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Q:  My 9 year old Newfoundland and Lab(115lbs) mix is losing fur on his back, I give him the best food, my vet said to give him flaxseed oil instead of omega oil which I have been giving him also 3mg of melatonin 2 capsules (sleep aid?) plus vitamin pill once per day.  While looking on the Internet I suspect Alopecia I am at wits end and nothing is helping, what do you recommend?  If it is alopecia, is there a cure, I also have been rubbing his skin with vitamin E

A:  Hair loss in our pets can be very frustrating and be caused by many things.  Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss or baldness.  Hair loss can be a sign of primary skin disease or may be secondary to other disease processes.  The pattern, degree of hair loss, and appearance of the skin in these areas is important for establishing a list of likely causes.  For instance multiple areas of hair loss with red irritated itchy skin could indicate a bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infection of the skin.  However, hair loss that shows a symmetrical pattern can be a sign of underlying endocrine diseases.  Some common endocrine diseases that can cause hair loss include hyperadrenocorticism, hypothyroidism, and sex hormone imbalance.  Fatty acids, melatonin, and vitamins sometimes help hair loss.  It does not sound like this has helped your dog so I would recommend a full physical examination and some blood work to try to determine the possible cause of your dog’s alopecia.  If the skin appears abnormal to your veterinarian he or she may want to perform special skin tests.  These tests might include a skin scraping to look for mites, an impression smear to look for bacteria or yeast, and a skin biopsy to look at the cells of the skin.  Not all cases of alopecia can be cured, but if your dog has an infection or underlying endocrine disease hair loss can improve with treatment.

Erica Swanke, DVM

Dr. Swanke graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. Upon completing an internship at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University she joined the emergency/critical care team at Oradell Animal Hospital. Dr. Swanke enjoys reading and spending quality time with friends, family and her pets.