What causes dandruff in dogs?
Skin problems are the most commonly reported health issues in dogs. Apart from the amount of hair, a dog’s skin anatomy and function are pretty much the same as with humans. This means that dogs also get the common skin problems that humans experience, including dandruff formation. Like humans, dandruff formation in dogs can either be a primary condition or a secondary sign of an underlying disease. Dandruff in dogs is accompanied by a varying number of signs, depending on the severity of the condition. Keep reading to learn why your dog might have dandruff and what you can do to help.
What is dandruff and how does it develop?
Dandruff is the abnormal accumulation of dead skin cells on your dog’s fur. Those white flakes you see falling off your dog when they scratch or shake are dead skin cells called dandruff.
This happens when the sebaceous glands in the dog’s skin produce excess oil and cause irritation, leading to excessive skin shedding and flakiness.
Other Symptoms Associated with Dandruff in Dogs
Dandruff formation often doesn’t occur alone, and other clinical signs are usually observed with excessive skin flaking. The most common symptom that’s associated with dandruff in dogs is excessive scratching. The overproduction of oil from sebaceous glands of the skin causes irritation which is very itchy for dogs. Couple this with the presence of dead skin cells on the surface and the result is severe discomfort and itchiness.
Depending on the cause and severity, dandruff in dogs can also have complete or partial hair loss. Occasionally, scabs and wounds may form on the surface of the skin if it gets too dry or inflamed. Redness is also observed in some cases of dandruff formation in dogs. Additionally, a foul smell may develop if the skin develops secondary bacterial or fungal infections.
Common Causes of Dandruff in Dogs
Dandruff formation in dogs has several possible causes, and the success of treatment ultimately depends on identifying and addressing the underlying cause. Here are a few possibilities that can cause your dog’s dandruff:
1. Primary Seborrhea
Seborrhea is a medical skin condition characterized by an abnormal rate of migration of skin cells towards the surface layer of the skin. The process in which the skin continuously replaces the outer protective layer with new skin cells is called keratinization.
Dogs with seborrhea have a defect in keratinization causing a rapid renewal of the skin’s outer layer and overproduction of dead skin cells. The excessive dead skin cells easily break off as dandruff.
Dogs affected with this condition usually have greasy skin due to the abnormal production of sebum from the skin glands. This makes the skin vulnerable to the penetration of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, causing a secondary infection.
Primary seborrhea is genetic and is commonly observed in certain breeds of dogs like Cocker Spaniels, West Highland White Terriers, and Doberman Pinschers. Secondary seborrhea develops as a complication of an underlying disease.
2. Skin Parasite Infestation
The presence of external parasites in the skin of dogs can cause inflammation in the skin layers, resulting in excessive scaling and dandruff. Fleas and lice can cause itching and hair loss. This may eventually result in severe skin inflammation and scaling if not treated immediately.
Mite infestations like in demodectic and sarcoptic mange cause hair loss and excessive skin oil production leading to scaling, flaking, and dandruff formation.
3. Nutrient Deficiencies
A dog’s skin requires proper nutrition to keep it healthy. One other cause of dandruff formation in dogs is being on a diet that lacks the essential nutrients to maintain skin health. Essential fatty acids such as omega 3 and 6 play an important function in keeping the skin healthy. Since dogs can’t synthesize their own essential fatty acids, it’s important that they get sufficient levels of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids from their diets.
Protein also plays an important role in the development and maintenance of a dog’s skin and hair. A high-quality, and highly digestible protein in the diet helps cover the protein requirement necessary for proper skin health. If dogs are fed diets that are deficient in these nutrients, it will compromise proper skin function and can lead to dry skin and dandruff formation.
4. Hormonal Problems and Other Health Conditions
Certain hormonal conditions in dogs often have skin-related symptoms as part of the disease process. Imbalances in the thyroid hormone or cortisol hormone cause changes in the metabolism rate of the body and lead to a multitude of clinical signs spanning different organ systems. This often includes pathological changes in the skin, including excessive scaling and dandruff formation.
Auto-immune conditions such as pemphigus cause the body to mount an immune response against its own skin, resulting in severe inflammation, scaling, and dandruff formation. Allergic dermatitis can also cause dandruff in dogs due to chronic skin inflammation.
Treatment Options for Dogs with Dandruff
Identifying the specific cause of dandruff in dogs is important in the treatment process. Improving the dog’s diet or giving omega fatty acid and vitamin supplements can help control dandruff in dogs with nutrient deficiencies.
The use of medicated shampoos helps control the production of excessive skin oil and regulates the keratinization of the skin. Other shampoos can help eliminate secondary bacterial or fungal infections. For dogs with primary seborrhea, lifetime maintenance with specific shampoos, oral supplements, or diet may be needed to properly manage and control dandruff.
In cases where dandruff happens secondary to an underlying cause, specific treatment for the underlying condition, together with targeted dandruff treatment, is needed to successfully address the condition. Parasite infestation can be treated with prescription and/or over-the-counter anti-parasitic medications in topical or oral preparation.
Hormonal diseases like hypothyroidism or Addison’s disease would require hormonal replacement or specific medications to balance the production of these hormones. In cases of excessive hormone production like in Cushing’s disease, surgery may be needed to remove the hormone-producing tumor.
When you start to notice your dog developing dandruff, it’s best to consult a vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment for the condition. Your vet can also give recommendations on how to prevent your dog from developing dandruff.
Ditch the Itch: Skin Allergies in Dogs
How to Choose the Right Food for Your Dog
Have more questions about dandruff in dogs?
Schedule a video consult to speak with one of our vets.