My Dog Has Dandruff - Causes and Treatment

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. May 4, 2020
My Dog Has Dandruff - Causes and Treatment

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While we may not think of dandruff as being a serious condition, this will depend on the severity of the problem. For people with dandruff, social stigma is a worry. Although, this is not the case for dogs, we still need to take the condition seriously for the health of the dog and for general hygiene purposes. While the causes are not fully understood, we do know that it is related to different skin conditions. By looking at the type of dandruff, we can also know what type of treatment may be required.

If your dog has dandruff, AnimalWised is here to help you know the possible causes and treatment options available. We look at how dandruff affects grooming and bathing our dogs, as well as provide the best ways to prevent it happening.

Causes of dandruff in dogs

Dandruff is a condition whereby small skin flakes appear on the coat of the dog. Dandruff in humans is associated with the scalp. Since the bodies of most dogs are covered in hair, this means the problem can be more noticeable in these animals.

Our understanding of the underlying causes of dandruff is inconclusive. There are still some things we don't know about why some dogs are more prone to developing the problem than others. However, there are some conditions and health issues which are believed to be related to dandruff and may have it as a symptom. They include:

  • Dermatitis: not one specific disease, dermatitis relates to inflammation of the skin. This inflammation is often due to another of the cause listed here, but seborrheic dermatitis (also known as seborrhea) is a long-term skin disorder associated with dandruff. While its causes are unclear, it is believed to be related to immune system problems as well as other conditions. For this reason, it is usually a secondary cause of dandruff in dogs.
  • Parasites: certain mites and other external parasite can embed themselves in the skin of the dog. This results in the skin drying out and skin flakes appearing as dandruff. There is also a type of mite known as walking dandruff, but in this case the mites appear like skin flakes rather than necessarily causing them. Some internal parasites can also deplete the dog's immune system and result in dry flaky skin.
  • Allergies: many dogs can have allergic reactions to certain materials which result in dandruff. Due to the dog's coat, we often do not notice an allergic skin rash until we brush them or otherwise take a closer look. Dandruff may be one of the first symptoms we notice of an allergic reaction.
  • Immunodeficiency: if the dog has a disease or condition which depletes their immune system. Cushing's syndrome is an example of such a disease. This is related to the overproduction of certain hormones which can cause the immune system to overreact and results in skin inflammation.
  • Bacterial infections: it is also possible that a bacterial infection can cause skin to dry out, with a grater grow of new skin cells leading to the presence of dandruff.
  • Yeast or fungal infection: there are different types of fungal infection which can also lead to skin damage and evident dandruff.
  • Climate: dandruff is usually more common in the winter since the low humidity can exacerbate skin conditions. While dandruff is not usually caused by poor hygiene, the atmospheric conditions can make it easier for the dog's skin to dry out and cause dandruff.

The severity of the underlying condition will dictate how much dandruff is there. Also, with conditions such as seborrhea, the dandruff will be of a slightly greasy consistency and will be bigger than normal dandruff flakes. Dandruff is more than a cosmetic problem. Because some of these skin conditions can be accompanied by itching, the dog can scratch their skin, cause a wound and have them become infected (or generate a secondary infection).

We have mentioned that cold climates can affect dandruff in dogs. This is why seasonality is an important factor, with dandruff often being worse in winter. However, stress in dogs can also aggravate the condition.

How to get rid of dandruff in dogs

The first thing to do if you see dandruff on your dog is to take them to the veterinarian. While poor hygiene may exacerbate a dandruff problem, it is important to know this is not the underlying cause. We may have some ideas as to what is causing dandruff in our dog, but we require a professional to make the correct diagnosis.

If we treat the dog's dandruff incorrectly, we may do more harm than good. Some topical products designed to fight a parasite infection may aggravate dandruff caused by an allergic reaction. Also, if the dog does have an immune disorder, some treatments may damage their health more than help.

As treatment of dandruff in dogs depends on the cause, we can see the following actions taken:

  • Parasites: if the dog's skin is flaky due to the presence of parasites, then the veterinarian will likely prescribe a deworming treatment. This will depend on the type of parasite present. It may involve oral antiparasitic medication such as Amitraz, topical ointment or a combination of both.
  • Immune system diseases: most autoimmune diseases in dogs cannot be treated, but their symptoms can be managed. Since dandruff in these circumstances is related to the immune system overreacting, the dog can be given suppressants to stop the skin inflammation. However, this will depend on the individual clinical picture. Often dandruff will stop as the other symptoms of an autoimmune disease are better managed.
  • Allergies: finding out what causes the dog's skin allergy will usually be the first step to preventing it happening again. The cause of the allergic reaction could be due to something they eat if it's a food allergy or something they touch if it is related to conditions such as contact dermatitis. Once the cause of the allergic reaction is found, it may be enough to simply remove it from the dog's environment. Another aspect of treatment might be the use of allergy medications such as antihistamines.
  • Bacterial or fungal infections: in these cases, once the infection is treated, the dandruff should stop concurrently. In severe cases, the dog may need antibiotics or antifungal medications.

In cases of mild dandruff, it may be that no specific treatment is applied. The veterinarian might see good management of the dog's coat as being sufficient. Also, dietary changes might help benefit the dog, but these benefits will be seen on a case by case basis.

My Dog Has Dandruff - Causes and Treatment - How to get rid of dandruff in dogs

How to prevent dandruff in dogs

Once we have treated dandruff in our dog, we need to be vigilant as it may occur again. Unless the dog has a very specific clinical picture, such as an autoimmune disease, we can often best prevent dandruff in dogs by ensuring their general well-being.

Feeding our dog quality food is important for their health. It also helps to keep their coat healthy, shiny and dandruff-free. It is believed that healthy fatty-acids are one of the best ways to do this for our dog. This is why food for dogs which are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are ideal. These foods might include salmon, sardines, linseed and more. These foods are not a replacement for their normal food, but can be used in a supplementary fashion.

Since stress is known to aggravate dandruff causing problems, ensuring our dog lives a happy life can help prevent it as well as many different issues. Providing environmental enrichment, spending more time with them, playing intelligence games and removing any stressors are all helpful. Isolating the cause of a dog's stress and addressing it can help prevent the reoccurrence of dandruff.

Every dog should be given preventive medicine in the form of vaccinations and deworming procedures. The former helps to prevent from a wide-range of diseases which can affect the dog. The latter helps to protect the dog from parasites which could result in dandruff.

Regular checkups with the veterinarian are also important. In these cases, the dog will need to be assessed and we need to listen to the advice of the vet. As we said above, if the dandruff is mild and seasonal, simply ensuring their general well-being may be enough.

Home remedies for dandruff in dogs

There are many websites out there which make claims that home remedies can cure dandruff in dogs, but these are often ‘quick fix’ solutions which may end up doing more harm than good. For example, some claim that adding some lavender essential oil can help the dog with dandruff. However, if the dog has a skin condition, essential oils can end up agitating the skin further. If there are lesions on the skin or other types of skin irritation, it can also be painful.

Since it is important to know why a dog has dandruff in the first place, we cannot treat it at home. If we use home remedies, but the problem is an underlying autoimmune disease, we may end up exacerbating the underlying condition. If we have a home remedy we want to try, speak to the veterinarian first and they can help determine whether it will be OK when used as a complimentary medicine.

Bathing a dog which has dandruff

While hygiene may exacerbate the problem of dandruff, it may not happen in the way you think. For example, bathing a dog too much might be exacerbating the dandruff problem.

Also, the way in which we bathe dog can make things worse. We should never wash the dog with human shampoos or conditioners. The reason is that the pH levels of a dog's skin are not the same as a humans. Also, some of the other ingredients might be harmful to their skin and make the dandruff worse. Dog shampoo has been created specifically to help the oils on a dog's skin stay protected. Not eradicate them completely.

If a dog has regular mild dandruff, it is advisable to bathe them once a month until the problem has settled. With seborrhea or severe dandruff, the dog may need to be bathed twice a month. However, this needs to be determined by the veterinarian. They will likely prescribe medicated shampoo to treat the problem more aggressively. They will be prescribed according to the reason for the dandruff. In some cases, antiparasitical treatments will be combined with the medicated shampoo.

If we use a hairdryer after we bathe the dog, it needs to be on a low temperature and applied with enough distance from the dog's skin. If the hairdryer is too hot, it can dry out the dog's skin and make the dandruff worse.

My Dog Has Dandruff - Causes and Treatment - Bathing a dog which has dandruff

Final tips for dogs with dandruff

  • While your dog having dandruff doesn't necessarily mean a significant health risk, ignoring the underlying cause of the dandruff can cause problems. Take them to the veterinarian for a diagnosis as soon as you observe the problem.
  • After this point, the veterinarian will need to determine the cause, so bring as much information as you can. Let them know the type of product you use, what type of food they eat, etc.
  • Much of the preventive measures for dandruff in dogs has to do with maintaining healthy skin. Don't use harsh chemicals, don't forget to brush and generally take care of their coat.
  • Food rich in omega-3 fatty acids is good for your dog's overall well-being. Ensure it is only supplemented as part of a balanced diet.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Has Dandruff - Causes and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

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