It’s perfectly normal for your dog to scratch and even nibble at their skin occasionally. These cute little reflexes help them stay on top of grooming, and get rid of annoying itches. However, when this behavior goes too far, it can cause some real problems. If you notice that your dog is pulling out their hair, this could be a sign of an underlying health issue.
Even without a clear cause, hair pulling can be a problem in itself, so it’s important to nip it in the bud before your canine companion can damage themselves. To help your pooch kick the habit, we’ve put together this brief guide. Below, we discuss how to tell if your dog is pulling out their hair, why they might be doing it, and what can be done.
How to Tell If your Dog is Pulling Out Hair?
As much as we might like to, it’s almost impossible to keep an eye on your dog 24 hours a day. For this reason hair pulling behavior might not be immediately apparent.
Luckily, there are a few ways to tell if your dog has a hair pulling issue:
- Your dog had bald spots on their coat
- Their bedding is covered with hair more than usual
- You notice your dog scratching excessively
- Your dog’s skin appears red, cracked, or otherwise irritated
Why do Dogs Pull out their Hair?
If you notice that your dog is pulling out their fur, one of the following could be the culprit:
- Flea Allergy
Fleas aren’t just annoying sources of itchiness, they can also cause more serious issues. One of these issues is dermatitis, triggered by an allergic reaction to fleas. When your dog experiences the itchy skin associated with dermatitis, they may attempt to alleviate the discomfort by chewing in the ‘flea triangle’: the mid-back, the legs, and the base of the tail. If your dog has not been given some sort of flea treatment recently, this is a likely culprit.
Related Post: Best Flea Treatment for Dogs
- Contact Allergy
Fleas aren’t the only thing that can trigger an allergic reaction in dogs. Just like humans, dogs can suffer from a fairly broad range of allergies, such as pollen, mold, and grass. These allergies are essentially the doggy version of hayfever and can cause itchy skin. As your dog tries to scratch or nibble the itch, they can end up pulling out their fur.
- Food Allergy
Completing our trifecta of allergies is food. Many dogs react badly to certain ingredients – usually a specific type of meat or grain – and experience itchy skin as a result. In response, your dog can scratch and groom excessively, causing hair loss.
Related Post: Best Dog Food for Allergies
- Insect Bites
Unfortunately, fleas aren’t the only biting insects on the block. Other parasites, such as mosquitos, ticks, and horse flies can also bite your dog, triggering an itchy spot on their skin. Excessive scratching and nibbling in the area can lead to your pet inadvertently pulling out fur.
- Stress or Anxiety
Just like us humans, dogs can develop anxious behaviors. While people are more likely to bite their nails or fiddle with jewelry, dogs can develop a furniture chewing or hair pulling habit.
What Problems can Hair Pulling Cause?
If your pooch continues to pull out their hair, it can trigger a number of issues:
Hair pulling can be a vicious cycle. If your dog feels an itch, they may over-groom and scratch the affected area. This scratching can cause further irritation, and even more scratching, in an increasingly uncomfortable cycle.
- Lasting Hair Loss
Clearly, hair pulling leads to hair loss. Over time, though, this habit can stunt the hair’s regrowth. If the behavior continues, your dog may develop persistent bald spots. In these areas, they won’t have the benefit of a protective coat, making them more vulnerable to cold weather and parasites.
- Skin Infections
“Don’t pick your scabs” is a common refrain among parents, and it’s sound advice. Picking or scratching at a scab, pimple, or insect bite can open up the wound to infection. This same issue can trouble our canine companions. Skin infections are easily treatable, but they can cause even more discomfort, and significantly slow down the healing process. If you notice any yellow, green, or brown discharge from the area of skin your dog is worrying, bacterial or fungal skin infection is a likely culprit.
How to Stop a Dog from Pulling its Hair Out?
Clearly, hair pulling can be real issue for many pets and owners. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to stop this behavior. To stop your pet from pulling out their hair, you’ll need to determine the cause. Speaking to a vet can help you to do this. Once you know why your dog is behaving this way, it will be much easier to help them stop.
- If Fleas are the Culprit
Fleas are incredibly common and quite easy to spot by working through your dog’s coat with a fine-toothed comb. As you comb, look out for white specks as well as the insects themselves – these are eggs.
To combat the itching and grooming caused by fleas, you’ll need to administer a flea treatment. First, give your dog a bath using a soothing flea shampoo – this will kill most adult fleas, and help to alleviate itching. Once your dog has been bathed, you may choose to treat them with a spot-on solution, oral medication, or flea collar. If the fleas have caused dermatitis, your vet may also recommend a soothing cream.
Related Post: Best Dog Flea Comb
- If Contact Allergies are the Culprit
If your dog’s hair pulling is related to a contact allergy, symptoms can be significantly improved by avoiding areas where a reaction could be triggered. For instance, some dogs are allergic to certain types of long grass, and avoiding fields where these plants grow could go a long way towards resolving the issue.
Your vet may also recommend that you bathe your dog using an anti-inflammatory shampoo. If your dog’s reaction is severe, vets will prescribe an antihistamine. Contact allergies can also be managed by a series of ‘vaccines’ designed to desensitize your dog to the allergen. The process involves carrying out blood tests to figure out which plant species your pet is allergic to, before exposing them to minuscule doses of the plant to build up a tolerance. Supporting your dog’s skin with an Omega 3 supplement could also help to prevent dryness and itching.
- If a Food Allergy is the Culprit
If your dog is suffering from a food allergy, they will usually exhibit the following symptoms:
- Excessive scratching and grooming (hair pulling included)
- Vomiting or diarrhoea
- Recurrent ear infections
- Red or inflamed skin
- Watery eyes
- Red nails
Deducing the source of your dog’s allergy can be tricky, but with a little trial and error, their itching can be alleviated through diet alone. Among dogs, the most common allergies are:
To determine which allergen is triggering a response in your dog, the vet may wish to conduct a food trail. Over the course of a few months, the dog will be fed a variety of diets and ingredients, and have their reactions observed. Dogs with food allergies may require a limited ingredient food, or other special diet. Omega 3 supplements and anti-inflammatory shampoo can also help with the itching.
- If Insect Bites are the Culprit
Insect bites are very common, and will usually heal on their own. However, worrying the wound may cause it to become infected, as mentioned earlier. If an infection occurs, your vet will prescribe a course of antibiotics.
If the bite isn’t so serious, you can help prevent itching – hence hair pulling – in a few different ways:
- Apply aloe vera gel – this works especially well for bee or wasp stings.
- Make a paste from baking soda and water, and apply it a few times each day. The paste will help alleviate the itching – it also works for humans.
- Consider investing in milk of magnesia, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream. Apply these solutions to the bite as often as required to soothe irritation.
If the bite doesn’t heal in a few days, consult a trusted vet.
- If the Trigger is Psychological
Psychological issues can be tricker to treat than their physical counterparts. Nonetheless, steps can be taken to manage and prevent stress-related hair pulling.
Many dogs develop this kind of habit out of boredom, so make sure they’re being walked, and given plenty of attention, every day. If you work long hours, this may involve hiring a dog walker, or asking a neighbor to drop in.
Bear in mind that changes to your household or schedule can also trigger this problematic behavior. If the hair pulling began recently, try to trace it back to any big changes – perhaps you redecorated, or introduced a new person or pet to the home. To help your dog relax, ensure they have a safe, private spot, and try to keep a consistent schedule for feeding, walking, playing, and grooming.
You can also redirect your dog’s anxiety by providing them with something other than their hair to chew on. Whenever you notice the pulling, distract them with a tasty chew. Praising your dog when they don’t pull their fur can reinforce good behavior, too.
- Vanessa Salvia, How to Stop a Dog From Pulling its Hair Out, Cuteness