If your dog has dandruff, it could be a sign of an underlying health issue. Today, our Echo Park vets discuss the causes and treatment options for dandruff in dogs.
Yes, they do! Like their human companions, dogs experience dandruff when dead skill cells flake off at a more prolific rate than usual, settling on the fur or hair on your pet's body. In dogs, these dry flakes tend to accumulate on the back (particularly near the tail), and you might even notice them when you're petting or scratching your dog.
Just like your own skin, your dog's skin has glands that produce oil (sebum), which helps to keep the skin hydrated and supple. If the glands overproduce sebum, this can lead to imbalances and dandruff. Dogs can experience both forms of seborrheic dermatitis: seborrhea sicca (dry) and seborrhea (oily).
Causes of Dandruff in Dogs
Any breed of dog can experience dandruff, and it can stem from several causes including genetic conditions (e..g primary seborrhea, seen in Basset Hounds and Cocker spaniels), but is often caused by factors impacting the dog's environment or health.
Although not exhaustive, here are some common causes of dandruff in dogs:
Dogs are more prone to dry skin in winter months, just like their human families; in areas where central ('forced') heat is the main source of warming the home, the issue can be worsened. If your pooch seems to be flaky in the winter, dry air could be the cause.
Dogs might itch from dry skin, but several external parasites can live on your dog's skin and make them very unhappy indeed. Infamous parasites Cheyletiella mites are large enough to see without a microscope and look very much like white flakes of dandruff, hence the moniker 'Walking Dandruff". If your dog's 'dandruff flakes' are moving on their own, get to your vet for parasite prevention right away. Some parasites (like mites) are easily transmitted to other pets living in the household.
An unbalanced or improper food or overall diet can affect your dog's skin and coat. To keep your pet's skin and hair in good shape, foods with fatty acids (e.g. omega-3s, omega-6s) are important - but only your veterinarian is qualified to let you know if your pet requires supplemental nutrients.
Skin bacterial and fungal infections can also be the cause of dandruff on your dog, as they are adept at taking advantage of damage or weaknesses in your pooch's skin. These underlying conditions will have to be treated appropriately to address the dandruff issue.
Skin problems are usually one of the first signs of an allergic reaction to food or something in your dog's environment. Dogs with allergies may be flakier and itchier at different times of the year, and dandruff usually appears alongside other symptoms like recurring ear and skin infections.
Diseases like Cushing's or hypothyroidism can affect your dog's skin health, which, along with a compromised immune system, can make them more susceptible to secondary infections.
Idiopathic (Spontaneous) Seborrhea
If the cause of your dog's dandruff can't be determined, it may be classified as 'idiopathic,' which means that while treatment for symptoms of dogs with dry, flaky skin can be effective, the underlying cause might not be identified. Your vet will be able to give you more advice on the management of your pet's condition.
Although dandruff is annoying and can be uncomfortable for many dogs if it is mild or seasonal it is usually not a cause for concern. If, however, your pet exhibits signs of dry, flaky skin along with these symptoms, head to the vet for a physical examination:
- Skin odor
- Loss of fur
- Excessive dandruff
- Signs of illness
- Irritated, red skin
- Being uncomfortable
- Excessive licking of paws or legs
Your dog's symptoms and your vet's findings will determine the next course of action, which could include further diagnostic testing to confirm any issues such as underlying health problems, allergic reactions, or potential parasites.
Treating Dandruff in Dogs
Luckily, most milder cases of dog dandruff can be treated at home with a combination of instructions and guidelines from your primary vet, and these helpful tips:
- Groom your pet regularly to ensure their skin isn't overly oily and removes dead hair. Check with your vet before using grooming products on your dog.
- Bathing your dog can help with dandruff outbreaks and bacterial and fungal skin infections. Your vet may prescribe a medicated shampoo for your dog; follow the instructions carefully. Don't over-bathe your dog, as this could make dandruff worse!
- Supplements can be helpful, but be aware that many commercial supplements are not heavily regulated for pets. Ask your vet for recommendations.
- Use a humidifier in your home if the air is dry. During winter months especially, your dog (and your family!) could find this helpful for preventing dry skin.