeast infections worsen during the monsoons. I encounter partial and complete alopecia in pets due to infections almost every other day. 

One of the common blunders that new pet parents make is giving their pets frequent baths. Bathing too regularly can deplete the skin's natural oils of your pet, making it more susceptible to infections. You should only be done once every two or three weeks. But pay attention to the after-bath care. To ensure no moisture remains under the fur, your pet must be thoroughly dried. A fungal or yeast infection is attracted to moisture. If you live in a coastal city or town, it's even more crucial to dry your pet after a bath because the dampness in the air can promote fungal infection. 

Hormonal play

I recently met with Barney, a five-year-old obese Labrador Retriever. On his tail and back, he was almost devoid of fur. His baldness was caused by a hormone imbalance. Barney has hypothyroidism, an endocrine disorder characterized by a decrease in thyroid hormone production. Alopecia can be brought on by a variety of endocrine disorders. Therefore, it isn't always an issue that is only visible on the surface. 

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Stressing out

Akira's alopecia was rather different. Her parents had adopted a younger cat, and they started observing The three-year-old feline back and sides shedding fur. They wondered if she had picked up some infection from the younger cat who appeared to be in perfect health. Now, cats can be finicky. They have a tendency to over groom when they are worried. That's exactly what Akira had been up to; she was suffering from psychogenic alopecia. She had been grooming herself excessively to rid herself of the stress since the arrival of the younger cat in her domain. Such behaviour is common in cats. 

To help her cope with the newcomer, we had to prescribe anxiolytics such as imipramine. The two cats were introduced gradually and eventually, Akira quit over grooming herself after a few months; her alopecia reversed. 

Allergies caused by tick and flea bites and certain food items are other causes of alopecia in pets. Allergy to chicken meat is one of the most common ones that I have witnessed. 

Alopecia caused by infections and parasites, for example, are. However, when it’s brought on by hormone imbalances, allergies and stress, it may necessitate a longer period of therapy before any improvement can be noticed. In short, alopecia can be distressing for your pet. You should take your pet to a veterinarian as soon as you notice a bald spot on them.  

Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.

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