Happy dog being pet by owner

Key takeaway

If your dog is suffering with dandruff, you may observe flakes of dead skin cells clinging to their hair or skin, particularly on their back. Dandruff may be a result of dry skin, food allergies, seasonal allergies, hormonal imbalances, and nutritional deficiencies. To determine the best course of treatment, vet consultation may be necessary.

Just like humans, dogs can struggle with dandruff. Unfortunately for your pet, however, they can’t just run to the store and pick up dandruff shampoo when they start to notice white flakes. If your pooch is exhibiting signs of dandruff, it’s important to determine the exact cause of their flaky skin.

In this blog post, we’ll be discussing what can cause dandruff in dogs, how to help dandruff in dogs, when to see a vet, and more. Continue reading, or use the links below to skip to a section of your choice, so you can find out how to get rid of your dog’s pesky white flakes once and for all.

What Is Dandruff?

Dandruff is a condition characterized by the appearance of flakes of dead skin cells. Dandruff is typically accompanied by itching and skin irritation. For dogs, dandruff can cause non-stop scratching, which can ultimately lead to hair loss.

Because the symptoms of canine dandruff can be very similar to other skin issues, it’s important to look for signs of other medical illnesses to better treat your pup.

Owner petting small black dog

Seborrhea

Seborrhea is the medical term for dandruff, and will probably be what your vet will call it if you seek medical attention. Dandruff and seborrhea may be used interchangeably, but it is actually just one cause of dandruff. Seborrhea in dogs is a skin disease that is caused by a defect in the keratinization of the outer layer of a dog’s skin, hair follicles, or claws. Keratinization is when the protective outer layer of the skin is constantly renewed by new skin cells.

Defining seborrhea

Seborrhea causes an increased scale formation, excessive greasiness of the skin and hair coat, and often secondary inflammation and infection.

Seborrhea can either be primary or secondary. Primary seborrhea is inherited, and most common in American Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Basset Hounds, West Highland White Terriers, Dachshunds, Labrador, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherd breeds1. Genetic factors are typically involved in primary seborrhea; it can begin at as young at 18 to 24 months, and will progress throughout a dog’s life.

Secondary seborrhea, however, is a sign of an underlying disease that results in this excessive scaling, crusting, or oiliness. Secondary seborrhea is typically accompanied by pus-filled inflammation, infection, and hair loss.

Causes

So, what causes dandruff in dogs? From allergies to yeast infections, there are various factors that can cause dandruff in dogs. We’ll get into the most common causes below:

Seborrhea

Seborrhea is a common cause of dandruff in dogs. It’s a medical condition that causes the sebaceous glands of the skin to produce an excessive amount of sebum, which leads to scaly, flaky, and red skin. Seborrhea can either be primary or secondary. Primary seborrhea is not common and is typically genetic. Secondary seborrhea is far more common, and is usually caused by an underlying skin condition or allergies.

In addition to dry and flaky skin, most dogs with seborrhea will also experience oily skin. Seborrhea usually affects a dog’s back, face, and flanks.

You can usually treat seborrhea with medicated shampoos. Keratolytic products can help to remove excess dead skin cells and keratoplastic products can reduce scale formation. Both of these can be effective in treating seborrhea and reducing dandruff in your dog.

Allergies

Allergies, including both environmental and dog food allergies, can cause dandruff in dogs. It’s called allergic dermatitis, and in dogs, allergies usually show up as skin problems.

Dogs with allergies will usually have dry flaky skin, chronic ear and skin infections, and may constantly lick their paws. In order to figure out what your dog is allergic to, your vet may recommend effective flea control, a special hypoallergenic diet trial, or perform testing to check for environmental allergies.

Bacterial infections

Certain bacterial infections, such as folliculitis and impetigo, can also cause dandruff in dogs. Folliculitis is an infection that causes sores, bumps, and scabs on the skin. Folliculitis will typically happen along with other skin problems, like mange or allergies. It can be treated with oral antibiotics and antibacterial ointments.

Impetigo is another infection that is more common in puppies. Impetigo causes pus-filled blisters that typically develop on the hairless portion of a dog’s abdomen. Impetigo isn’t usually very serious and can be easily treated with a topical ointment.

Yeast infections

Yeast infections in dogs will usually occur in the toes or ears. A dog with a yeast infection will constantly scratch or lick and chew on their paws, so if you notice your dog doing any of these, bring them to the vet.

Yeast infections in dogs can usually be observed along the toes or ears

Symptoms of a yeast infection can include irritated, itchy, or discolored skin. It can be easily treated with a topical ointment, but in more serious cases, may require oral drugs or medicated sprays.

Parasitic infections

Parasitic infections can also cause dandruff in dogs. Fleas are the most common parasitic infection, then mange, which is caused by mites.

There are two different types of mange infections: Sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange. Sarcoptic mange is easily transmitted from both dogs and humans, but the parasites don’t survive on humans. It causes itching, red skin, sores, and hair loss and usually impacts a dog’s ears, face, and legs.

Demodectic mange cannot be transmitted between dogs or humans. It can cause bald spots, scabbing, or sores on your pup. Treatment depends on which type of mange your dog has, but it can usually be treated with topical ointment or a prescribed oral flea/tick prevention.

Endocrine disorders

Endocrine disorders, such as Cushing's disease and hypothyroidism, can also cause dandruff in dogs. Cushing’s disease is when your dog creates too much cortisol in their body. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that controls your dog’s response to stress, controls their weight, fights infections, and regulates their blood-glucose levels. Too much cortisol can cause multiple clinical signs, including dandruff.

Hypothyroidism in dogs is caused by an inflammation or shrinkage of the thyroid gland. In either case, a weakened immune system will make your dog more susceptible to secondary infections which can cause dandruff.

When To See A Vet

In many cases, dandruff in dogs is nothing to worry about. Cold weather and stress can also contribute to dandruff and will usually subside by itself in time. However, there are a few instances when dandruff in dogs is something to take more seriously. You should see a vet if your dog has any of the following:

  • An excessive amount of flakes that come on suddenly
  • Itchiness on their skin that seems to be uncomfortable or painful
  • Very red skin underneath the flakes
  • An odor associated with the dandruff

Any of these symptoms could indicate something more serious is happening to your dog. If you notice any of the above symptoms, you should take your dog to the vet immediately.

Woman laying on the floor playing with puppy

Diagnosis

There are a few things your vet will need to do in order to properly diagnose your dog with dandruff. This includes reviewing the dog’s medical history and conducting a physical examination. Depending on the severity of the dandruff, lab testing may also be required.

Your vet will conduct a thorough physical examination of your dog, including internal organ systems and the skin. In order to properly treat your dog’s dandruff, a vet will need to identify the underlying cause. The skin examination will document the type of flakes on the dog, and if there is any hair loss, odor, scales, or oiliness on the skin and hair coat as well.

If your dog has boils, pimples, and other bumps on their skin, that likely is an indication of a bacterial infection. If they have darkening of the skin, that could be a result of chronic skin irritation, and skin thickening shows chronic itching. The vet will also check for a yeast infection that could be causing the dandruff.

Your vet may also run tests, such as a hormone test, skin culture test, skin scrapings, or a skin biopsy. These will help to further identify what is causing your dog’s dandruff. Hormone tests look for hormonal imbalances, skin cultures look for bacterial and fungi infections, skin scrapings identify parasites, and a skin biopsy looks for inflammatory cells, bacteria, yeast, or fungus.

Treatment

If your dog is suffering from dandruff, don’t panic. Thankfully, there are various ways you can go about treating dandruff in dogs. Ultimately, the best course of treatment for your pup will depend on the underlying issue. For example, if the dandruff is due to an infection, the vet will prescribe treatment for the infection, which will in turn help the dandruff.

Mitigate the presence of dog dandruff with these tips

Here is how to help dandruff in dogs:

Avoid allergens

If your vet suspects that allergies are what’s causing dandruff in your dog, the best way to treat them is to avoid the allergens. This may involve dietary changes if your dog has food allergies. If your dog has environmental allergies, you should clean often to remove dust, wash their pet beds frequently, and bathe them on a weekly basis.

Consistent bathing and grooming

Inconsistent grooming can often cause dandruff in dogs. Bathing and grooming your dog consistently is key to keeping your pup clean and reducing the risk of infections. Whether you bring your dog to a groomer or you clean them at home, you want to use non-irritating shampoo only. Do not use your own anti-dandruff shampoo on your dog. There are many brands that have dog shampoos that are specifically formulated to treat dandruff.

You’ll want to wash your dog by using long sweeping strokes on their coat. This will pick up any dirt and debris, but also will stimulate the oil glands in the top layer of their skin. Brushing their fur releases these oils which adds a shine to their coat and helps get rid of dandruff.

You’ll want to use both a brush and a comb on their fur. It’s best to comb your dog’s fur after brushing them, as combing them will help to remove the dead skin cells and flakes. Start with a coarse brush and then finish with a softer brush and a towel.

Depending on what’s causing the dandruff in your pup, your vet may almost recommend using itch relief ointment. Itch relief for dogs will provide more immediate relief for your dog’s itching.

Minimize stress

Stress can often cause dandruff in dogs. Various circumstances can cause a dog to feel stressed, even though you might not be aware of it. Things like changing households or getting a new animal can cause your dog to feel stressed, and as a result, will have dandruff.

If you notice your dog exhibits things like frequent pacing, whining, or shaking in addition to dandruff, they’re likely stressed. You can treat stress in dogs by removing them from the actual stresser. You should also get them to exercise, which can help your dog release tension. In some cases, medication may be needed to help alleviate some of their stress.

Get a humidifier

Another way to treat your dog’s dandruff is with a humidifier. Temperature and humidity can exacerbate dandruff. During winter, dandruff is especially common. This is because there is a lack of moisture in the air, which causes a lack of moisture in your dog’s coat, hair, and skin.

So if your dog’s dandruff gets worse in the cold weather, get a humidifier. This will add moisture to the air which will help to get rid of those pesky white flakes on your dog’s coat.

Incorporate fatty acids into your pup’s diet

A lack of omega fatty acids in your dog’s diet could also be causing their dandruff. If this is the case for your pup, try incorporating more fatty acids into their diet. You can do this with pills or by adding oil to their food. Overall, it’s just important to prioritize feeding your dog a healthy and well-balanced diet.

Dog Dandruff: Frequently Asked Questions

If you start to notice that your dog’s fur is covered in white flakes, you’ll probably have a million questions running through your head. Don’t panic! Dandruff in dogs is quite common, and in most cases, it can be easily treated.

We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about dandruff in dogs so you can figure out how to properly treat your pup as quickly as possible:

How do you get rid of dog dandruff?

There are various ways you can go about getting rid of dog dandruff. If your dog’s dandruff is a result of allergies, you should switch the food you feed them and keep their environment clean and free of dust. It’s also important to make sure you groom your dog often. Proper grooming will keep their hair and skin clean and dandruff free. You should also always feed your dog a good diet to keep them healthy. A humidifier and anti-dandruff shampoos and ointments may also do the trick.

Treating your dog’s dandruff ultimately depends on what is causing it. If your dog’s dandruff persists or worsens over time, you should bring them to the vet as it could be an indication of a more serious health issue.

What causes dandruff in dogs?

Various factors can cause dandruff in dogs, such as allergic reactions, bacterial infections, yeast infections, parasitic infections, and endocrine disorders. Your vet will have the best idea about what is causing your dog’s dandruff so that you can find the proper treatment. Make sure you keep note of your dog’s symptoms so that you can notify your vet and they can form a better diagnosis.

Should I be worried if my dog has dandruff?

In most cases, dandruff in dogs is nothing to worry about. It’s often just a symptom of stress or cold weather and will go away on its own in time. However, there are a few instances when dog dandruff is something to be more concerned about.

If your dog experiences itchiness, has an odor emanating from his or her skin, excessive dandruff, hair loss, irritated skin, or other signs of discomfort, you should bring them to the vet as soon as possible.


Final Notes

We’re all a little too familiar with those annoying white flakes that pop up on our heads at the most inconvenient of times. Not only is dandruff annoying to deal with, it’s unsightly and embarrassing, and can make you dread leaving the house.

But dandruff isn’t just unique to humans. Dogs can get dandruff, too. Although your pup might not be embarrassed (or even aware) of this white flaky skin, it can definitely be irritating for them to deal with. In many cases, dandruff in dogs can be treated with a simple anti-dandruff shampoo and a good bath. However, it’s a good idea to consult with your vet about your pup’s flaky skin, especially if you notice any other symptoms of medical illness.