Your dog keeps pulling out tufts of its fur. Why? There comes a time when conscientious grooming actually starts to become damaging. What do you do if your furry companion seems to be hurting itself? Pulling hair out is actually fairly common with pets and it’s a part of aggressive grooming. It generally does mean that something is wrong, but don’t panic; most issues can be easily treated.
Why does my dog pull its hair out?
Dogs can have a lot of quirks. As you probably know, every dog has their own unique personality… and their own unique challenges. There can be a lot of reasons for behaviors such as pulling hair out, but most of them can be easily addressed.
Your Dog Has an Allergy
Food allergies frequently make dogs itch. A dog with itchy skin is likely to continue chewing at itself until their fur starts coming off. They may chew especially in areas such as joints or between their toes; they may also chew on the regions around their butt. The most common food allergies for dogs include chicken, eggs, and wheat.
It can also be an outdoor allergy. While it may sound strange, dogs can actually be allergic to things like grass. If your dog is outside often, there may be some allergens on their fur. You might need to wash it more frequently to get rid of these allergies, or even give it allergy medication.
Your Dog Has Anxiety
Believe it or not, dogs can get anxiety and depression just like people can.
If a dog isn’t feeling well, it may start to pull out its fur because it doesn’t know what else to do. It could be bored or under-stimulated, or it could even be in “mourning” if someone has moved out.
If there haven’t been any major physical changes but there have been large upheavals, such as a break-up, or a kid going to college, it could be that your dog is actually pulling its hair out because of mental distress. While this may seem odd, it’s exactly what happens with birds; when birds are upset, they pull out their feathers.
Other things that could potentially cause these types of anxiety include getting a new pet (even if your dog seems to like it) or moving to a new home (again, even if your dog seems to be otherwise adjusting perfectly well).
Your Dog Has Pests
Another reason that a dog might start to pull out fur is it may have fleas and ticks.
Not all medications for “fleas and ticks” actually kill them. Some just interrupt the lifecycle; they kill off eggs instead of the actual adults. Because of this, your pet might still be uncomfortable.
You can use a flea comb on your pet to determine whether there might be fleas on it. And you should periodically check for ticks because your pet could become seriously ill if there are ticks on them, like deer ticks. Your pet can’t really scratch very effectively without hands, so they are often reduced to pulling the fur out around the pests to alleviate itching.
And if your dog is pulling out fur in a specific area, it’s also possible that your dog got stung or bitten by something and is trying to “treat” the area. This may be more obvious if your dog is focusing on a single location.
Your Dog Has a Skin Ailment
There are skin illnesses that can also cause a dog to start pulling out fur.
Mange could make it seem like your dog is pulling out fur even though it is actually losing it. If your dog is losing fur in patches but you don’t visibly see the dog scratching or pulling out fur, it could be a type of mange. Mange often happens because of immune issues that are easily treated. The dog’s system simply can’t keep up with things like mites, which are present on nearly all dogs.
Another thing that can happen is hot spots. These are areas around your dog that are itchy and sensitive and that they often lick clean and pull the fur off. Some dogs are more sensitive to hot spots than others. These need to be treated by anti-bacterial or anti-fungicidal solutions. Otherwise, they may continue to get worse.
Because skin ailments can be hard to diagnose, you might need to consult with a professional first.
Your Dog Has Arthritis
Dogs may pull out fur around their paws or joints because they are uncomfortable. If your dog is older, it’s possible that it is starting to display the signs of arthritis. Younger but larger dogs may also have arthritis or joint issues early on. Joint issues can be very painful for dogs but there are also treatments available today (and supplements) that can make it easier on them.
This is a rarer reason for a dog to start chewing on itself or pulling out its fur, but it’s something to keep in mind if you can’t find another reason that your dog might be pulling out its fur.
If your dog is pulling its hair out, it’s more than just unsightly. It’s a serious issue you need to address. Pulling hair out is painful, so a dog is only going to do it if it is in distress. A vet can help you deal with that distress.
How do I stop my dog from pulling its hair out?
This is going to have to do with why your dog is pulling its hair out, which can be highly variable. In general, you’ll work with your vet to determine the cause, create a treatment plan, and keep checking in with your vet periodically to see whether the treatment plan is working.
Here are some common solutions:
Wash your dog.
You may need to get a medicated wash to soothe allergies and itchy skin, but otherwise, a good bath might actually solve the problem — especially if the problem has just started to occur.
Give your dog Benadryl.
Benadryl is safe for pets, though you should ask your vet first. Make sure you get the dosage right, as it’s a specific dosage per pound, and don’t use anything other than Benadryl.
Change your dog’s food.
If you recently changed your pet’s food and it has suddenly had an allergic reaction, it’s time to change back. You can get your vet’s advice on whether you should change back quickly or (more likely) transition slowly.
Get your dog assessed for arthritis.
If your dog is at risk for arthritis, your vet can examine them and determine if that could be the cause. There are shots today that can alleviate this.
Put your dog on pest medications.
If your dog isn’t already on pest medications or is on weaker pest medications, you might want to get something stronger and more likely to kill living pests. Don’t use flea collars or tick collars as these actually increase the chances of irritation.
Inspect your dog’s skin.
There could be something in your dog’s skin that makes it obvious why it is chewing on it, such as a tick or a bee stinger. Make sure to physically look at the area first.
Get your dog anxiety meds.
If nothing else seems to be the cause, it could very well be that your dog, like some people, has anxiety. You might be surprised to find out that there are meds for that, but it would help to talk to a vet about it.
If your dog doesn’t stop pulling its hair out, you may need to consult with a specialist. There are specialists for dog behavioral problems and dog sensitivities and allergies just like there are specialists for people.
Why is my dog chewing its hair out?
Dogs generally chew for a couple of important reasons:
Your dog might not be mentally stimulated enough. Intelligent dogs or particularly neurotic dogs are more likely to chew on themselves because they are bored or anxious. This is a sign and symptom of mental distress and should be addressed. It may be as simple as walking it more frequently or giving it a space where it can feel comfortable and safe.
Fleas, ticks, and allergies can all cause dogs to pull the fur out. They can’t scratch with fingernails and they may not be able to reach the area with their paws, so pulling the fur out is their best bet. The pest that caused the issue (such as a mosquito) could be gone by the time you look, leaving confusion as to the cause.
Dogs don’t have a lot of ways to react to pain and sometimes they may hide it. If they have joint pain or an injury, they could pull off the fur as an attempt to “treat” the injury, as they don’t otherwise know how. This can be the most dangerous because you don’t really know what is causing the pain, you just need to get it treated.
Which is more likely for your dog is going to depend on your dog and your dog alone.
The easiest way to determine why your dog is chewing its hair out is to just talk to your vet.
Your vet will be able to inspect for any physical abnormalities and discuss the possibility of psychological distress.
From there, they can create a treatment course for you, so that you know exactly what to do.
Will my dog’s hair grow back?
For the most part, a dog’s fur will grow back after being chewed or pulled out.
If it’s been a one-off incident and isn’t something long-term, and it isn’t because of any type of skin disorder or disease, it’s very likely that the hair will grow back.
If it’s been a long-term situation and your dog has been pulling its fur out for some time, however, it may grow back with a different texture. It could also not grow back at all. It is possible for there to be bald spots left on your dog. They may fill out slowly over time or never at all.
But you could be surprised at what a dog can recover from. Unless there has been significant damage to the skin, they can usually bounce back and end up with full, healthy, glossy coats.
Even dogs with serious cases of mange can often become dogs that are so healthy that you could never tell.
If you’re concerned about your dog’s hair growing back, you can ask your vet. It is something to be concerned about. If your dog has exposed skin, it’s more likely to get sunburned and experience potential problems like melanoma. It may also have problems regulating heat, especially if it is a long-haired dog.
For the most part, pulling out small areas of fur really isn’t too serious an issue. It usually has to do with some localized pain or itching that can be addressed. But it does have to be addressed because it can be something more serious, such as joint pain or an allergy.