Why Does My Dog Have Dandruff?

Kaylee Ferreira

Published by Dr. Kaylee Ferreira

Updated on

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Can Dogs Get Dandruff?

If it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas wherever your dog goes- then it’s probably time you asked yourself, “Why does my dog have dandruff?”.

How exactly can dogs get dandruff? Oil glands cause flaky skin on dogs called the sebaceous glands. If these glands produce too much oil, it results in the skin drying out, thereby creating flakes of dry skin known as dandruff. Doggy dandruff can be a combination of both dry and oily skin.

definition of Dandruff

Dander vs. Dandruff in Dogs

Dander vs. dandruff- these two separate terms are sometimes classed together because they both relate to flakes shed by the epidermal layer.

Dander is microscopic and is usually shed by all animals throughout the growth stages of the epidermal layer. It can travel through the air and is the main reason people suffer from allergies as it can enter the mucous membranes. 

Dandruff is referred to as seborrheic dermatitis. This condition results in either dry or oily patches in a dog’s epidermal layer. Dandruff is an abnormal accumulation of dry skin due to seborrheic dermatitis, resulting in visible white flakes on a dog’s coat. 

Dandruff can cause significant allergies in people who are hypersensitive to dog dander. If you suddenly begin to suffer from allergies, especially during the change of seasons, it could be an early indicator that your pet may have dandruff.    

How do I Know if my Dog Has Dandruff?

Dandruff in dogs will present in the following ways:

  • A significant number of visible white flakes on the surface of your pet’s coat.
  • An increased amount of white flakes on furniture, carpets, dog beds, or clothing.
  • Behavioral changes such as increased scratching, biting, or licking. 
  • Hair loss, inflammation, or redness of the skin, as well as a yeasty smell, may indicate dry skin.

It is important to regularly assess your dog’s overall coat and skin condition when grooming them. The sooner you notice changes in their skin or hair, the sooner you can take steps to improve it.

Why Does my Dog Have Dandruff?

If your pet has dry flakey skin, then you may be wondering, What causes dandruff in dogs? 

The overproduction of sebum (a type of oil) leads to an imbalance of moisture in the epidermal layer. This, in turn, results in either seborrhoea sicca (dry) or seborrhoea oleosa (oily) dandruff. However, these conditions may still lead to the question: Why does my dog have dandruff? 

Dandruff occurs as a secondary symptom from a primary cause. The primary causes could be due to either one or more of the following conditions:

Bacterial or Fungal Infections

Pathogens that enter the skin will cause several symptoms that may include dandruff. In addition, the pathogens affect the skin barrier health and lead to inflammatory changes and itching. These infections will need to be treated by a veterinarian and can also be contagious to humans. 

Nutritional Imbalances 

Nutrition plays an essential role in skin health. Poor diets can lead to nutritional deficiencies that affect the coat and the skin. Ensure that your pet receives a balanced diet that contains high-quality nutrients. 

Systemic Conditions 

Obesity can influence your dog’s skin health affecting the body’s circulation to the sebaceous glands. Obesity has several negative impacts on your pet’s health, so monitoring your pet’s weight is essential.

Endocrine disorders create significant hormonal imbalances which affect the skin. Your veterinarian will discuss your pet’s entire clinical history to determine if an endocrine disorder such as Cushing’s Disease, Hypothyroidism, or Diabetes needs to be investigated. 

Chronic allergies can also cause chronic dryness and itching, so be sure to take your pet to the vet and adhere strictly to prescribed treatments. 

Poor Grooming Practices

Some dogs have high maintenance grooming needs regardless of the length of their coats. Therefore, always be sure to keep up with routine grooming. Don’t hesitate to seek help from professional groomers or a vet if your pet’s coat is not responding to home grooming practices.  

Bathing a pet too regularly or with the wrong shampoo can cause dryness as pets lose critical natural oils from their skin. Ensure that your shampoo has a pH that is fit for their skin.

Bathing dog chow chow

How to Treat Dog Dandruff

If you have searched for dog dandruff treatments and you have still not found out how to treat dog dandruff effectively, then look no further. Listed below are several remedies for dog dandruff that could help improve your pet’s skin health.  

Grooming and Bathing

Every dog will have its own unique grooming needs. Grooming your pet regularly is key in achieving a healthy coat and skin. Using the correct tools to brush your dog depends on the type of coat your pet has. Chat to a groomer or your vet about the best brush for your dog’s coat.

By brushing your dog’s coat, excess skin oils are dispersed evenly throughout the coat. This prevents the oils from clumping in a single area. 

The dead hair removed when brushing your dog also decreases bacterial loads and prevents pathogens from being trapped in hair mats. If your pet is suffering from dandruff, try to brush your pet daily to reduce the load of dry, flaky skin. Once dandruff has cleared, a weekly brush will suffice. 

Bathing your pet during a seborrhoeic episode has benefits, especially if the shampoo is medicated. In addition, shampoos designed with antifungal and antibacterial properties can alleviate dandruff symptoms and prevent them from spreading to other areas. 

Your vet will prescribe a shampoo based on the primary condition or treat the secondary condition symptoms. Ensure that you listen carefully to the application instructions, the duration of application as well as the frequency of application. If a medicated shampoo is misused, the effects could be counterproductive. 

Many medicated shampoos require an extended contact time to work effectively. Leave the shampoo on for several minutes before rinsing it off thoroughly.

Healthy Diet

A portion of balanced, good-quality dog food will have a beneficial impact on skin health. If the vet recommends a prescription food, it is imperative to adhere to the diet strictly. This will ensure that any underlying conditions such as allergies or skin sensitivities can be addressed nutritionally to help improve the skin barrier. 

Supplements, including Vitamin E, Zinc, and essential fatty acids such as Omega- 3 or 6, are also beneficial to skin barrier health. 

Use a Humidifier 

Humidifiers can produce steam in arid climates where the air is arid in the winter months. Humidifiers also help alleviate allergies and soothe and hydrate the skin. This, in turn, helps to relieve itching and scratching. 

Address Other Underlying Health Conditions

If your pet has an underlying health concern, dandruff needs to be addressed to improve. Your veterinarian will discuss treatment options for possible systemic diseases, endocrine disorders, immune disorders, or parasite infections. 

External Parasite Control

Dogs need regular external parasite treatment to prevent infection and the spread of mites. Mites can be treated with macrocyclic lactones like Milbemycin or Ivermectin.

Exercise caution when using macrocyclic lactones in Border Collie breeds, as they suffer from severe adverse effects due to a genetic mutation in the MDR1 gene.

When to Take Your Doggo to the Vet for Dog Dandruff

Dandruff can occur seasonally, but chronic dandruff can be associated with underlying skin disorders. If your dog experiences any of the symptoms listed below, they may need to visit the vet for a skin work up:

  • Compulsive scratching due to severe itching, which causes self-trauma. 
  • Sweet or metallic smell to the skin.
  • Hair loss.
  • Inflamed skin (red and swollen).
  • Excessive skin flakes on the coat or in the environment.

A basic skin workup is used to determine the possible underlying cause of dandruff. It could include several tests on the skin and a good clinical history and exam. Blood tests will also be scheduled to rule out potential systemic diseases if indicated.

Be prepared to discuss your pet’s history with the vet and ensure that you know the following details:

  • Current food they are eating.
  • External parasite control history. 
  • Duration of symptoms.
  • List of clinical symptoms or abnormalities.
  • Previous skin disorders.

What is Walking Dandruff in Dogs?

The term “walking dandruff” refers to a parasite that resembles moving white flakes on a dog’s coat. This parasite is a mite called Cheyletiella. It infests a dog’s dermal layer, feeds off the skin, and causes significant itching.  

Cheyletiella mites are highly contagious and can infect both dogs and humans, cats, or rabbits. Therefore, it is essential to treat the environment your dog spends most of its time in. To ensure that they die off quickly, you can use any pyrethroid pest control to treat the affected areas.

Your dog’s Cheyletiella infection can be treated with oral Milbemycin or Ivermectin. Ivermectin can also be injected subcutaneously. 

dog grooming

Final Thoughts

Don’t let your pet’s skin issues allow you to flake on them. Dog dandruff can be a frustrating condition to rid your pet off, and there isn’t always a quick fix. The key to treating any skin condition is to find the primary cause, so if your dog has chronic dry skin, take them to the vet and don’t let it get under your skin too much.

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Kaylee Ferreira


Dr. Kaylee Ferreira, a South African vet from Johannesburg, excels in diverse veterinary roles. Founder of Kubuntu Veterinary Services, she's a dedicated animal lover and adventurer.


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