Dog dandruff…or should we say dandRUFF? (sorry, bad joke) – what’s the deal, and how can you make it go away? If your dog has been itching a lot lately, and you’ve spotted some white flakes, you’re probably wondering just that.
Yes, dogs get dandruff, just like humans. And no, the fix typically isn’t as easy as grabbing a bottle of Head & Shoulders. Dog dandruff can be unsightly, but more importantly, lets you know that something is out of balance with your dog’s health.
Because dandruff can point to other health issues, it should never be written off as “normal” and ignored.1 If your dog has dandruff, it’s up to you and your vet to find the underlying cause of that flaky skin and help your dog out. Your dog’s health may depend on it!
What Is Dog Dandruff?
It’s normal for the body to shed skin cells. In animals, this is skin cells shedding is called dander.2 Sometimes the shedding becomes excessive, the cells clump together, and little flakes are formed. Dandruff is born!
When dogs have dandruff, you can usually spot it on their back, neck, and around the base of their tail.3 In these areas, the skin tends to be thicker and can easily accumulate dry flakes of skin.
Symptoms of Dandruff
White flakes are typically accompanied by skin conditions, like:
- Red or irritated skin
- Visibly scaly, dry skin or visibly greasy skin
- Scratching, chewing, and licking at skin4
In some cases, pups with dandruff may also suffer from:
- Thinning hair, hair loss, and bald patches
- Open sores – usually caused by overzealous itching
- Uncharacteristically bad odor5
Your veterinarian may refer to your dog’s dandruff as “seborrhea.” The terms are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t exactly the same. Seborrhea is actually the skin disorder that causes dandruff. And the word dandruff refers to those little flakes.
When dogs have seborrhea, their skin releases a waxy, greasy substance that gathers around the ears, armpits, belly, elbows, and ankles. This substance, called sebum, causes scaly, itchy, flaky, red skin that is synonymous with dandruff.6
What Types of Dog Dandruff Exist?
There are two types of dandruff: dry and oily. The type of dandruff on a dog’s body is typically dependent on their breed.7 Dogs can have one or the other, or both at the same time.8
Dry Dandruff (Seborrhea Sicca)
With this type of dandruff, flaky skin will be visibly dry and scaly.
Breeds That Are Likely To Have Dry Dandruff
- Irish Setter
- German Shepherd
- Doberman Pinscher9
Oily Dandruff (Seborrhea Oleosa)
With oily dandruff, dogs will have noticeably greasy skin and they may develop an ear infection at the same time.10
Breeds That Are Likely To Have Oily Dandruff
- West Highland White Terrier
- Labrador Retriever
- Basset Hound
- Cocker Spaniel
- English Springer Spaniel
Cheyletiellosis in Dogs: When “Dandruff” Isn’t Dandruff
There’s a third type of dandruff – “walking dandruff,” which actually isn’t dandruff at all. “Walking dandruff” is a relatively uncommon, highly contagious skin parasite called cheyletiellosis.
Cheyletiella mites are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. They look quite a bit like white flakes of skin.12 When the mites maneuver around, they push up pieces of skin. You can actually see the mites and the skin flakes “walking.”13
What About Mange?
If you’ve looked closely and you think your dog may have mites, but not dandruff – your dog may have sarcoptic mange, or demodectic mange. Call your vet right away.14
What Causes Dandruff in Dogs?
Aside from cheyletiella mites, which are pretty rare, there are several known causes of dog dandruff. Identifying the underlying cause will help you pick a suitable remedy.
Most cases of dog dandruff are the result of secondary skin conditions – meaning something else is happening that is causing the dandruff. But dog dandruff can also be a primary, inherited condition.15
Some breeds, like Shar Peis, Basset Hounds, and Westies are just born with it.16 If your dog inherited dandruff, you’ll need to stay on top of grooming and natural remedies, so you can keep it at bay.
Food Allergies & Environmental Allergens
One of the most common causes of dog dandruff is allergens, both from the environment and in your dog’s diet. Toxins and irritants like dust, pollen, household cleaners, and unnatural dog shampoos may all lead to dandruff.17
A dog’s diet can make such a big difference in their health! If your dog has skin problems, including any specific skin conditions, one of the first places you should look is their diet. Processed dog foods often contain common irritants like dairy and soy, which some dogs may be allergic to.18
Many commercial dog foods just don’t contain all the vitamins and minerals that your dog needs to thrive. Without the proper nutrients to nourish your dog’s skin, they may develop dandruff.19 Diets that are low in omega-3 fatty acids can often lead to skin and coat problems.20
Make sure you’re feeding your dog a balanced, high quality, all-natural diet. A healthy diet treats your dog from “the inside out” and will help your dog maintain a healthy, shiny coat.
Without regular grooming, dead skin cells and dog hair can build up. Brush your dog regularly to help remove dead skin and spread natural oils throughout their coat.21 Dogs with dandruff should be brushed daily.
On the flip side, dry flaky skin can be the result of too much grooming. If you bathe your dog too often, they may not get the chance to accumulate natural oils that will moisturize their skin.22
On its own, dandruff may seem like no big deal, but changes in your dog’s skin and coat health can point to an underlying illness. If remedies for dandruff don’t help, talk to your vet. Dandruff can be an early sign of many different disorders.23
Other Causes of Dog Dandruff
- Changes in weather and levels of humidity
- Bacterial or fungal skin infections
- Parasites and Fleas
What Can You Do About Dog Dandruff?
As with everything related to your dog’s health, it’s important to understand the underlying health issue in order to find the best way to help your pup. So first, get your vet’s opinion. If your vet has ruled out underlying illnesses and mites, here are some natural remedies you can try at home!
Improve Your Pet’s Diet
One of the most effective remedies for dry skin is to switch your dog’s diet to real food. A high quality, raw diet will give your dog essential nutrients for skin health, like essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants.24
Upgrading to a natural, raw diet may be all you need to do to banish dry skin and a lackluster coat!
Another thing to consider – make sure your dog is drinking enough water. Always make sure clean, fresh water is available.
Change Your Grooming Routine
Brush your dog daily to spread around natural oils. Brushing is great for your dog’s coat – plus it’s a great bonding experience for you and your dog! If the problem persists, dog dandruff shampoo can help.
How to Choose Dandruff Shampoos for Dogs?
Look at your dog’s skin and decide if it is dry or oily. Remember to never use human products on dogs!
- For oily dandruff, look for a dog shampoo formulated with iodine, sulfur, or systolic acid.
- For dry dandruff, look for a shampoo that contains benzoyl peroxide, coal tar, or selenium sulfide.
Creams, Oils, and Topical Ointments
- An Oatmeal Bath is one of the most popular natural dog dandruff remedies, and for good reason – it typically does a great job of balancing oils and eliminating dandruff!25 This is a great option for sensitive skin.
- Baking Soda, made into a paste with a 50/50 water mix, may help with irritated skin. Leave on for 20 minutes, and then rinse off.26
- Apple Cider Vinegar may help dandruff and protect skin from irritation. To apply, dilute apple cider vinegar with equal parts water and gently wipe it on the dog’s skin with a sponge or washcloth.27
- Lime juice can control dandruff and itching. Combine equal parts lime juice and water and pour it over your dog’s coat after a shampoo. Only use all natural, fresh lime juice!28
- Vitamin E helps alleviate dry skin. It can be found as a dog-safe topical cream or oil.29
- Coconut Oil helps soothe dry itchy skin. You can apply coconut oil directly to your dog’s skin or dilute it with water and rinse it off in the bath.30 In addition to coconut oil, other natural oils, like olive oil, can work too!
- Aloe Vera has antibacterial and antifungal properties, so it could potentially help the underlying cause of your dog’s dandruff.31 Aloe is also an anti-inflammatory. Apply natural aloe directly to the skin.
Try Natural Supplements
In addition to the wonderful natural remedies you can rub directly onto your dog’s skin, you might also consider adding supplements to your dog’s food. Always consult your vet before you give your dog any supplements.
- Omega-3s. Dogs commonly don’t get the omega-3 fatty acids that they need for healthy skin. Adding a bit of fish oil to your dog’s food can do wonders for their skin and coat!
- Skin and fur supplements containing natural ingredients like Quercetin and Nettle Leaf can help can fight against inflammation and nurture skin.
- Probiotics can help balance yeast infections and boost their immune system. Adding a quality probiotic can alleviate dandruff.
Also consider that if your dog is eating the highest quality food, they will typically not need supplements.
You’ve got options when it comes to managing your dog’s itchy, irritated skin. But if there are underlying issues, even the best creams and ointments will only scratch the surface. If the dandruff and skin irritation is a severe, persistent problem, be sure to call your vet for guidance!
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