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What Causes Dog Dandruff, and How Can I Get Rid of It?

Dog dandruff can go beyond cosmetics — it can indicate a health issue. Grooming, dog shampoo, a humidifier, and even a visit to the vet can help to remedy it.

Close up of brown dog fur with dandruff flakes.

Dog dandruff can go beyond cosmetics — it can indicate a health issue. Grooming, dog shampoo, a humidifier, and even a visit to the vet can help to remedy it.

None of us like to deal with our own dandruff. The embarrassing white flakes on the shoulders of a dark shirt, the itchy scalp, the scratching you don't even realize you're doing... it's something you want to get resolved as soon as possible. 

Our canine friends can suffer from dandruff, too. It turns out that dog dandruff is largely the same as human dandruff in terms of causes, symptoms, and treatment methods. But that doesn't mean you should use your dandruff shampoo on your four-legged friend. You’ll probably need to use a combination of good grooming, bathing with a special shampoo made just for dogs, or even veterinary treatment to deal with your dog’s dandruff.

Dog dandruff is about a lot more than your canine friend looking less than their best. It's a health condition that should be dealt with before it gets any worse. And pet parents might need the help of their veterinarian to do that. Read on to learn more about the causes of dog dandruff, as well as the symptoms to watch out for, treatment methods, and prevention tips. 

What Causes Dog Dandruff?

Known medically as seborrhea, dandruff is the presence of dead skin cells in your dog's coat of fur. They appear as tiny flesh-colored or white flakes throughout the hair. 

Dog dandruff is almost always a side effect of another condition. Primary seborrhea, in which your dog's dandruff occurs alone without an underlying cause present, is very rare and is thought to be inherited genetically. 

Secondary dandruff can be caused by a variety of conditions. Common causes include:

  • Parasitic infestations like fleas or cheyletiella mites (also called walking dandruff)
  • Bacterial infections
  • Yeast infections
  • Allergies, including environmental and food allergies
  • Endocrine disorders like Cushing's disease or hypothyroidism
  • Fungal infections like ringworm
  • Environmental factors like dry air/low humidity

As you can see, dog dandruff is about more than simple dry skin. Sometimes, a serious medical issue is present. Let's take a look at the symptoms of dandruff in dogs so you know what to look for. Then, you can determine whether you need the help of your veterinarian to resolve the problem. 

What Are the Symptoms of Dog Dandruff?

A golden brown dog lays on its tummy on the carpet.

You're already aware that flaky skin is the primary sign of dandruff on your pup. But beyond that, how can you tell if your dog actually has dandruff or if they just have a few flakes of dry skin here and there?

The major symptoms of dog dandruff include:

  • Visible flakes of dry skin throughout the coat: While the occasional flake of skin is normal for dogs, heavy flaking all around the coat is a sign of dandruff. 
  • Increased itching resulting in more scratching: Intense itchy skin will cause your dog to scratch themselves frequently and vigorously. 
  • Red, irritated-looking skin: The more your dog scratches in response to itchiness, the more likely it is you'll see red and irritated skin under your dog’s coat. 
  • Scabs on the skin: When itching is severe, you might notice scabs on your dog's skin as a result of your dog's intense scratching. 
  • Hair loss: Prolonged scratching can also lead to bald patches or areas of hair loss around the body. 

It's also possible for dog dandruff and your dog's resulting scratching to lead to skin infections. That's right — skin infections can lead to dandruff and vice versa. If you notice that your dog seems extra smelly, or if there are visible bald patches or crusty, peeling inflamed skin, you'll want to call your vet.

It seems that certain dog breeds are more prone to dry skin and resulting dandruff than others. Examples include terrier breeds like the Jack Russell, Yorkshire terrier, and West Highland White terrier as well as dogs prone to allergies like poodles and the Maltese. However, any dog breed is susceptible to skin problems like dandruff.

How Is Dog Dandruff Treated?

A brown and white dog looks at the camera as it eceives a bath.

You've spotted a lot of white flakes around your dog's coat. Now what? You can deal with minor cases of dog dandruff at home. And, when dandruff becomes severe or home remedies don't work, turn to your veterinarian for help. 

Home Remedies

The first step in dealing with your dog's dandruff is to groom your pooch. Regular brushing is essential for good pet health in general — it helps to remove loose hair and dead skin cells, and it spreads natural oils from your dog's skin through the coat for moisturizing. Daily brushing is both a good way to deal with dandruff when it's present and prevent it before it happens.

Using a vet-recommended dog shampoo is the next step for dealing with dandruff. Oatmeal shampoos and other medicated shampoos made to combat dandruff are widely available. You'll need to bathe your dog with these products once a day or more to fully resolve a case of dandruff (ask your veterinarian for specifics on the schedule). Be sure to rinse the coat thoroughly after bath time is over — ask your vet about rinsing with apple cider vinegar, which can help remove soap residue and promote a healthy pH balance on the skin. And remember to never use a human dandruff shampoo on your dog.

If you suspect that low humidity is causing dry skin (this is especially common in the winter months) you can run a humidifier inside. Dog dandruff can sometimes be resolved simply by increasing the humidity levels in your pet's environment. Just make sure to keep your dog a safe distance away from the humidifier — it’s possible for dogs to knock over the unit and burn themselves on the hot water inside.

Since your dog's diet and nutrition directly affects their skin and fur health, making adjustments to their diet or adding supplements may help with a case of dog dandruff. Ask your vet about adding a dietary supplement that offers omega-3 fatty acid like Native Pet's all-natural Omega Oil or a coconut oil supplement. This can give your dog's skin condition a boost and help to resolve or prevent dandruff. If you believe your dog's symptoms to be attributed to environmental allergies, ask your vet about adding an allergy supplement such as Native Pet's Allergy Chews, which helps to build defense against allergies and targets itchy skin.

It's also important to feed your dog a high-quality diet to make sure the skin stays in good shape. Ask your vet about a nutritious dog food choice for your pet. You can also boost your dog's nutrition with healthy dietary additions, like Native Pet’s Bone Broth Topper

Veterinary Treatment

If the above methods don't make a difference in your dog's dandruff after a week or so, it's time to pay a visit to the vet's office. An underlying issue like parasitic infestation, bacterial or fungal infection, or allergies could be the root cause. And of course, if your dog is suffering from an endocrine disorder like hypothyroidism or Cushing's disease, your dog needs veterinary attention. Pay attention to symptoms like lethargy, change in appetite, or poor coat quality, as they could be signs of endocrine disorders like these.

These issues will need to be resolved in order to treat your dog's dandruff. Allergies can be treated with medication, and anti-parasitic medications might be given to combat infestations, for example. Endocrine disorders usually can’t be cured, but they can be managed with medication and hormone therapy.

Dog Dandruff: What to Remember

If you spot the occasional white flake around your dog's coat every now and then, it's nothing to worry about. But if you see a lot of flakes or accompanying symptoms like irritated skin and frequent, intense scratching, it's time to act. 

Try home remedies like a high-quality medicated dog shampoo, brushing regularly, adding a dietary supplement, and running a humidifier. If that doesn't make a difference with your dog's dandruff, call your veterinarian for professional help. Since common underlying causes of dog dandruff include things like parasites, infections, allergies, and disease, you'll want to have your dog examined promptly.

Dog dandruff is more than a cosmetic issue. It could indicate a wider health problem. But as long as you keep a close eye on your dog's skin and fur health and take action when you spot dandruff, your pet will probably be just fine. 

Would you like to learn more about your dog's health, wellness, and nutritional needs? Visit the Native Pet blog for more articles.

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