The Bald Truth About Hair Loss in Animals

Sunday April 01, 2018 Written by Sam Wilson

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Photography: Mint Images/Frans Lanting

Bad hair day? Spare a thought for the naked mole rat. Like its name suggests, this bizarre rodent is virtually bald, and bears a disturbing resemblance to a wrinkly uncooked sausage with beady eyes and buck teeth. What little hair it possesses does nothing to dispel this impression.

For many human males of a certain age, a dwindling supply of hair is inevitable. But whereas baldness among men is widespread (not to mention scientifically proven to boost their appeal with the ladies), it’s far less common among our furry friends. 

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Photography: Quora

Most bald animals are born – or bred -- that way. Though the naked mole rat is a particularly striking example, other high-profile nude critters include Peru’s national dog, the Peruvian Inca Orchid, Sphynx cats, and the genetically mutated guinea pig, the skinny pig.

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Photography: Anika Vevos 

Birds aren’t exempt, either. From smooth-headed vultures (who evolved that way to enable more hygienic scavenging) to Transylvanian naked-neck chickens, feathers aren’t always full coverage. Forget about the bald eagle, though: that’s a misnomer if ever we heard one.

Generally, however, most animals have coats for a reason. With the obvious exception of pets whose owners dress them in designer duds or superhero costumes, fur and feathers come in pretty handy in cold weather, and for camouflage in the wild. Consequently, hair loss in animals not born or bred that way usually indicates illness: alopecia (an immune condition causing spot baldness, also known to affect humans) or mange, for example.

Rarest of all is animal baldness that develops along the lines of human pattern hair loss. Perhaps not surprisingly, the best-known example of this is a primate: the stump-tailed macaque. As they age, males and females of the species are prone to a gradually receding hairline, just like many men. Sadly, this follicular similarity to humans has resulted in the stump-tailed macaque being used in lab tests to develop anti-baldness medication such as Rogaine.

Too bad more men don’t share Telly Savalas’ attitude

Brush up on the science of hair loss in animals here.