What is Skin Disease (Canine Seborrhea)?
In canine seborrhea, the skin cells produce excessive keratinous material that causes dermatitis with flakes and scaling. Symptoms commonly develop on the back or feet, as well as inside pouches and skin folds. The sebaceous glands in the skin often overproduce a lubricating secretion called sebum as well, and many dogs with seborrhea have very oily skin. Others develop a dryer form of the disease with peeling areas of dry skin and lesions. Many dogs have a combination of both types of symptoms. Seborrhea can be inherited, especially in some breeds. Puppies may develop flaking skin as young as ten weeks old and show significant symptoms before they are eighteen months. More commonly, however, seborrhea is due to a secondary condition, such as an endocrine imbalance that upsets hormone levels in the body, or an allergic reaction that affects the skin. Bacterial and fungal infections are often found in combination with seborrhea; in some cases these may be the primary cause, in others they are opportunistic infections that develop secondary to seborrheic dermatitis. Scratching at itchy lesions can make the skin break and increase the chance of infection. Many dogs have a distinctive odor with seborrhea, especially if it is combined with a Malassezia fungal infection. In severe cases, dogs may lose patches of hair. Concurrent ear infection is also a common problem, especially with oily seborrhea.
Dermatitis with scales and flaking skin in dogs is caused by abnormal keratinization and hormone levels in the skin cells. Veterinarians call this canine seborrhea or seborrheic dermatitis. It can be an inherited problem in some breeds, but more commonly it occurs secondary to allergies or endocrine disease.
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Symptoms of Skin Disease (Canine Seborrhea) in Dogs
These are the symptoms you might notice in a dog with seborrhea.
- Large numbers of skin flakes in a dog’s bedding
- Patches of flaking skin, especially on the back
- Excessively oily skin
- Itching (pruritus)
- Thick crusted skin
- Alopecia (hair loss)
- Ear infection
The two different types of seborrhea can be found separately or together.
- Seborrhea oleosa (oily seborrhea) – dogs have excessively greasy skin and commonly develop concurrent ear infection
- Seborrhea sicca (dry seborrhea) – dogs have dry, flaky patches of skin
Causes of Skin Disease (Canine Seborrhea) in Dogs
Primary dermatitis is more common in some breeds. It is still rare however; most seborrheic dermatitis is due to a secondary condition.
Primary or congenital seborrhea
- American Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Basset Hounds, West Highland White Terriers, Dachshunds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Shar Peis, Doberman Pinschers, Irish Setters
- Many types of endocrine Imbalance (including Cushing’s disease and thyroid disease)
- Fungal infection (especially Malassezia yeast infection)
- Bacterial infection (pyoderma)
- Parasites (fleas or ticks)
- Poor diet
- Changes in temperature
- Poor grooming
- Cancer (especially cutaneous lymphoma)
Diagnosis of Skin Disease (Canine Seborrhea) in Dogs
The veterinarian will examine your dog’s symptoms and take skin scrapings and fluid cultures to analyze the cells at a microscopic level. Red pimples and pustules tend to suggest a concurrent bacterial infection, such as pyoderma. Hair loss, odor, and signs of itching are also relevant. Allergic reactions usually have a higher degree of pruritus than hormone imbalance from endocrine disease. Other symptoms, like excessive drinking and urination, can suggest an endocrine problem. The veterinarian will take bloodwork and complete urinalysis to check for systemic symptoms. Specific tests (such as an ACTH Stim test) may be necessary to definitively diagnose Cushing’s disease or thyroid imbalance.
Your dog’s age and breed can also be relevant. When seborrhea develops in young puppies, this is frequently a sign of inherited disease. Nevertheless, the veterinarian will still need to perform a number of other tests to eliminate treatable conditions that could be causing the problem. Older dogs will be more likely to develop secondary seborrheic dermatitis as the result of an endocrinopathy, or cancer, while younger dogs, under five years of age, are more likely to have an allergic source for the disease. Recent diet changes can be relevant, as well as any environmental changes like a recent move.
Treatment of Skin Disease (Canine Seborrhea) in Dogs
Treatment for canine seborrhea will focus on managing the symptoms and eliminating the cause if it is a secondary condition. Antibiotics and antifungal medication will be prescribed to treat concurrent bacterial and fungal infection, which is common. The veterinarian may choose an antibiotic based on a lab’s analyzation of your dog’s specific bacteria to avoid problems with antibiotic resistant staphylococcal bacteria. Ketoconazole or fluconazole are frequently given for malassezia infection. Medication may also be prescribed to kill fleas or roundworm.
Antiseborrheic shampoos are the most effective way of treating the flakes and scaling that are the defining symptoms of seborrhea. The veterinarian will prescribe or recommend a shampoo. In the first few weeks of treatment, you may need to bathe your dog two or three times per week. The shampoo will need to stay in contact with the skin for ten or fifteen minutes in order to have an effect. Moisturizers and sprays can be used after or between baths. The flaking may get worse to begin with, but will taper off as symptoms begin to be controlled. You will need to monitor your dog carefully as over-bathing can actually make seborrhea worse. If ear infection is present, the veterinarian will prescribe drops and you will need to clean the wax build-up out of your dog’s ears frequently.
Other treatments will focus on conditions that are causing secondary seborrhea. Medication may be prescribed to treat hormone imbalance. Diet change may be recommended to eliminate or find the root of an allergic reaction. You may need cut your dog back to a single protein and add in other foods slowly to see what substance is causing the reaction. If the condition cannot be pinpointed, it may be due to an autoimmune response rather than a direct allergen; the veterinarian may recommend an immune suppressant medication if the problem is very severe. If the root cause of your dog’s seborrhea turns out to be cancerous, surgery and/or chemotherapy may be necessary, but this is quite rare.
Recovery of Skin Disease (Canine Seborrhea) in Dogs
Recovery will depend on the cause of seborrhea. With primary inherited versions of the disease, medicated shampoos and sprays will be necessary throughout your dog’s life. Depending on the dog, symptoms can often be kept mostly under control, but you will need to monitor your dog’s skin and seek treatment as soon as you notice a problem developing.
Secondary conditions can often be eliminated by treating the cause. If Cushing’s disease or thyroid imbalance can be treated medically, this will usually eliminate or greatly reduce seborrhea, however, lifelong medication may be necessary to treat the hormone imbalance. Finding and eliminating the source of an allergic reaction can also effectively cure seborrhea; if the exact allergen is impossible to pinpoint you may need to continue to manage the problem symptomatically. If seborrhea is due to an infection or a flea infestation, treatment is often quite effective. Your dog’s exact prognosis will depend on the veterinarian’s diagnosis.
Skin Disease (Canine Seborrhea) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
my 13 yr old poodle cross has Cushings Disease that is treated with vetoryl 15mg bid.
for about a year.
ACTH stim tests have been on the high end of normal. All his hematology
and chemistry tests have improved considerably most notable liver function.
However he continues to have marked hair loss, especially on back, back
of neck and lateral torso plus patches of alopecia. His skin is thin with
hyperpigmentation on the back of his neck and fairly diffuse seborrhea worst
on his back in front of tail and hip jts. He constantly licks his skin and more fur has come off that way. He was aggressively chewing his tail.
He has had significant weight loss (20-25%) Vet not willing to attribute to Cushings
although Teddy has no other symptoms. (vomiting, diarrhea lethargy. I feed him a fairly high protein diet 4 times a day
My main question is about treating his skin. From discussions with the vet and myown research, I believe all his skin problems are related to Cushings.I know ketoconazole shampoo can help
the seborrhea, but are topical creams such as loprox efficacious? Are there any moisturizers that might be beneficial? Has using products like rogaine shown any benefit?
He has lost 20-25% body weight, despite eating reasonably well.
Fundamentally, seborrhoea can be difficult to manage and using other products together with the shampoo can cause more harm than good. Products like Regaine (minoxidil) can be toxic to dogs (and even more toxic in cats); obviously regular bathing with the shampoo along with preventing him from biting himself will help the best. Applying creams to areas where a dog is already biting and licking can lead to ingestion and other problems. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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My dog has secondary, oily Seborrhea. We are treating his allergies with a special serum made for him and he is now on z/d food. He's been on the food for a month, but still has these problems. We are trying a special medicated shampoo from the vet, but it doesn't contain sulfur tar and I've read that's what we should be doing.
Tar based shampoos can smell unpleasant and can be irritating to the skin which is why they are generally not used anymore (due to owner reluctance to use the shampoo). Benzoyl peroxide based shampoos are usually recommended for oily seborrhoea, but these shampoos too can irritate the skin and cause drying of the skin. Ask your Veterinarian about a tar based shampoo if they have it in stock. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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Can thyroid medicine cause skin problems my dog has always had skin issues but it seems to have gotten worse with thyroid medicine?
In thyroid conditions, appearance of the skin and dulling of the coat are normal clinical signs; in some cases medication for thyroid issues may affect the appearance of the skin. It would be best to visit your Veterinarian for them to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment, determine if the skin issues are related to the thyroid or the thyroid medication and to possibly measure T3 and T4 again to determine if the dosage is still appropriate. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
Can worming your 15 year old dog cause the oily one?
Can cutaneous papilloma found on a dogs paws cause seborrhea? Or is it more likely for the dog to have primary seborrhea and contract the cutaneous papilloma as a result. In addition, should a histopathology report detect canine seborrhea or is it primarily just a diagnosis of exclusion?
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