Alopecia X is a non-inflammatory hair cycle abnormality that typically affects double-coated breeds like the Pomeranian and other arctic dog breeds. Affected dogs start losing their outer guard hairs as a young adult. The disease progresses to what veterinarians call bilaterally symmetrical alopecia – complete hair loss on the trunk that spares the head and extremities (fig 1). American Schipperke breeders recognized a haircoat disorder in their breed that resembled Alopecia X.
With funding from AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) Grant 01075-A: Description and Characterization of a Hair Coat Disorder in Schipperkes, researchers at Iowa State University collected samples from Schipperkes to describe the clinical, histopathological (microscopic), and laboratory characteristics of this disorder. Results of their work were presented at the North American Veterinary Dermatology Forum and published in the journal Veterinary Dermatology (doi:10.1111/vde.12711).
How is Alopecia X Diagnosed?
Alopecia X is diagnosed based on clinical signs and exclusion of several common hormonal diseases that cause similar symptoms, such as hypothyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease), or sex hormone imbalance. Skin biopsy is also important for diagnosis to rule out concurrent allergic disease or infection. In the affected Schipperkes studied, these diseases were not present. The hair loss and varied hormone elevations resembled those reported in Pomeranians with Alopecia X, as did skin biopsy findings of a thin dermis and fewer hair follicles in the active growth phase.
Affected Schipperkes did not have the increased skin pigmentation often seen in affected Pomeranians, but Schipperkes did suffer from hair coat lightening or red discoloration on the trunk prior to developing complete alopecia. Based on biopsy results, researchers noted that Schipperkes show an arrest in the hair growth cycle while retaining the damaged hair, which becomes bleached or worn out leading to the light red color on the trunk of affected dogs. Overall, this non-inflammatory hair loss disorder in Schipperkes shares many characteristics with Alopecia X described in the Pomeranian and several other breeds.
What is Next?
While Alopecia X is only a cosmetic disease, it is frustrating for owners and veterinarians since various treatments such as neutering, melatonin, or hormone therapy show inconsistent results and carry the risk of significant side effects. More research is needed to understand the underlying mechanisms of the disease. CHF and its donors are committed to improving the health of all dogs by funding scientific research and disseminating health information to prevent, treat and cure canine disease. Understanding the characteristics of disorders such as Alopecia X in multiple breeds and mixed breed dogs is critical to finding better diagnostic and treatment options. Learn more about the dermatology research grants and more in CHF’s diverse grant portfolio.