Bald men may be sexy, but what if it’s your dog who is slowly losing hair?

Imagine that all sorts of tests have been done on your pet to diagnose his skin condition, to no avail. Visit after visit to the vet, he continues to lose hair that’s been scarce to start with. Different meds have been administered, including macrocyclic lactones for mange treatment; bags of hypoallergenic prescription diets have been fed; and antibiotics have been administered systemically, only for the dog’s condition to stay the same.

Fast forward two to three years later and your dog’s hair still hasn’t thickened one small bit.

In the meantime, you are unsatisfied with your vet — and I was once in that vet’s shoes. As a novice veterinarian in 1998, I was petrified as I couldn’t proffer anything substantial, being the neophyte that I was.

Mystery illness

What was baffling to me was that the dog’s condition was progressive and noninflammatory — no redness, crusting, pain, or itching. Unknown to me at the time, it was to be a crucial milestone of my diagnostic capacities for canine and feline types of dermatosis. The condition was more common in dogs and almost never seen or documented in cats.

Even more mind-boggling to me is the number of synonyms this disease has, such as adrenal sex hormone imbalance, congenital adrenal hyperplasia-like syndrome, black skin disease of Pomeranians, coat-funk in Alaskan malamutes, and follicular dysplasia of Nordic breeds. The disease is also called alopecia X! It sounds like a mash-up of sci-fi, horror, and suspense B-movies.

But for our purposes, I prefer to call it castration-responsive alopecia, simply because the canine patient, I found out after performing a thorough physical examination, was a cryptorchid (a dog with undescended testicles). That was definitely a smoking gun for me. Other than that, there was no other physical findings that pointed out to systemic illnesses.

Simple solution

Not all hair loss is the same. Clinicians must explain to a dog’s human that therapy is highly empiric and is not rooted in just one mode of treatment.

I advised my client to have their dog’s testicles removed via surgery. Although one testicle was in the scrotum; the other was just superficially hiding near the inguinal area.

You might wonder why the healthy testicle also had to be removed. Cryptorchidism is an inheritable X-linked trait and, more importantly, may cause testicular tumors and cancer later in life.

Hidden gems

Cryptorchidism is a condition wherein a male dog or cat’s testicles fail to descend to the scrotum. In this context, “descended” means that coming from inside the dog or cat’s belly and visibly sitting in the ball sack.

There was hyperpigmentation, as well as alopecia (loss of hair), which was very evident on the underside, the perineum, back of thighs, and tail. By the time the dog became my patient, he had been to other vets and was already five years old. Although no specific sign automatically points to alopecia X, there may be physical telltale signs that can clue us in — in my case, I knew the canine had undescended testicles.

During that time, there was no test for sex hormones, one that was questionable anyhow. We did have veterinary pathologists who could weigh in and give their opinions, but I was eager to prove my theory right. It was simple: As a developing embryo, a male kitten or puppy in the mother’s womb would develop testicles inside the abdomen (stomach cavity), specifically behind the kidneys. As the embryo matures, the testicles then move from the inside to the outside of the cavity.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s February 2019 issue.