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What is Dandruff?

If your dog has flaky, scaly, greasy skin, he may have what is known as dandruff from an excess build up of seborrhea.  It may be a genetic condition or may be a secondary development from skin parasites, hormonal disorders or endocrine disorders.  Your veterinarian will want to start by properly diagnosing his condition and determining whether it is caused by an underlying disorder or not.  Once properly diagnosed, treatment can begin.  It typically consists of topical shampoos and medications to be used on your dog.  If you do his treatments properly, his prognosis of recovery is good.

Dandruff in dogs can be a common finding but is not normal.  If you notice your dog has flaky skin, you should take him to his veterinarian for an evaluation.  Do not use a human dandruff shampoo on your dog without consulting with your veterinarian.

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Symptoms of Dandruff in Dogs

Symptoms of this condition may include:

  • Increased scale formation
  • Crusting 
  • Excessive greasiness to the skin
  • Greasy hair coat
  • Secondary inflammation
  • Secondary infection
  • Hair loss 
  • With or without excess itching

Types

There are primary and secondary forms of dandruff in dogs.  The primary form is typically an inherited condition affecting his skin.  The most commonly affected dog breeds affected by this condition include American Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, English Springer Spaniels, Dachshunds, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, West Highland Terriers and German Shepherd Dogs.  When genetic factors are involved, the disorder typically appears when the dog is young and progresses as he ages.

If your dog is diagnosed with dandruff as a secondary condition, then it is indicative of an underlying ailment.  He is likely suffering from a disease that is causing the excess scaling and crusting of the skin.  In some dogs, the skin may be oily or even have the presence of pus-filled inflammation, hair loss, and infection.

Causes of Dandruff in Dogs

There are a variety of causes that can lead to your dog developing dandruff.  The two most common causes of dandruff development are allergies and hormonal disorders.  If your pet is under 5 years of age and has developed this condition, the most common causes are allergies or due to a genetic condition.  

However, no matter what age your pet is, there are also other causes that can lead to this diagnosis.  Other conditions that may cause the dandruff include external parasites such as mites or fleas, ringworm, food sensitivity, and endocrine disorders.

Diagnosis of Dandruff in Dogs

Diagnosing dandruff in your dog can typically be done by physical exam alone.  However, it is the underlying cause of the condition that may need more diagnostic testing.  Your veterinarian will perform a full physical exam on your dog when you arrive for a visit.  While it may be obvious he has scaly skin, she will want to check him over entirely for other symptoms and perhaps a hint to the cause.  She will also want to collect a verbal history from you in regards to when his symptoms began, if they have changed any, what type of diet you are feeding him, if you have tried treating his condition with anything over the counter and similar questions.

Next, your veterinarian will likely want to run some diagnostic testing.  She may start with a skin scrape to check for external parasites such as skin mites.  She will scrape off a thin sample of your dog’s superficial skin layer and examine it under the microscope for the presence or absence of parasites.  If she wants to check for ringworm, this involves plucking out some hairs from an affected area and placing it in a specific substance known as dermatophyte test medium, or DTM culture.  This allows for the growth of certain bacteria and fungus.  However, you have to allow this test 2 weeks to grow before your dog can be diagnosed with a negative result.  Another test your veterinarian may suggest is a skin cytology.  This involves taking a piece of scotch tape, sticking it to your dog’s skin, staining it with a specific stain and then viewing it under the microscope.  This test can indicate if your dog has a bacterial skin infection or yeast infection that may be contributing to his skin condition.

If the skin tests are negative, your veterinarian will then need to consider and test for endocrine and hormonal disorders.  Diagnostics for this includes blood work and perhaps a urinalysis.  A complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel will give general information on how the internal organs are functioning.  If certain results are off, your veterinarian may want to proceed with more specific blood work.

If food sensitivity is suspected as the cause of your dog’s dandruff, the only way to test for it is by a food trial.  This involves removing the suspected ingredient that may be causing your dog’s symptoms from his diet for a minimum of 6 weeks.  If his symptoms subside, then you reintroduce the ingredient to his diet.  If his symptoms return, then you have your food culprit.

Treatment of Dandruff in Dogs

The main form of treatment for your dog’s dandruff is topical keratolytic products.  The most common product is shampoo but can also come in an ointment form for you to apply to your dog.  The shampoo is to be used frequently during the first two weeks of treatment in order to get the condition under control and exposed to the medication frequently.  It is common to see increased scaling within the first 14 days of treatment but this is normal.  The product is loosening up the current scales and with continued bathing, the scales will be removed.  She may also suggest an ointment or gel for you to apply to the affected skin throughout the day.

If there is an underlying cause to your dog’s dandruff condition, you and your veterinarian will need to treat that as well.  If there is an underlying skin condition, medications will be administered to treat the cause.  If there is an endocrine or hormonal imbalance that is causing your dog’s symptoms, medications and therapies can be administered in accordance to your dog’s needs. It may take a little while to get the condition under control, but once your dog’s hormone and endocrine levels are back to normal, his symptoms should resolve in time.  

In some cases of dogs with dandruff, a secondary skin infection can develop from all the scratching.  If this happens to your dog, he will need antibiotics and possibly other medications to treat the condition.  Any other symptoms your dog is experiencing will be addressed and treated as your veterinarian sees fit.

Recovery of Dandruff in Dogs

If there is an underlying cause for your dog’s symptoms and you treat it properly, his symptoms should subside given time.  Treating the dandruff itself is also important.  As long as everything is properly treated, your dog should recover without a problem.  It may take a couple weeks for the dandruff to completely disappear from your dog’s skin but given time and persistent treatment his prognosis of recovery is good.

Dandruff Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Rocky
Mix labradog
3 Years
Mild condition
1 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Crusting dry hair sticky dandruff
Crusting

I believe that my dog has dandruff as it's crusting and very dry.I have combed his hair and all the dry skin came off.I applied Dettol, an antiseptic liquid soulution which contains chloroxylenol,terpineol and alcohol. But now this dandruff gets stucked to his skin and the Dettol comes off in the form on dandruff. Because I have combed his hair very harshly there has been bleeding at some points as well.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Dettol contains chloroxylenol which in some cases and large enough quantities can be toxic for dogs, especially if licked; we generally prefer to use chlorhexidine in pets. If you are noticing some dandruff, it may be caused by a few different conditions which may include parasites, hormonal condition or seborrhoea. Try to bathe Rocky with a medicated shampoo containing oatmeal and benzoyl peroxide to see if that helps; if there is no improvement after a few days visit your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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