Why does my dog have dandruff?
Much like when people develop dandruff, dogs experience dandruff when dead skill cells flake off at an unusually high rate, settling on the fur or hair on your pet's body. When it comes to dog dandruff, the flakes of dry skin tend to accumulate on the back (particularly near the tail), and may become more evident when you're petting or scratching your dog.
A dog's skin has glands that produce iul (sebum), which helps to keep the skin hydrated and supple. If the glands overproduce sebum, this can lead to imbalances and dandruff. There are two forms of seborrheic dermatitis and our animal companions can experience either of these: seborrhea sicca (dry) and seborrhea (oily).
Causes of Dog Dandruff
So now that you know what dandruff is, why do dogs get dandruff?
Any breed of dog can experience dandruff, and it can stem from a number of causes including genetic conditions (e..g primary seborrhea, seen in Basset Hounds and Cocker spaniels), but is often caused by environmental factors or underlying health concerns.
Although not exhaustive, below are some common causes of dandruff on 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 there are also a number of external parasites that 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 issues are often the first sign of an allergic reaction, whether 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 such as 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
- 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.
At-Home Dog Dandruff Treatment
Fortunately, mild cases of flaky skin on dogs can often be treated effectively at home with some guidance from your veterinarian. Here are a few things your vet may suggest trying:
- 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 for 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 the 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.
When To See Your Vet About Your Dog's Dandruff
If you have tried all of the different strategies above to cure your pup's dandruff but nothing has worked, there may be a more complex underlying condition causing the issue.
To prevent your pup from suffering unnecessarily from itchy uncomfortable skin it's important to book a veterinary exam for your canine companion. To help pinpoint the underlying cause of your dog's dandruff or flaky dry skin, your veterinary professional may recommend further diagnostic testing including more detailed allergy testing.
Your pet's dog dandruff treatment will be determined by the severity of your dog's condition and the underlying cause of the issue.
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.