Color Dilution Alopecia in Dogs

Dog laying on carpet and holding stuffed dog toy
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Color dilution alopecia affects dogs with dilute colored hair coats and as the name implies, causes hairloss. This condition can be alarming to dog owners who don't understand the disease. Because of this, dog owners with at risk breeds should be educated on what to expect if their dog is diagnosed with color dilution alopecia.

What Is Color Dilution Alopecia in Dogs?

Color dilution alopecia or CDA is an inherited type of hair loss that affects dogs that have a dilute fur color. Blue and fawn are dilute fur colors and many different breeds can come in these colors. Also known as color mutant alopecia or blue doberman syndrome, this inherited disease is a result of a recessive gene that causes hair shafts to break along with overall stunted hair growth. CDA is not fully understood but it is known that hair follicle damage occurs in dogs with this condition due to melanin clumping in these dilute colored dogs.

Signs of Color Dilution Alopecia in Dogs

  • Hair thinning
  • Missing clumps or patches of hair
  • Flaky skin
  • Itchy skin
  • Skin infection
  • Small bumps on the skin
  • Dry or dull hair coat

Dilute colored dogs that have inherited color dilution alopecia may develop thinning hair as young as six months of age. The hair coat usually begins to thin and takes on a dull or dry appearance. Fur might fall out in patches or clumps creating a patchy or moth-eaten appearance to the coat as well. In some dogs, the hair follicles develop bacterial infections around them which results in papules or small bumps on the skin along with inflammation, itching, and even some flaking.

Causes of Color Dilution Alopecia in Dogs

Recessive genes cause color dilution alopecia. In dilute colored dogs, the recessive gene "dd" is inherited from a parent. Breeding dogs with this gene results in the potential for more dogs to also have color dilution alopecia. It is important to remember that color dilution alopecia is not contagious or a result of a hormonal imbalance, parasites, or other issue but rather is always an inherited condition.

Diagnosing Color Dilution Alopecia in Dogs

A full physical examination will be performed by your veterinarian and if your dog has a dilute colored coat and some signs or symptoms of color dilution alopecia then further testing will be performed. Tests to rule out other issues such as fleas, demodex mites, hypothyroidism, ringworm may be recommended prior to looking at the hair under a microscope or taking a biopsy of the skin. If damaged hair follicles, abnormal hair shafts, and clumps of melanin and keratin are found then a diagnosis of color dilution alopecia can be made.

Treatment

Color dilution alopecia is not curable but thankfully it can be managed so that a dog diagnosed with this condition can lead a normal, happy life. Skin infections may occur repeatedly in dogs with color dilution alopecia if measures are not taken to help improve the skin and hair health. Because of this, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications may be used temporarily to treat an infection but long term management of CDA involves supplements and topical therapies to improve skin and coat health.

Medicated shampoos, sprays, and mousses are used to avoid drying out the skin and coat alongside avoiding harsh, damaging brushes when grooming dogs with color dilution alopecia. If you get your dog groomed you will want to tell your groomer about your dog's special needs.

Oral therapies may involove melanin, synthetic retinoids such as isotretinoin (Accutane) and etretinate (Tegison), Omega 3 fatty acids from fish oils, vitamin A, high quality diets, and other skin and coat supplements. These items help keep the skin and coat as conditioned and healthy as possible but color dilution alopecia is really just a cosmetic issue if secondary skin infections are avoided.

Risk Factors for Color Dilution Alopecia in Dogs

Several breeds of dogs that come in blue, silver, or fawn colors have been shown to have the recessive gene for color dilution alopecia. These breeds include:

Blue doberman pinschers tend to develop the most severe symptoms so this condition is often associated with that breed.