Dandruff in Dogs: Causes & Treatment

If you've been seeing a trail of white flakes left behind when your pup gets up then they may be experiencing dandruff. Our La Mesa vets share the causes of dandruff in dogs and the treatment options to help relieve your furry friend's symptoms.

Dog Dandruff: Why does it happen?

When your dog is experiencing dandruff their dead skin cells are replenishing at a faster-than-normal rate which causes the excess flaky skin that we see. For dogs, this extra skin tends to build up around the back and tail which is why it becomes easily noticeable as we scratch and pet our furry companions.
Just like your own skin, your dog's skin has glands that produce iul (sebum), which helps to keep the skin hydrated and supple. Overproduction of this sebum can also lead to the occurrence of dandruff. Dogs can experience both forms of seborrheic dermatitis: seborrhea sicca (dry) and seborrhea (oily). 

Causes of Dry Skin on Dogs

Dandruff is not limited to certain breeds of dogs, and there can be genetic factors behind this condition (e..g primary seborrhea, seen in Basset Hounds and Cocker spaniels), but is often caused by factors impacting the dog's environment or health. 

Here are some of the most common causes behind dandruff in dogs:

Low Humidity Causing Dry Air

You may notice an increase of dandruff in the winter, this can be largely due to the heating systems in the home. If you notice that your dog is dealing with dandruff during the colder months then you may want to consider getting a humidifier.

External Parasitic Infections

Dry skin and dandruff can be a common cause of itchy skin but there is also the possibility of your pup having a parasitic infestation. This can cause serious itchiness and discomfort. 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. 

Nutritional Concerns & Deficiencies

Just like the rest of your dog's body, a well-balanced diet is an important part of their skin health. 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. 

Bacterial & Fungal Skin Infections

If your dog has recently suffered from damaged skin in any way they will be at risk of developing a bacterial or fungal skin infection. These underlying conditions will have to be treated appropriately to address the dandruff issue. 

Allergic Reactions

If your dog has an allergic reaction the first signs will likely appear in their skin. 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. 

Hormonal Health Conditions

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:

  • Itchiness
  • Skin odor
  • Excessive dandruff
  • Loss of hair / fur
  • Irritated, red skin
  • Excessive licking of paws or legs
  • Signs of feeling unwell or being uncomfortable

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. 

Dog Dandruff Treatment Options

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.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Has your dog been itchy and scratchy lately but you can't figure out why? Contact our La Mesa vets to schedule an examination.