How To Get Rid of Dandruff on Dogs

By: Lisa GalekUpdated:

How To Get Rid of Dandruff on Dogs
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How To Get Rid of Dandruff on Dogs

Have you noticed white flakes in your dog’s fur? Welcome to dog dandruff. While dandruff on dogs isn’t usually a big issue, it can occasionally point to a more severe health issue for your pooch.

So, is your pet suffering from run-of-the-mill dandruff, or is something more going on? We spoke with Dr. Christine Cain, DVM, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to shed light on some of the causes and treatments for dog dandruff.

Types of Dog Dandruff

Dog dandruff, aka seborrheic dermatitis, has two main forms:

  1. Seborrhea sicca (dry dandruff)
  2. Seborrhea oleosa (greasy dandruff)

However, categorizing dandruff as dry or oily doesn’t help us understand the root cause behind those white flakes. According to Dr. Cain, it’s better to understand dandruff in terms of primary or secondary scale.

  • Dogs suffering from primary seborrhea have a skin condition “that causes an abnormality in the formation of the outer layer of the skin or in skin turnover,” says Dr. Cain. One example is the disease ichthyosis, which causes a dog’s skin to retain large flakes or scales. This genetic condition affects certain dog breeds like Golden Retrievers or American Bulldogs.
  • Secondary seborrhea usually arises due to an underlying condition, such as allergies or skin infections. Parasites called Cheyletiella can also cause secondary scale. These mites are large and sometimes mistaken for dandruff, which is why they’re also known as walking dandruff. If you observe the Cheyletiella mites long enough, you can see the flaky scales walking across your dog’s skin. (Creepy, we know.)

What Causes Dandruff on Dogs?

It’s essential to understand the underlying cause behind your dog’s dandruff. Here are some common factors that cause dog dandruff:

  • Environmental Influences: Cold weather and low humidity can increase dandruff, aggravating your dog’s flaky skin problem. This is more likely to happen during the winter months if your dog is inside a warm, dry house all day.
  • Stress: Just like humans, dogs can experience anxiety. Emotional feelings or situations can exacerbate shedding and flaky skin.
  • Parasites: These tiny little organisms can live on your dog and cause many issues, including dandruff. Fleas and mites are common causes of dandruff, so year-round external parasite prevention is vital.
  • Infections: It’s normal for your pet to have bacteria and yeast on their skin, but occasionally, these can lead to skin infection. Dandruff could be one of the signs there’s a bacterial infection or other problem with your pup’s skin.
  • Allergies: “Probably the No. 1 reason why we see our patients in the clinic is because they have an allergic skin disease,” says Dr. Cain. Environmental allergies or food allergies can make your pup’s skin feel dry, leading to flaky, itchy skin.
  • Disease: Autoimmune and endocrine diseases can manifest with dandruff as a symptom. One example is sebaceous adenitis, a condition in which the immune system attacks the sebaceous or oil glands of the skin, causing them to be destroyed. Other examples are hypothyroidism or Cushing’s Disease, which can cause skin problems leading to dog dandruff.
  • Diet: A poor quality diet or nutrient deficiency can compromise your dog’s skin health, leading to dandruff or other dermatological issues that affect the quality of your dog’s skin and coat.

How To Get Rid of Dandruff on Your Dog

Because dog dandruff can have many causes, there isn’t just one way to treat it. Here are the best places to start if you’re interested in treating dandruff with home remedies:

Photo of a man brushing his dogPhoto of a man brushing his dog

1 Try Gentle Brushing

Dandruff can often be loosened by gently brushing your dog’s fur. “Just make sure you are not overzealous with grooming,” says Dr. Cain. In other words, don’t use brushes or grooming aids meant to strip the undercoat of the fur. Harsh brushing can irritate your dog’s skin even more and lead to extra flakiness.
Four Paws Magic Coat Dog Glove & Curry Brush
$5.91
Hartz Groomer's Best Combo Brush for Dogs
$7.05
Photo of dog shampoo bottlesPhoto of dog shampoo bottles

2 Bathe Your Dog

Washing your pet can also rinse away the dandruff and moisturize their dry skin. Always use a shampoo that’s meant for dogs, not humans, and be sure your dog shampoo has moisturizing ingredients. Good dog shampoos can be oatmeal-based or contain ceramides. These products help boost the normal skin barrier function.

After shampooing, finish with a conditioner or cream rinse to add more moisture.

Frisco Oatmeal Dog & Cat Shampoo
$25.49
Burt's Bees Oatmeal & Honey Dog Shampoo
$6.29
Photo of a man sitting with his dog on a couch. A humidifier sits on a side table beside themPhoto of a man sitting with his dog on a couch. A humidifier sits on a side table beside them

3 Use a Humidifier

If your home feels warm or dry, using a humidifier can help add more moist air. This is especially true in colder climates, where dogs may sit in the dry air or heat.
Photo of a dog eating from a bowlPhoto of a dog eating from a bowl

4Consider Your Dog’s Diet

By ensuring your dog’s diet is balanced, you can help keep their skin and coat healthy. Talk to your veterinarian about what you’re feeding your pup to make sure it best suits their needs. This is extra essential if you are cooking at home for your pet, to ensure what you’re feeding them meets their nutritional needs and doesn’t lead to imbalances.
Pro Tip: Omega-3 fatty-acid supplements can improve some pets' skin health and reduce flakiness. Dr. Cain recommends discussing a fatty-acid supplement with your veterinarian before beginning, because it can interact with other health conditions.
Vibeful Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil Skin & Coat Supplement for Dogs
$32.99
GoodGrowlies Omega 3 Alaskan Fish Oil Dry & Itchy Skin Relief + Allergy Support Chew Supplement for Dogs
$23.42

When to See Your Vet

Generally, if you notice dandruff on your dog, it’s not a huge cause for concern. However, dandruff can signify a more serious health issue bothering your pet.

Not sure whether to call your vet? Dr.Cain recommends evaluating your dog’s overall health. Ask yourself:

  • Does your pet’s skin look red?
  • Is there a lot of dandruff, or are the flakes very big?
  • Are they suddenly experiencing itchiness?
  • Does your dog smell bad?
  • Does your dog’s coat look especially greasy or oily?
  • Are they experiencing hair loss?

These could all be signs that a simple case of dog dandruff is more than it seems. When in doubt, reach out to your vet for advice.

FAQs about Dandruff on Dogs

Q:

Why does my dog have white flakes in their fur?

A:If you notice white flakes in your dog’s fur, it’s likely dandruff. Dandruff, or scale, happens when the outer layer of dead skin cells peels off and is retained in your dog’s coat. However, some parasites, such as walking dandruff, can be confused with regular scale.

Q:

Should I be worried if my dog has dandruff?

A:That depends on the type and amount of dandruff your dog has. If your dog has light dandruff and seems to be feeling fine otherwise, there’s usually no reason to be concerned. But if their skin is red or itchy, or their coat is smelly, greasy or showing hair loss, it’s time to call your vet.

Q:

What’s the best dandruff shampoo for dogs?

A:Dr. Cain says to consult your veterinarian before using a dog dandruff shampoo on your pet. She recommends a dog shampoo with moisturizing ingredients. Oatmeal-based shampoos are typically gentle, add moisture and soothe dry skin.

By understanding the causes of dandruff and managing appropriate solutions, you can help reduce your pet’s discomfort. With proper care and attention, dog dandruff can be effectively managed to ensure your pet has a healthy coat and skin.

Want to learn more about products that reduce dandruff? Check out the best shampoos for your dog’s skin conditions.

Expert input for this story provided by Dr. Christine Cain, BS, DVM, DACVD, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia.

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By: Lisa GalekUpdated:

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