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canine health problems

How to treat dandruff in dogs: DIY techniques and tips

More common in winter, dandruff (seborrhea) in dogs is most likely a result of a change in environment, but it needs a vet visit

Updated October 5, 2021

Created By

Christy Caplan, CVT,

The essentials

  • Environmental conditions like winter are an issue One of the typical skin conditions that occur when the seasons change is dandruff.
  • Other causes of dandruff may be caused by an internal condition  A vet needs to rule out primary or secondary seborrhea found with conditions like parasites and allergies as these health issues also share dandruff as a symptom.
  • Primary seborrhea is genetic and less common in dogs — It’s an inherited disorder typically diagnosed by ruling out other skin conditions first
  • Secondary seborrhea may be found with certain health issues and looks like common dandruff — Both seborrhea and common dandruff are treated with a number of shampoos that help cleanse the skin and promote rehydration

What’s dandruff and how does it form?

Dandruff is excessive scales and the skin may or may not be oily. Pet owners may see excessive amounts of dead skin on their dog and they’ll notice their buddy is itching all the time. A dog’s skin consists of three layers (like human skin), and the top layer — the epidermis — is where the problem of dandruff occurs, according to experts at Tufts University.

A dog’s epidermis is composed of cells called keratinocytes. These cells are completely renewed every three to four weeks and at the end of the cycle, the cells die and slough off. Millions of cells get released individually every single day — and millions of new cells replace them. When something goes wrong you have dandruff: abnormal scaling of different cells. The cells stick together instead of sloughing off individually.

Why is dandruff an issue?

The epidermal barrier protects dogs from UV damage and prevents bacteria as well as fungus from getting into the body. Dandruff and damaged skin may cause issues for your pup. The skin cells help fight disease and prevent things from getting into the body. We’ll discuss seborrhea below but this condition occurs as a result of other diseases and is a disruption in the production of skin cells.

What’s causing your dog’s flaky skin?

Cold-weather

Dandruff in dogs is similar to the human type, and the flaky, scaly skin is easy to lift off the coat. But, unfortunately, what’s true for humans is also true for animals. During the winter months, the body sometimes can’t keep up with the balance of oils and bacteria, resulting in dry, itchy, and flaking skin.

Stress

Stress and anxiety can cause skin problems which create dandruff. Have you ever seen your pet leave the vet with dandruff that wasn’t there when you arrived? It’s not a myth! Your dog may return to you from a curbside vet visit with a few flakes on its skin. Don’t be alarmed, as this can happen during a stressful situation as it triggers dandruff to occur.

DIY remedies for common dog dandruff

Dandruff can be uncomfortable for your dog and cause itchy, dry skin, prone to breakage and infection. However, there are natural ways to help your dog with dandruff. You’ll know in the first few weeks if these remedies are helping:

👉 When researching different ways to care for your dog’s coat, never use human shampoos or rinses. A dog’s fur needs a special shampoo designed for canines like Veterinary Formula’s Clinical Care Antiparasitic and Antiseborrheic Shampoo

When your dog is scratching a little, and you don’t think you need to seek veterinary attention, you can try over-the-counter products that are natural or even something you have on hand. However, if your dog is itchy (licking a lot), has any hair loss, crusts, redness, odor to the skin, or open sores, it’s best to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. Your dog shouldn’t have any open wounds!

Benefits of fatty acids (especially during the winter)

Consider adding fatty acids to your dog’s diet. Omega 3 fatty acids are a perfect solution, which can be added to your dog’s meals. Start with a small dose. This ingredient is found in fish oil which supports your dog’s heart health, reduces itchy and flaky skin, and can help relieve allergies and joint pain.

It usually takes 4-8 weeks to see dandruff resolve after starting an omega-three fatty acid supplement. There are many excellent fatty acid supplements to add to your dog’s diet, including Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet and Natural Dog Company’s Salmon Oil.

Our favorite fatty acid supplement: Natural Dog Company’s Salmon Oil 

This product is as natural as it gets, made with 100% pure salmon oil. We love that it doesn’t contain any fillers, additives, or preservatives. Instead, it’s full of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to relieve allergies, reduce inflammation, and restore skin health.

Ingredients: Wild Alaskan salmon oil.

Disclaimer: Usually, these products are made from natural products and are safe for your dog to consume. That being said, any dog could be allergic to anything that goes inside its body.

👉 Whenever you give something new to your dog, watch them closely for 24-48 hours. Call your vet if you notice any hives, vomiting, or diarrhea.

A vet visit is needed if dandruff persists or the condition worsens

If it’s not winter and a daily brushing or bath didn’t help at all, it’s time to see the vet. If your dog is constantly itching, has dandruff, and opens wounds or sores, then schedule a vet appointment right away.

What symptoms may be signs of something more severe?

According to the Merck Vet Manual, “Secondary seborrhea is a sign of an underlying disease that causes excessive scaling, crusting, or oiliness, often accompanied by pus-filled inflammation, infection, and hair loss.” A vet can determine if there’s an underlying health issue, here are signs to look out for:

  • Redness
  • Inflammation
  • Accumulations of crust
  • Itchiness
  • Bacterial overgrowth
  • Odor

The differences between primary and secondary seborrhea

Primary seborrhea is less common in dogs and is genetic. It usually develops in dogs under one year of age and is most commonly seen in the American cocker spaniel, basset hound, English springer spaniel, and West Highland white terrier. It’s an inherited disorder that’s usually diagnosed by ruling out other skin conditions first with diagnostic tests.

Secondary seborrhea is usually secondary to another skin disease. If the underlying skin condition is treated, then the seborrhea will resolve.

Take your pup to the vet for a diagnosis

A vet will consider possible internal or external causes, and dry skin may result from food allergies, parasites, immune issues, thyroid disease, and cancer. Possible causes of secondary seborrhea include:

  • Allergies. Vets will ask about fleas, diet, and exposure to pollen.
  • Pyoderma. There’s typically a rancid odor, crusts, and pustules.
  • Parasites (Demodex, scabies, fleas, lice, walking dandruff). May be very itchy and consider mange, cheyletiella, and otodectes.
  • Alopecia. Melatonin treatment may rule out seasonal flank alopecia.
  • Nutritional factors (diet change) or diet deficient in omega 3 fatty acids. The lesions are multifocal, well-defined areas of scaling and crusting with prominent follicular keratosis.
  • Endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s. Common symptoms of hypothyroidism are recurring ear and skin infections as well as unexplained weight gain. The common causes of Cushing’s disease are increased thirst, urination, panting,  thinning of fur on rump and tail, and a pot-bellied appearance.
  • Over bathing. The skin’s reaction after too many bathing sessions.
  • Immune-mediated disease. Thrombocytopenia and Hemolytic Anemia are two examples. Immune-mediated thrombocytopenia is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys its platelets. Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys its red blood cells.
  • Infection (bacterial, yeast, or ringworm). Skin infections can be due to bacteria or fungal organisms.

Disease classification (pet may have a combo)

Seborrheic diseases are classified based on appearance. These are important when you’re determining topical therapy. Typically pets have a combination of these three descriptions:

  • Seborrhea sicca. Dry scales are the majority abnormality.
  • Seborrhea oleosa. Oily haircoat.
  • Seborrhea dermatitis. May be alopecia, pruritus, or erythema.

Topical therapy for seborrhea

There are medicated products prescribed by a vet, like hypoallergenic shampoos, to help with excessive scaling. For example, benzoyl peroxide shampoos are suitable for severely oily animals with only mild scaling. These types of shampoos cleanse the hair follicles.

Dandruff is a common skin condition in dogs

If you see white flakes in your dog’s fur, they’re likely dead skin cells, commonly referred to as dandruff. Your house may have low humidity or moisture during the winter months, and there are anti-dandruff shampoo options and natural remedies out there to help your buddy.

However, if your dog is developing a skin infection, has skin lesions, or itchy and regular grooming like daily brushing isn’t helping, you want to schedule a vet appointment as soon as possible. The dandruff may result from secondary seborrhea (e.g., Cushing’s disease) rather than an environmental change.

American Cocker spaniels, basset hounds, Dobermans, dachshunds, English Springer Spaniel, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and West Highland terriers are known to have skin issues. Yet all dog breeds are prone to skin issues as they’re all at risk for parasites, allergies, and endocrine disorders.

Therefore, it’s best to visit your vet if you live with one of these breeds and your pup is itching excessively, and natural treatments aren’t working within a few weeks.