Question from Shell Cottam: My Bichon friese keeps goin for his side and making bald patchers, we are have in to keep his cone on to stop it, is there anything you can recommend to stop him doin this please Answer from Shanika Winters: Hi Shell and thank you for your question regarding your dog going for his side. I will discuss some possible reasons for your dog’s behaviour and then possible ways to tackle these. From what you are describing it sounds as though your dog is biting and or scratching at himself to the extent that he is losing his hair. I am sure that both you and your dog would be a lot happier if he did not have to keep a cone on his head long term to prevent his hair loss. The first think we need to do is find out the history of how your dog is in general and how long the condition has been going on. Your vet will ask you some of the following questions: Is your dog generally well? By this we mean is he eating, drinking, toileting, happy to exercise and generally acting as normal other than the condition you have brought him in for. We ask this as underlying illnesses can sometime show up in unexpected ways, so something you may not at first think is linked to the hair loss could be. An example of this would be if your dog was generally listless and not as keen to exercise along with hair loss this may suggest an underactive thyroid gland. How long has the condition been present and has it changed? Your vet will want to know when the condition first started and if there were any particular changes at this time e.g. getting a new pet, change of food, starting a new job all things that can help us to work out why your dog is losing hair and if the situation is stable, improving or getting worse. It is really important to tell your vet if you have already tried any treatments even if these are over the counter shampoos or anti parasitic treatments. What are some possible causes for the biting and hair loss? Top of the list is always parasites; they can sometimes be tricky to spot at first. We would consider fleas(both cat and dog fleas) and mites(sarcoptes and cheyletiella) as possible causes, these can be diagnosed by examining your pet, and sometimes we need to take skin scrapes, hair combings or hair plucks to look at under the microscope. Bacterial infections can sometimes lead to irritation and hair loss, this may be seen in the form of spots, scabs, crustiness and or areas of raw wet skin. In some cases we would take swabs or biopsies from the skin to make sure we were treating with the correct antibiotic and for the correct length of time. The samples can be looked at by your own vet but are sometimes sent away to a laboratory to be analysed. Allergies can cause a dog to lose hair, these can be to something your pet has been in contact with such as shampoo/new bedding/plants, something your pet has eaten such as a new food or scavenged items or something inhaled such as pollen and dust (we call this atopy). Hair loss can be due to a behavioural problem such as boredom or stress. Hopefully the questions your vet asks will help narrow down the list of possible causes for the hair loss and will point to the answer or at least the most appropriate tests to carry out. What tests will they do on my dog? After the basic examination and history taking your vet may suggest doing skin scrapes, hair plucks or combings to look for parasites as mentioned above. If examining the sample in house(at your own vets) did not give enough information they may ask if the samples can be sent away to an external laboratory, the results may take days to week to come back. Blood test and or biopsies can give us information as to what is happening in your pet’s body/skin e.g. certain white blood cells are increased in cases of allergies, there may be bacteria present in the blood and or infection fighting cells. Specific blood tests to look for allergies and or hormone imbalances which could be causing the hair loss can also be useful. Special diets, shampoos or medications may be tried and then the how well your dog responds to these can help us to work out the cause of the problem and if we are on the right track. What treatments are there? If parasites are suspected or detected then routine flea and mite treatment will be advised including treatment of the home environment. For some bacterial infections shampoos are very effective but they may need to be used in combination with the appropriate antibiotics also. Allergies can be treated by avoiding the substance if possible, anti-allergy drugs, special diets and special vaccines or a combination of these. Behavioural conditions may need treatment by retraining your dog, strengthening the pet owner relationship, making the home environment more stimulating and sometimes the use of behaviour modifying drugs. I hope that my answer has helped you to understand that we need to take a logical step by step approach to helping your dog, this would most likely start with ruling out parasites followed by a thorough examination and diagnostic work up by your vet. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet) If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.