Getting rid of dog dandruff isn’t quite as simple as just reaching for a bottle of Head and Shoulders.
If you have ever wondered if dogs can get dandruff, or if the white flecks on your dog’s coat could be dandruff, we have some answers for you.
What is dandruff?
It is normal for the body to shed dead skin cells, called dander in dogs, but sometimes it produces too much.
This condition is commonly referred to as dandruff, and is scientifically known as seborrhea.
Seborrhea is a disorder of the sebaceous glands.
The sebaceous glands produce oils that lubricate the skin and hair. Animals that have seborrhea produce way too much of these oils, which causes dandruff.
Dog dandruff comes in two forms: oily and dry.
Most animals experience a combination of both.
Can dogs get dandruff?
Unfortunately for our furry friends, dogs can get dandruff.
Some dogs are more prone to dandruff than others. It can even be inherited in certain breeds.
Dandruff in dogs is very common.
Dandruff is usually not serious. However, it could be a symptom of a serious underlying medical condition.
There are things you can do to get rid of your dog’s dandruff, but first, you need to know what causes dandruff and what the symptoms of dandruff on dogs look like.
What causes dandruff in dogs?
Since dogs have hair over their entire bodies, doggy dandruff can be more noticeable than human dandruff. But what is behind it?
In some cases, dogs have an inherited form of seborrhea.
Some breeds are more likely to inherit this than others. These breeds include:
- American Cocker Spaniels
- West Highland White Terriers
- Basset Hounds
- Labrador Retrievers
- Golden Retrievers
- German Shepherds
Other dogs develop dandruff as a secondary symptom of an underlying cause. Common underlying causes of dandruff in dogs are:
- Environmental factors
- Poor diet
- Systemic illnesses
- Musculoskeletal disease
Allergies and environmental factors
Changing seasons bring with them all sorts of challenges, from dry, cold air to spring allergies.
Seasonal shedding can cause dandruff, too. All of that built-up dead fur can cause dandruff and decreased coat luster, especially if your dog is not regularly groomed.
Allergies can cause a condition in dogs called atopic dermatitis. This condition causes dandruff, dry skin, itching, inflammation, and redness, and can even lead to infection.
There are countless allergens out there, but one of the most common skin disorder in dogs is flea allergy dermatitis.
Dogs with this condition are allergic to flea saliva, and this can cause dandruff, dry skin and itchiness, among other symptoms.
If the phrase, “mangy mutt” comes to mind when examining your dog’s dandruff, that is probably because mange and other parasites are common causes of dandruff.
Sarcoptic mange, also known as canine scabies, is more severe than regular, old dandruff, and is characterized by itchiness, hair loss, pimples, and irritation.
Demodex, also called canine demodicosis or demodex mange, is a mite that can cause dry, scaly skin and hair loss. The lesions are usually small and localized around the face and eyes, but they can appear elsewhere on a dog’s body.
Walking dandruff, or cheyletiellosis, is a mite that causes itchiness and scaling. Walking dandruff, like its name, can look like dandruff, and the disease is very contagious in animal communities.
Skin infections can cause dandruff in dogs.
Fungal and bacterial infections, like yeast infections of the skin or ringworm, can lead to dandruff.
These infections may also present with other symptoms, and ringworm is zoonotic, which means it can pass from dogs to humans.
Most dogs get all of the nutrients they need from their dog food.
However, diets that are low in omega-3 fatty acids can lead to skin and coat abnormalities like dandruff.
If you suspect that your dog’s diet is insufficient in omega-3 fatty acids, talk to your veterinarian about recommending a better brand of dog food or a supplement like fish oil.
Most good complete dog foods have all the nutrients your dog needs to stay fit and healthy, but it is worth chatting to your vet about your choice if you have any concerns in this area.
Changes in your dog’s coat and skin are an indicator of disease.
If brushing and bathing do not restore your pet’s natural luster, then you may want to consider making an appointment with your veterinarian.
The skin can be the first indicator that your dog has a systemic illness like diabetes, Cushing’s disease, thyroid disease, kidney disease, and liver disease, among other conditions.
Dandruff may not seem like a big deal, but if it does not resolve on its own, or you notice other changes in your dog’s behavior, like changes in appetite, energy, or urination, talk to your veterinarian.
Dogs that cannot groom themselves cannot take care of their coats. This can lead to dandruff.
Diseases of your dog’s muscles and bones, like arthritis, can make it hard for your dog to groom himself.
In some cases, your dog could be in too much pain to groom. In others, the movements required for grooming could be painful, or your dog may have a limited range of motion.
Dog dandruff symptoms
We know what dandruff looks like in people, but what about dogs?
Are there any differences?
In general, dandruff is characterized by an unusual amount of dead skin cells in the hair. This shows up as white flecks on your dog’s fur, and the flecks can be dry, oily, or both. Dogs with dandruff may also have scaly, itchy, red skin in addition to these flakes.
The most common location for dandruff on dogs is the back, face, and flanks. You may notice the dandruff on your pet’s coat, or on their bedding, your clothes, and other locations your dog frequents.
As if flaking wasn’t bad enough, the excess oil produced by the sebaceous glands can have a distinctive unpleasant odor.
Sometimes, dandruff makes dogs itch. An itchy dog will either scratch, bite, or lick at their skin, which can lead to further irritation and hair loss.
Excessive scratching, biting, or licking at an area is not just a symptom, but a sign of another potential problem. This irritation can open your dog up to a secondary infection, which definitely necessitates a trip to the vet.
If you notice any other symptoms besides these, such as a change in eating habits, energy levels, or frequency of drinking or urination, call your veterinarian. These could be symptoms of more serious underlying medical conditions.
Diagnosing dog dandruff
Since dog dandruff can have a variety of causes, diagnosing dog dandruff and its causes can be tricky.
The best way to get an accurate diagnosis on your dog’s skin condition is to talk to your veterinarian.
Your veterinarian will take an oral history of your dog’s condition and perform a physical exam. Your vet may be able to eliminate several potential causes based on their findings, reducing the need for wide spread testing.
If your veterinarian suspects parasites, they may perform a skin scraping to examine the skin and hair cells for signs of mites.
They may also comb your dog with a flea comb to gather further samples of hair, skin, and potential pests.
If your veterinarian suspects that the cause of your dog’s dandruff is a fungal or bacterial infection, then they will probably take a culture or cytology, which they then either send to a laboratory or examine under a microscope.
Systemic illnesses won’t show up on a skin scraping or a culture.
Your veterinarian may ask you questions about your dog’s behavior, diet, activity levels, and frequency of drinking and urination. These seemingly unrelated symptoms help them put together a picture of your dog’s overall health, narrowing the underlying cause down.
To rule out systemic illnesses, your veterinarian may also run some blood tests.
Dog dandruff treatment
The treatment for dandruff depends on the cause. Your vet will try to reduce the dandruff and treat the cause, which can take some time.
Allergies are tricky to pinpoint. With so many allergens out there, determining which is bothering your dog can be almost impossible. Allergy testing and process of elimination are options, and in some cases vets may prescribe a medication like a corticosteroid to reduce itching and inflammation.
The only way to successfully treat dandruff caused by flea allergy dermatitis is to eliminate fleas from your dog’s environment. This is easier said than done, and your veterinarian will talk you through the best way to eradicate fleas from your home.
Treating mites generally requires administering an anti-parasitic medication like ivermectin. Some infestations, like demodex, may resolve on their own over time without medication, whereas others, like sarcoptic mange, definitely require medical intervention.
Underlying conditions like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s require medication to control the disease. Once the underlying disease is under control, the symptoms, like dry skin or deomodex, should resolve.
Grooming For Dog Dandruff
In many cases, dandruff is caused by colder weather or seasonal shedding. Frequent grooming and a humidifier will hopefully resolve these issues.
You can buy dog brushes and combs specifically designed for dogs with dandruff.
Since dandruff can lead to skin infections, don’t be surprised if your veterinarian puts your dog on an anti-biotic to help clear up the infection.
Your veterinarian may also suggest an anti-dandruff shampoo, moisturizer, or omega-3 fatty acid supplements as dog dandruff treatment options.
Anti-dandruff shampoo for dogs
Wouldn’t it be great if there was an anti-dandruff shampoo for dogs?
Luckily for us, there is!
However, shampoo could also be part of the problem.
If you regularly bathe your dog using human shampoos, switching
to a mild dog shampoo could resolve your dog’s dry skin and dandruff.
Human skin is more acidic than dog skin, which means that even gentle human shampoos can dry out your dog’s skin and strip the necessary oils from his fur.
Dog dandruff sprays
Wouldn’t a dandruff spray be convenient?
It would certainly save us the effort of giving our dogs a bath.
Unfortunately, some spray on shampoos contain alcohol, which can further dry out your dog’s skin. If you want to try a dog dandruff spray or moisturizer, talk to your veterinarian about which products they recommend.
Dog dandruff coconut oil treatment
You may have heard that coconut oil can help with dog dandruff.
While some natural cures turn out to be too good to be true, coconut oil actually can help with dog dandruff.
The Merck Veterinary Manual states that emollients like coconut oil can help with scaling dermatosis. Natural oils like coconut, lanolin, and cottonseed oils reduce water loss, especially when applied after shampooing.
You can even buy special coconut oil dog shampoo as a dog dandruff treatment!
Talk to your veterinarian about whether or not coconut oil will help your dog’s dandruff, and about how much coconut oil to apply.
Getting rid of dog dandruff
Dealing with doggy dandruff can be frustrating.
It can take time to accurately diagnose the underlying cause of your dog’s dandruff, and some treatment options take a few weeks to start showing signs of improvement.
In cases of inherited seborrhea, there may not even be an underlying cause. With patience, however, you and your veterinarian will eventually find a way to get rid of your dog’s dandruff and get your dog back to his usual, shiny self.
Further Reading and Resources
- Dryden, M. DVM, PhD, DACVM. ‘Flea Allergy Dermatitis.’ Merck Veterinary Manual.
- Dryden, M. DVM, PhD, DACVM. ‘Mange in Dogs and Cats.’ Merck Veterinary Manual.
- Moriello, K. DVM, DACVD. ‘Diagnosis of Skin Diseases.’ Merck Veterinary Manual.
- Netherton, S. ‘Dog’s Itchiness May Indicate Atopic Dermatitis.’ University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. 2013
- Atopic Dermatitis
- Ward, E. DVM. ‘Seborrhea in Dogs.’ VCA Hospitals. 2009
- White, S. DVM. DACVD. ‘Overview of Seborrhea.’ Merck Veterinary Manual.