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You notice that your dog has dry white flakes on his back and has been leaving flakes on his favorite dog bed. If this flaking is just occasional and he seems otherwise comfortable, it isn't something to worry about, but persistent flaking and/or itchiness may indicate that something else is going on.
Can Dogs Get Dandruff Like Humans Do?
Yes! Just like in humans, dandruff occurs in dogs when flakes of dead skin cells start falling out of place and hanging out on the hair and wherever they land. While in humans dandruff usually affects the head, in dogs one of the most common places is the back (especially toward the tail).
You may see dry white "flakes" on your dog's coat or in places where he likes to hang out and nap. You may also notice that his skin is dry and be able to see it flake when giving him a good scratch.
The official name for dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis. Your dog's skin includes sebaceous glands that produce sebum, an oil that helps to keep the skin moist and flexible. When these glands produce too much sebum, it causes an imbalance in the skin. There are two forms of seborrheic dermatitis: seborrhea sicca (dry seborrhea) and seborrhea oleosa (oily seborrhea). Dogs can have a combination of the two.
What Causes Dandruff on Dogs?
A variety of things can cause dandruff in dogs, and any breed or mix can be affected. In some cases it is a primary issue due to a genetic condition like primary seborrhea (most commonly in cocker spaniels, West Highland white terriers, and basset hounds) or ichthyosis (affected breeds include golden retrievers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, and Yorkshire terriers). But more often it is either caused by something in the environment or an underlying health disorder.
Just like us, dogs can be afflicted by dry skin in the winter months when the air is drier than normal. Forced-air heating can exacerbate the issue. If you only notice dandruff on your dog during the winter months, lack of humidity in the air may be to blame.
Walking Dandruff and Other Parasites
Cheyletiella mites are large enough to be seen with the naked eye, and look very similar to white dandruff flakes. Like other external parasites such as fleas, ticks, and Demodex and Sarcoptes mites, these unwelcome guests live and feed on your dog's skin, and will cause him to be very itchy.
Obesity and Nutritional Issues
An improper diet can cause your dog to miss out on nutrients that he needs to keep his skin and coat healthy. Make sure that your dog is eating a high-quality, balanced dog food. Fatty acids such as omega-3s and omega-6s play a role in skin health, and some dogs benefit from additional supplementation of these in their diets. It's important to check with your vet before introducing anything new to your dog's diet, however.
As you know, obesity puts your dog at risk for a wide variety of health conditions. Poor skin health is just the tip of the iceberg.
Bacterial and fungal infections on the skin can also cause dandruff to occur. These tiny invaders may also take advantage of your dog's weakened skin due to other conditions to cause a secondary infection. Whether the dandruff or the skin infection came first, bacterial and fungal infections require appropriate treatment to get your dog's skin back to a healthy state.
Food and environmental allergies in dogs usually manifest as skin problems. Affected dogs may be itchy during particular times of the year, suffer from chronic ear and skin infections, or constantly lick their paws. Dandruff is usually just one symptom of a dog with allergies.
Diseases such as hypothyroidism and Cushing's disease can cause changes in your dog's skin health. A weakened immune system will also make him more vulnerable to secondary infections.
Sometimes we don't know what causes seborrheic dermatitis, hence the use of the term 'idiopathic,' or spontaneous. Dogs where the cause of flaky skin is unknown can be treated symptomatically to provide relief, and additional management care can be provided as needed.
When to See the Vet for Your Dog’s Dandruff Problem
If your dog just has mild seasonal or occasional dandruff, it's probably nothing to worry about. But you'll want to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if your dog is also experiencing any of these symptoms:
An odor to the skin
Excessive amounts of dandruff
Red, irritated skin
Other signs of illness or discomfort
Diagnosing the cause of your dog's dandruff will depend on your dog's exact symptoms and what your vet suspects might be the problem based on a physical exam. Your vet may do a skin scrape to look for parasites, a culture to check for fungal and bacterial infections, and/or blood work to check for underlying systemic disorders.
Dog Dandruff Treatment and Home Remedies
Depending on how severe the case is, your pup's dandruff can often be treated on your own at home. Incorporate some of these tips into your regular care routine to help get your dog's dandruff under control and help him feel more comfortable again.
Regular grooming is the cornerstone of skin and coat health in dogs, and plays an important role in managing dandruff. Brushing your dog helps to disperse the excess skin oils throughout his coat so that they aren't pooling on the skin, and also removes dead hair. Brush daily while your dog is having an outbreak of dandruff, and weekly for general maintenance grooming. Misting with water can help to decrease static for long haired dogs, or you can use a conditioning spray intended for dogs, though you'll want to consult with your veterinarian first to make sure that any grooming product you use won't impact other treatments your dog is receiving.
Giving your dog a bath is often beneficial for seborrhea outbreaks and bacterial and fungal infections. Once your vet has diagnosed the cause of your dog's skin problems, she may prescribe an appropriate medicated shampoo. Follow directions on the bottle carefully. Some shampoos need to be left on the dog for several minutes to work their magic. Also pay attention to how often your dog should be bathed, as bathing too often can dry out your dog's skin and either make the current symptoms worse or cause additional problems. Rinse thoroughly after all baths, whether you are using a medicated shampoo for a dandruff outbreak or regular shampoo for maintenance grooming as many shampoos can be irritating if they are not rinsed off.
Your vet may also recommend giving your dog fatty acid supplements such as omega-3s and omega-6s. Always be cautious when choosing a supplement, as these products are not as heavily regulated as medications. Look for a product with the National Animal Supplement Council Quality Seal, or one that your vet recommends.
Be sure to feed your pooch a balanced diet that meets your dog's nutritional needs. Choose a diet that has an AAFCO Statement on the label indicating that the food meets the nutrient profiles for your dog's life stage or that it has undergone feeding trials.
It may be beneficial (for you and your pets!) to use a humidifier in your house or apartment during the winter or if you live in an arid climate. The steam can help soothe and hydrate his dry skin to make your dog more comfortable and less itchy.
Treat Other Health Conditions
As well as home care to manage dandruff, your dog will need to be treated for any underlying conditions that he may have. This may include antibiotics for bacterial infections, antifungals for fungal infections, steroids and/or immunosuppressants for immune-mediated disorders, and allergy testing and medications. Once the underlying condition has been addressed, your dog's skin will be much healthier.