Why Does My Dog Have Dandruff? Potential Causes

7 min read
7 min read

Updated - Jun 1st, 2023

Is your furry friend itching non-stop? Are there dry, white flakes left behind on the furniture? If so, your dog could have dandruff. 

Skin problems like dandruff, are common amongst dogs, but the cause can vary. In this article, we’re breaking down why dogs get dandruff, possible causes, and how to get your furry friend feeling better. 

Key Points 

  • Dandruff has multiple causes in dogs, and white flakes on your dog’s skin doesn’t always mean they have dandruff. 
  • Skin conditions like dandruff could be symptoms of other health issues like hypothyroidism or allergies.
  • Daily brushing can remove dead skin and loose hairs which can reduce dandruff.

What is dog dandruff

Dandruff is caused by the accumulation of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and fur. The medical name for more severe doggy dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis or seborrhea, which is an inflammatory condition of sebaceous glands in your dog’s skin, which help keep your pup’s skin healthy. 

Sebaceous glands produce sebum, an oily substance that moisturizes your dog’s skin. When your dog’s sebaceous glands work well, your dog’s skin is well-balanced. However, if your dog’s sebaceous glands are unbalanced for any reason, they may produce too much sebum, making the skin oily or, they may not produce enough sebum, making the skin dry.

When your dog doesn’t produce the right amount of sebum, it can lead to dandruff. Similar to a healthy dog’s coat, healthy skin is neither too dry nor too oily. When your dog’s fur feels smooth and looks shiny, it’s healthy. But if your pooch has mildly itchy, flaky skin, they may have a case of dog dandruff. 

Common causes of dog dandruff 

Dr. Linda Simon, a veterinarian at Senior Tail Waggers, says, “A small amount of dandruff can be normal, and it’s not uncommon, especially as your dog gets older because older dogs may not be able to groom themselves as often and may have underlying medical issues.” 

Depending on your dog’s health conditions, skin problems like dandruff may appear. Dr. Simon says, “There can be a range of causes including: over-bathing, living in a cold environment, stress, or lack of fats or oils in the diet, a hormonal disorder, parasites or skin infections.” 

Dandruff in dogs may occur because of the following: 

  • Lack of fatty acids or other vitamin deficiencies. 
  • Allergies such as food allergies or seasonal allergies.
  • Chronic conditions like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s Disease.
  • Auto-immune skin disorders or skin infections
  • Genetics – Some dog breeds are more prone to skin problems like dog dandruff than others. Some of these breeds include  West Highland White Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, and German Shepherds.
  • “Walking dandruff” aka seeing critters moving on your dog! It’s not uncommon for pet parents to mistake dandruff for fleas or Cheyletiella mites.

If your dog seems itchier than usual, take a closer look at their skin. Do they have scabs or a red irritation? Could they have a bacterial infection? Could they have allergies or parasites like fleas? If you are noticing any skin abnormalities, excessive itching, or the dandruff is out of the ordinary for your dog and hasn’t been checked by a veterinarian, it is time to get your pet checked. Otherwise,let’s look closely at some common reasons for dog dandruff.

Poor nutrition

Even if you feed your dog high-quality dog food, they may be experiencing some nutritional deficiencies. Age, breed, health, and activity levels all affect your dog’s nutritional needs. A balanced diet includes the right amount of vitamins and minerals for your pet’s age, breed, and activity level. It’s also important to know how much to feed your dog and follow a dog feeding schedule to make sure your dog is eating consistently.

Dog allergies 

Dog allergies are usually one of three types: seasonal (called atopy), food, or flea allergies. While difficult to diagnose without a trip to the vet, symptoms usually include red, irritated skin, itching, recurrent skin or ear infections, and hair loss. If you suspect your dog may have allergies, your veterinarian can assess your dog’s symptoms, prescribe treatments, and recommend further testing if needed.

“Walking” dandruff 

Parasites like fleas and mites can cause itching skin and white flakes that can easily be  mistaken for dandruff.

You can use a flea comb to closely examine your dog’s skin and look for fleas. If you see dandruff that appears to be ‘walking’, your dog may not have dandruff but Cheyletiella mites. Your veterinarian can evaluate your dog and recommend treatment options.

Hormonal imbalances 

Hormonal imbalances can cause your dog’s immune system to overreact, leading to inflammation and dandruff. 

There are a number of health conditions that can stem from hormonal imbalances such as Cushing’s Disease and hypothyroidism. If your dog has Cushing’s Disease, their body is producing too much cortisol. If your dog has hypothyroidism, their metabolism may be slowing down due to a lack of thyroid hormone. In both cases, your dog may have abnormal skin conditions including dandruff. 

Diagnosing dog dandruff

While there are many at-home remedies for dog dandruff, it’s essential to consult your veterinarian to determine the root cause, and eliminate it, if possible. Your veterinarian will use a combination of physical examination of your dog, oral history from you, and skin tests, if applicable.

If your vet finds the cause of dandruff, they will then share with you treatments that will help. If they don’t find an underlying skin disorder that is great news – likely you just need to step up your dog’s skincare routine at home to eliminate the flakes.  

At-home remedies for dog dandruff

Fortunately, there are many at-home remedies for dog dandruff and itchy skin. Here are a few to try out:

Groom regularly

Regular dog grooming is essential for your dog’s skin and coat health. When you brush your dog daily, you not only redistribute natural oils but also have the chance to check your dog for fleas and ticks, as well as any sudden lumps under your dog’s skin. Plus, brushing removes loose hair and dead skin cells so your dog’s coat looks its best, and it strengthens the bond between you and your pet. 

Dr. Simon also recommends daily dog grooming. “Daily grooming removes dead skin and spreads the natural oils along the fur. Using a grooming rake will help quickly remove dead hair and dead skin.

Bathing can also help, but be sure not to over-bathe your dog or use human shampoo, which can be drying.” Most dogs can benefit from a bath every 4-8 weeks. 

Supplement with fish oil 

Your dog’s diet can help or hurt your pooch’s skin and coat health – and fish oil will  certainly help! Omega 3 fatty acids also known as the “good fats,” are excellent for your dog’s skin and coat health. Many pet parents choose a dog food with omega-3 fatty acids or opt for fish oil supplements to improve dandruff and dry skin. Ask your vet for a daily recommended amount of fish oil to give your dog for skin and coat health. 

Try a humidifier

Dry air and low humidity can dry out your dog’s skin, but a humidifier can help. When your humidifier is running, your dog’s skin may maintain moisture better.

Dog dandruff FAQs

What causes dandruff in dogs? 

There are many possible causes of dandruff in dogs including food allergies, dry air, over-bathing, and hormonal imbalances. Your veterinarian can help you narrow down the potential reasons.

Should I be worried if my dog has dandruff?

A few white flakes aren’t cause for concern but if they’re accompanied by itching, red skin, or hair loss, that’s a sign your dog is uncomfortable and needs veterinary attention.

What’s the difference between dandruff and dry skin? 

Dandruff is the term used for seeing flakes of dead skin in your dog’s fur. Dry skin is just that: dry, and it may or may not have dandruff associated with it. Dry skin can also be associated with other skin diseases, so if your dog has itchy, red skin with or without hair loss, contact your veterinarian. 

The bottom line is dog dandruff can have a variety of underlying causes and the only way to know for sure is to see your veterinarian. Once you’ve ruled out anything serious, you can try giving them fish oil supplements, brush them daily, add nourishing shampoo to their grooming routine, and a humidifier to your home to ensure your dog’s skin is getting the moisture it needs. 

Be prepared for the unexpected with Pumpkin Dog Insurance plans. Our plans can help pay 90% cashback on eligible vet bills when accidents or illnesses strike. Fetch a free quote today! 

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