Written by David Reich — Fact checked by Piet Hellemans, DVM
In a nutshell:
Dog dandruff is just as troubling as human dandruff. Some of the causes might differ but home care and additional trips to the vet will go a long way in ensuring your dog’s skin isn’t flaky. Regular grooming baths and fatty acid supplements to the diet are all tips that improve skin health immensely and keep dandruff at bay.
Let’s talk about dog dandruff
If you have noticed unusual dry white flaky skin on your favorite pup’s skin and this condition persists for a while, your dog may actually have dandruff.
If the flaky skin is not persistent then there is nothing to worry about. However, If you start noticing these white flakes on your dog’s bed or around the house, then it may be time for you to see a veterinarian.
Facts about dog dandruff
The mere fact that dog dandruff is not something that a lot of people are aware of, makes the issue even harder to treat. Pet dandruff is similar to the one humans get. The only significant difference is the cause.
By definition, dandruff is dead skin cells. When these cells remain on a dog’s coat and skin for too long, it becomes irritable. Spotting of this dandruff depends on the color of your dog’s skin and coat, making it a bit tricky for some owners.
Another tricky aspect of this is where you notice your dog’s dandruff. Do you notice dandruff at one spot or all over the skin and coat of your pup? If it is just at one spot then it might just be temporary skin irritation. Once you identify that it surely is dog dandruff then quickly contact your veterinarian for advice.
What causes dandruff on dogs?
Since dying cells are always being replaced by new healthy ones, dogs found a way of getting rid of this flaky skin by grooming. Dandruff persistence tends to highlight an underlying issue that could range from:
- Skin infections
- Lack of grooming
- A skin Malady
So what are some of the chronic causes of dog dandruff? Here are a few:
Genetic conditions are considered unlucky to the creatures they affect, and it is not any different for dogs.
Seborrhea is a medical condition that happens when baby skin cells are thrust to the dog’s skin surface before their due time. Since the cells haven’t fully developed the glue-like substance that is supposed to hold them in place is weak. This causes these young skin cells to become flaky easily causing dandruff.
In dogs, this condition may also be accompanied by a greasy coat as the glands try and compensate for skin cells being flaky. What causes Seborrhea’s is still unknown to date but the fact that it affects a particular breed point to genetics.
The dog breeds most affected by Seborrhea are:
- West Highland White Terrier
- American Cocker Spaniel
- Doberman Pinscher
- English Springer Spaniel
Walking dandruff is a term used to refer to the Cheyletiella Mites and is different from regular dandruff. These external parasites are big enough to be seen by the eyes and appear like white skin flakes, hence the name walking dandruff. The mites make themselves at home on the dog’s skin, feeding off of it and even laying eggs on it. This results in the dog having itchy skin and being generally uncomfortable.
Your dog’s skin requires specific nutrients to keep it healthy. Since most of these nutrients are gotten from the dog’s diet, an improper one might be the cause of dandruff if your dog isn’t getting the right nutrients.
A dog’s diet should be high in omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids that play a vital role in coat and skin health and preventing dandruff or any dry skin patches. Any diet adjustments, however, should be on your vet’s advice as you might end up causing more damage than harm to the skin.
A dog’s skin infection
Bacteria and fungi are the main causes of skin infections. These infections reduce the skin’s protective measures making it susceptible to other dangers such as dandruff. It doesn’t matter whether the coat infection or dandruff came first, the right treatments are required to take your dog’s skin back to a healthy state from its flaky one.
Underlying health conditions
Other than genetic conditions, hormones also play a big role in your dog’s skin health. Hypothyroidism which is when the thyroid glands are less active causes a significant change in the skin health of a dog.
Other common culprits include an auto-immune disease called pemphigus and a condition called Cushing’s disease that might cause the skin to flake. These also result in the weakening of the immune system, opening the dog up to further infections.
How do you get rid of dandruff on a dog?
Now that we have looked at what causes dandruff, let’s look at ways of getting rid of them. Most of these will be direct remedies to the causes which makes tracking much easier. Depending on the severity of dandruff, treatment can be done right at home or by visiting a vet.
Here are a couple of home remedies:
Consistent grooming is the most assured way of maintaining skin health and managing dandruff for dogs. One way of doing this is brushing your dog. This goes a long way to ensure that excess skin oils are spread throughout the coat and that dead cells and hair are removed. For general maintenance, brushing once a week is advised. When going through a dandruff outbreak it is advised to brush your dog daily.
Misting is also a good practice, especially for long-haired dogs. This can be done using water or a special conditioning spray specific to dogs. A quick check with your vet is advisable to ensure that you use the right grooming procedures and equipment for your dog.
Dietary supplements that are recommended by your vet might be the remedy that you are looking for. Fatty acid supplements such as omega-3s and omega-6s will significantly boost your dog’s health. You should know that these supplements are not as well regulated as regular medication, so please confirm with your veterinarian before any action.
How often should I bathe my dog with dandruff?
Bathing is mostly recommended for seborrhea and bacterial or fungal infections. A diagnosis of the cause of dandruff is critical in determining what specific products should be used for the bath. A good veterinarian will prescribe a medicated dandruff shampoo just for this. Bathing a dog once a week whilst dandruff persist should be sufficient.
One thing to note, however, is the instructions on how to bathe the dog. This is because bathing regularly might dry out the skin and rid it of essential oils further aggravating the current symptoms. Always remember to rinse thoroughly after a bath.
When should you contact your vet?
For mild dandruff, we recommend using these home remedies. You would need to urgently visit a vet, however, if these symptoms persist:
- Odor due to the skin
- Red, irritated skin
- Hair loss
- Discomfort and other signs of illness
- Huge amounts of dandruff on the coat
A diagnosis will hugely depend on your dog’s exact symptoms. A physical exam might include a skin scrape which is used to look for any prevalent bacteria or parasites that cause bacterial and fungal infections and dandruff.