Christine McFadden: Balding Pomeranian proves puzzling

We call ‘em “alligators,” the little feisty dogs that try to snap off the tips of your fingers.

Since most veterinarians have something scheduled the rest of their day, we resist these efforts at dismemberment as skillfully as possible – with a smile on our faces. But Tucker was pretty charming, despite his snapping teeth.

Weighing in at 7 pounds, 3 ounces, I had known this little Pomeranian since he was a puppy, and they don’t come any more beautiful. Half his weight surely was his hair – luxurious deep black with gold highlights. He and his red-headed Pomeranian sisters looked like real stuffed toys, and we loved to see them come in. I didn’t hold it against Tucker that he didn’t like needles. It happens.

So when the little guy showed up and didn’t make an effort to protest my ministrations, I was worried. He didn’t look good.

Most obviously, his coat was dull, with big round patches falling out over both shoulders. His weight hadn’t changed any and my exam didn’t reveal anything particularly wrong, except his balding. So I ordered a batch of blood tests, and we waited for the results.

And it was easy. Have you guessed? A thyroid disorder. Classic, textbook case of a low functioning thyroid. The thyroid is a gland in the body that regulates metabolism – energy levels, feeling warm or cold, hair growth. It even has some effect on the way hearts beat.

In dogs, the most obvious sign is symmetrical hair loss on the body and lethargy – and Tucker was all that to a T. Just reading the lab report, I glowed. It was good news for my patient because the thyroid replacement hormone treatment that Tucker needed was as easy as a pill and very affordable. Just give twice a day and presto, magic hair regrowth.

I called his owners with the good news, and we began treatment right away. Bonus: I had recently joined my clinic in online blogs, and thought this would be the perfect case to follow online.

That was in April of last year. I followed up with Tucker a month later and was disappointed not to see much improvement. By June he was still bald, but his blood test was low, indicating a lack of response to the medication. I conferred with my colleagues. We increased his dosage, but saw no response judging by his baldness; however, the blood test now showed normal thyroid levels.

As the months passed, I consulted an endocrinologist and tried a different form of thyroid replacement. Tucker remained apathetic during his exams, and, worse, began to lose even more hair. It just fell out – he never scratched and his skin was smooth underneath.

Through all of this, his owners were patient and kind to me, which only made me more frantic. This was my easy case, the “give him a pill and I can make miracles happen” case. Please note the word “I” in there. Forgotten was the idea to showcase him in my blog.

By October, it was clear that he was losing a lot more hair. I decided maybe he liked me after all, since he was so passive on exam. Desperate, I consulted yet another endocrinologist.

This good doctor suggested the possibility of alopecia X (“alopecia” is fancy doctor speak for “bald”), a poorly understood disease that mimics other hormonal disorders but responds to neutering. Many dogs with alopecia X respond to this “treatment” – but no guarantees.

So we did. Now, many weeks after the procedure, Tucker has regrown hair over most of his body. His glorious mane has yet to return, but, by golly, his spirit has certainly perked up. The little guy is growling at me again when I examine him now – for which I am most grateful.