Help a bald dog out?
June 12, 2013 5:05 PM   Subscribe

7 month old puppy chewing herself constantly, huge bald spots. Any idea why?

Asking for a family member:

~7 month old lab/chow mix, "adopted" from side of the road at around 2 months old. About a month ago, she started biting/chewing herself. It has now become really severe. She is completely bald around her anus and down the back of her legs, and has huge patchy bald spots on her haunches, tail, and one where her front leg meets her body. There are not really any scabs, inflammation, etc though, which makes me wonder if she is really chewing the hair out or if it is falling out due to something that is also makes her itchy/painful.

She has been to the vet. They said they could not definitively diagnose anything, and said it's possibly severe flea dermatitis or mange. She is on medication for mange just in case but that is a long term process. They also said she has a secondary staph infection on her neck but it's unrelated(?). Meds for that too. They gave her a shot to help her stop itching at the vet and she threw up eight times immediately afterwards, which seems weird to me.

She has been to doggy daycare, groomer and dog parks. She is on flea medication (not sure which), will be switching to Trifexis. Already tried switching her diet to low allergen rice/lamb formula with no improvement. She is the only dog in the household but there's an indoor/outdoor cat. Other than the chewing and hair loss, she seems like a normal energetic happy puppy.

Oddly (to me), household's previous dog was diagnosed with flea dermatitis and would lick/chew bloody scabs into herself, mainly tail and back of hind legs. No patchy hair loss though. She died at nearly 13 of acute liver failure. Could it be some weird environmental allergen?

Pics of puppy in question: one week ago, and today. You can see it's gotten really bad really quickly.

Does anyone have any alternate idea of what it could be, and/or confirmation that it seems like flea dermatitis or mange, success stories, etc? Dog's people are worried and impatiently waiting for answers and improvement. Let me know if I've left anything out and I will update thread. YANMV; she will be returning to the vet for checkups, etc.
posted by ohsnapdragon to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My chow does this. With him it's allergies. He's allergic to fleas and grain. He was about half bald when I got him from the shelter. Without fleas and on a grain-free diet, it all grew back.
posted by cairdeas at 5:37 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oddly (to me), household's previous dog was diagnosed with flea dermatitis... Could it be some weird environmental allergen?

Why would that be odd? You know how they say, when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras? In this case, the zebra would be a weird environmental allergen, and the horse would be .... your house has fleas.

Fleas don't need to suck on animal blood, human blood is just fine, so don't be fooled into thinking they're not there just because there has been a gap in animals. Also, even if the animals are flea-protected, but the humans aren't (obvs), the fleas can continue just fine living off of the humans. Also, their eggs can lie dormant for long periods of time.
posted by cairdeas at 5:47 PM on June 12, 2013

Also... there's "Alopecia X" which is a known problem for spitz breeds (including chows, pomeranians, huskies, etc.). I did a little reading about it when I was trying to figure out my guy's deal, so I leave you with the search term, but I don't know much about it, and as far as I know, with Alopecia X, the hair loss is supposed to be symmetrical and the skin isn't supposed to be inflamed or itchy.
posted by cairdeas at 5:54 PM on June 12, 2013

My dog got this when his grain-free food company (Innova - Evo) was bought by a megacorp and they must have changed the formulation or ingredient supply chain. Terrible itching and chewed bald patches. He looked almost exactly like your pup and the description of hair loss matches.

We started making food for him using rice, eggs, and meat and his skin cleared up over several weeks (no more chewing/scratching) and no problems since. We've since expanded the ingredients in his food, but we wanted to start out very simply in order to more easily identify any food allergens.
posted by quince at 5:54 PM on June 12, 2013

My last comment. Sorry to spam. If my dog gets an allergy flare-up from contact with fleas or eating grain, the reaction can last for days or weeks. I get an anti-histamine in pill form that helps a bit. It also takes weeks for his fur to grow back. So I'm just saying, don't be discouraged if you don't see quick results, stay the course.
posted by cairdeas at 5:57 PM on June 12, 2013

They might want to go straight to an elimination diet, which might provide some immediate relief if it is indeed a food allergy. Your family member can have blood tests for allergies (we did for our dog at the time) but this is another way to find out, and pretty quickly. Commercial Rice/Lamb low-allergy dog food from regular pet stores can still have a lot of allergens in it - only the best vet-prescribed ones will work for elimination.

I'm not sure why the vet couldn't diagnose anything. A skin scrape can identify mange; and though there doesn't need to be many bites to have a server allergic reaction, finding fleas in the house (Just wear white socks! or put a piece of white paper on the floor!) or flea dirt on the dog (wipe with a damp paper towel) isn't hard. If the house has had fleas before, I'd treat it, and the yard, as if it still does.

This from a person who spent a fortune on a doggie dermatologist for the itchy lab that was dumped on our doorstep. We did everything, and ended up with her on a raw diet and she got shots for her other allergies. Benadryl worked when she was miserable. And, poor puppy dog! Give her some scritches from me.
posted by peagood at 6:01 PM on June 12, 2013

One of my boys had a flea allergy and it looked similar to this (except he was very pink in his bald spots). A focus on flea meds and control of fleas in the house eventually fixed it.
posted by Cocodrillo at 6:01 PM on June 12, 2013

Your vet should be able to tell if it's demodectic mange or not by doing a skin scrape. Did they do one of those? What medication is your dog on for mange?

My dog had demodectic mange when I adopted him *and* he's allergic to fleas. Here's what worked (and really worked - he's been mange-free for 4+ years now) for us:

a) switching him to a 100% grain-free diet (Acana or Orijen) helped but a raw food diet made a huge difference
b) weekly baths with Pyoben (benzoyl peroxide) shampoo
c) Revolution flea treatment
d) Ivermectin to treat the demodex
posted by grayber at 6:06 PM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I guess I am not done with this topic. A flea control med called "Program" has worked very well for us. It works on the eggs and larvae, it is basically birth control for fleas.

In the house, you can get get rid of most fleas and their eggs by vacuuming all soft/fabric surfaces, multiple times a day for a few weeks, and washing everything you can wash (fleas aren't waterproof). Put down anti-flea powder first before you vacuum because fleas can live in your vacuum. (You can also use salt, it dries them out.) Yes to also treating the yard and anywhere your dog sits or lays the most, in or out.

If you don't know what a flea looks like, if you imagine making a little dot with a pencil, that's what they look like to the naked eye. They are fast. Turn your dog over and look through her fur around the warm areas of her body. You should be able to see them if they are there. Especially look around the bare parts she's been itching.

My dog last picked up fleas while being boarded, by the way, and on two kinds of flea control.
posted by cairdeas at 6:08 PM on June 12, 2013

And sorry, I missed that there is an indoor/outdoor cat. The cat will need to be checked for fleas too and possibly get on a better flea control medication. The cat might have them and just not be allergic, or might get them from time to time and just be better at licking them off.
posted by cairdeas at 6:16 PM on June 12, 2013

Response by poster: cairdeas, I don't think it's odd for both dogs/the house to have fleas, just that they would both have a flea allergy. But maybe that's not uncommon? FWIW, the vet could not find any fleas on the dog, but I know that doesn't mean very much. I'm sure they'll be vacuuming/washing/etc. The cat is going into the vet to be checked Friday. Anyway, thanks for your comments, they are completely welcome.

grayber, I'm not sure if they did a skin scrape. She is on ivermectin. I thought it was weird they couldn't rule it in or out too.

I'll suggest a raw/elimination diet too. Can't hurt, right?

Thanks all, keep it coming.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 6:22 PM on June 12, 2013

A friend in LA had a lab/chow mix with this same problem (excessive self-biting, licking and baldness) and his vet could likewise not diagnose anything definitively. He finally resorted to weekly (?) allergy shots (not sure what, exactly, possibly steroids. I know steroid shots were in the mix somehow...) and that seemed to help. Now he (the dog, not the friend) lives in San Francisco and the allergies seem to have improved so that he no longer needs shots. That seems to indicate some sort of environmental allergies to me. Hope your pup gets better!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 6:36 PM on June 12, 2013

My Airedale is on doggy prozac (Fluoxetine) and it works wonders! He used to have an obsessive licking problem. With all of the above answers, now I'm wondering if he just had allergies or something, but it works for him.
posted by juliagulia at 7:00 PM on June 12, 2013

It could be scabies, if there's a rash or lines/"tracks" due to mites in the skin. It's rare but would explain the itching.
posted by sninctown at 7:01 PM on June 12, 2013

My Corgi has allergies. The vet said they are "inhalational" allergies - the same stuff that makes me sneeze, eyes water, runny nose, etc, is what makes her itchy. She gets a prescription antihistamine, Hydroxyzene, that really helps. Also fish oil helps a little and makes her coat shiny.

When she gets the occasional hot spot I put cortisone cream on it to try to relieve the itching, and antibiotic cream to keep it from getting infected.
posted by radioamy at 7:12 PM on June 12, 2013

My dog (Sheltie/American Eskimo cross) goes through this every summer*. She is extremely allergic to fleas. The problem is that we don't notice until she's drawing blood with her chewing and scratching. The vet gives her an antihistamine shot (to stop the itching), antibiotics (a shot and two weeks of pills) and we start her on topical flea medication (Advantage). She stops chewing and scratching within 24 to 36 hours and we all feel much relieved.

*This has happened three years in a row, I think we have it in hand now and will start her on flea meds when Spring (flea season) even thinks about starting.)
posted by deborah at 7:12 PM on June 12, 2013

If it's allergies, Benedryl (diphenhydramine) will help.
posted by kamikazegopher at 7:45 PM on June 12, 2013

My chow mix had this problem too, with hot spots. I switched him to Merrick Buffalo and Sweet Potato Grain Free and the problem went away quickly and never returned. FWIW, this was recommended by someone who thought he might have chicken allergies, so I'm not sure what about this worked, just that it did.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:47 PM on June 12, 2013

Please consider taking your dog to an allergy specialist. Your vet should be able to refer you to one. A specialist will have seen all sorts of unusual related issues that a general vet may not have been exposed to, and they will have more treatment approaches to suggest.

Our dog's food and environmental allergies are under control thanks to an animal allergist. :)
posted by Boogiechild at 9:20 PM on June 12, 2013

I second Boogiechild's suggestion -- I should've mentioned it before, but a visit to a veterinary dermatologist is what finally led to my dog's mange being cured. My regular veterinarian prescribed Ivermectin, but not at the appropriate dosage and intervals needed to really kick the mange to the curb.

By the way: hold off on any further vaccinations if at all possible. If demodectic mange is the issue, vaccinations can certainly exacerbate it.
posted by grayber at 10:07 PM on June 12, 2013

My dog has flea and food allergies and this is what I do:

Grain free diet - Taste of the Wild Bison, no foods with chicken because I am a bit of a nut about corn in his diet. He does get sardines in water, canned salmon and jack mackerel in addition to his dry kibble.

Comfortis flea meds at a dose higher than his weight indicates

Benedryl when he FIRST starts to itch - 50 mg twice a day - that dog is bigger so he could take more IMO

Prednisone if it is really bad - bald spots that are red-hot and moist to the touch

My dog, under the best of conditions, has dry itchy skin and gets greasy pretty quickly. He gets a bath twice a month - that is too much for most dogs- I use Selsun Blue dandruff shampoo on his problem areas and a moisturizing shampoo on the rest of him.

He is doing great so far and I am thinking the higher Comfortis dose is the key, but time will tell.

If they do not feel happy with the Vet's diagnosis they should get a second opinion. I hope they all get some relief soon. It is hard to watch a pet suffer.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:15 AM on June 13, 2013

I had this in a doggie and it was psychological--a sort of OCD licking. It got worse with stress. Doggie Prozac helped (and with incessant whining).
posted by professor plum with a rope at 2:54 AM on June 13, 2013

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