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Canine Dandruff: What Causes It and How to Treat It

What is Dandruff?

 
An illustration of the skin anatomy
An illustration of the skin anatomy

Dandruff in dogs or humans, also known as seborrhea, is a skin condition characterized by the excessive shedding of dead skin cells from the dog's skin or human scalp. These flakes often appear as white or yellowish and can be noticeable on the skin, hair, and sometimes on dog beddings or human clothings. The condition might surprise many pet owners but it is relatively common.

An illustration comparing a healthy skin and one with dandruff
An illustration comparing a healthy skin and one with dandruff

While dandruff itself is not

usually a serious medical condition, it can be uncomfortable for the dog and may indicate an underlying health issue and discomfort for the dog that requires attention and treatment. Similar to humans, dogs can experience dandruff due to various factors, with an imbalance in the production of skin oils being a primary cause.




What causes dandruff in dogs?

 

The primary cause of dandruff in dogs is often an imbalance in the production of skin oils by the sebaceous glands. This imbalance can result in either the overproduction or underproduction of oils, leading to dry, flaky skin or an oily, greasy coat.

Factors such as diet, grooming habits, environmental conditions, allergies, and skin infections can contribute to the development of dandruff in dogs. The exact cause of dandruff is not fully understood, but a combination of several factors can contribute to dandruff in dogs that may include:-


1. An unhealthy diet: An unhealthy diet lacking essential nutrients can compromise the overall health of a dog's skin and coat, potentially leading to dandruff. A diet primarily consisting of low-quality nutritional value that is high in fillers, such as corn or wheat, and low in essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and vitamin E, which are crucial for maintaining healthy skin and coat in dogs can lead to dandruff causation. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin E and zinc, can weaken the skin's barrier function, making it more susceptible to irritation and inflammation. This can exacerbate dandruff and lead to other skin issues like itching and redness. An imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet can contribute to skin inflammation and an impaired skin barrier, further exacerbating dandruff.


2. Malassezia: This is a type of yeast-like fungus that is naturally present on the skin of most adult dogs. An overgrowth of Malassezia can irritate the skin and lead to increased shedding of skin cells, resulting in dandruff.




A skin with dandruff (seborrhoeic dermatitis)
A skin with dandruff (seborrhoeic dermatitis)

3. Seborrheic Dermatitis: This is a common skin condition that causes redness, itching, and flaking, particularly in areas rich in oil glands. In dogs, oil glands, also known as sebaceous glands, are distributed throughout the skin, but certain areas tend to have a higher concentration of these glands compared to others. Seborrheic dermatitis is often associated with dandruff. Areas that have a higher concentration of oil glands include:

  • Back: The back, along the spine, is one of the areas where oil glands are more abundant in dogs. This area often produces natural oils that help to keep the skin and coat healthy and moisturized.

  • Base of the Tail: The area around the base of the tail is another region with a high density of oil glands. These glands play a role in keeping the skin in this area supple and hydrated.

  • Face: The face, including the muzzle and around the eyes, contains oil glands that help to keep the skin moisturized and protect it from environmental factors.

  • Ears: The ear canal and surrounding skin contain oil glands that produce cerumen (ear wax) to help lubricate and protect the ear canal.

  • Groin and Armpits: The groin and armpit areas are also rich in oil glands. These areas can be prone to moisture and friction, so the natural oils produced by these glands help to maintain the skin's health and integrity.

  • Feet: The paw pads and interdigital spaces (between the toes) contain oil glands that help to keep the skin on the feet hydrated and protected.


Overall, these areas of a dog's skin with higher concentrations of oil glands play important roles in maintaining skin health, moisture, and protection against environmental factors. Proper grooming and skincare practices can help to support the function of these glands and promote overall skin health in dogs.


4. Dry Skin: Dry skin can lead to flaking and dandruff, especially in environments with low humidity or during the cold months when the air is dry.



5. Not Enough Shampooing: Over- or under-grooming, contrary to popular belief, can also contribute to dandruff. Not washing or shampooing the hair frequently enough can lead to a buildup of oil and dead skin cells on the skin, exacerbating dandruff.


5. Sensitive to Hair Care Products: Some dogs may be sensitive or allergic to certain hair care products, such as shampoos, or conditioners, which can irritate the skin and lead to dandruff.


6. Allergies: Dogs, like humans, can develop allergies to various substances in their environment or diet, and these allergies can contribute to dandruff. Common allergens that may cause dandruff in dogs include:

  1. Food Allergies: Some dogs may develop allergies to specific ingredients in their food, such as beef, chicken, dairy, wheat, soy, or corn. Food allergies can manifest as skin issues, including dandruff, itching, redness, and inflammation. Identifying and eliminating the allergen from the dog's diet can help alleviate symptoms.

  2. Environmental Allergens: Dogs can be allergic to environmental factors such as pollen, mold, dust mites, and certain grasses or trees. When exposed to these allergens, dogs may experience allergic reactions that affect their skin, leading to dandruff and other symptoms like itching, scratching, and redness.

  3. Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD): While not a direct allergy to dandruff-causing substances, flea allergy dermatitis is a common skin condition in dogs caused by an allergic reaction to flea saliva. Dogs with FAD may develop dandruff along with intense itching, redness, and hair loss, primarily around the base of the tail and on the back.

  4. Contact Allergies: Dogs can also develop allergies to substances they come into contact with, such as certain grooming products, fabrics, or household chemicals. Contact allergies can lead to skin irritation, inflammation, and dandruff in affected areas.

  5. Atopic Dermatitis: Atopic dermatitis is a chronic allergic skin condition characterized by inflammation and itchiness. While the exact cause is often unknown, dogs with atopic dermatitis may experience dandruff as a secondary symptom of their allergic reaction.


Which breeds of Dogs are prone to dandruff?

 

Certain dog breeds, particularly those with medium to long hair, are genetically predisposed to dandruff, including Golden Retrievers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Yorkshire Terriers, Jack Russell Terriers, and Norfolk Terriers.



What are the clinical signs of dandruff in dogs?

 

Symptoms of dandruff include the presence of white or yellowish flakes on the dog's fur, and signs of discomfort include skin irritation leading to licking or excessive scratching, biting at their skin, red patches, odours, scabs, hair loss, and a dull or unhealthy-looking coat.






How is dandruff treated in dogs?

 

Treatment for dandruff in dogs typically involves addressing the underlying cause. Here are some general steps and treatments commonly used:


1. Regular Bathing: Bathing your dog regularly with a moisturizing or medicated shampoo can help remove dead skin cells and alleviate dandruff. However, excessive bathing can strip the skin of its natural oils, so it's essential to strike a balance. Aim for bathing your dog every week or as recommended by your veterinarian.


2. Nutrition: Ensure your dog is receiving a balanced diet rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, in particular, are beneficial for maintaining healthy skin and coat. Consider switching to a high-quality dog food or incorporating supplements under the guidance of your veterinarian.


3. Humidifier: Increasing the humidity levels in your home, especially during the dry winter months, can help prevent dry skin in dogs. Using a humidifier in areas where your dog spends most of its time can be beneficial.



4. Topical Treatments: Topical treatments such as moisturizing sprays, oils, or creams are recommended to soothe dry skin and reduce dandruff. These products can help hydrate the skin and alleviate itching.


5. Regular Brushing: Regular brushing helps distribute natural oils throughout your dog's coat and removes dead skin cells and loose fur. Use a soft-bristled brush or grooming mitt to avoid irritating the skin.


6. Consultation with a Veterinarian: If your dog's dandruff persists despite home care efforts, or if it's accompanied by other symptoms such as itching, redness, or hair loss, it's essential to consult with a veterinarian. They can perform a thorough examination to identify any underlying health issues and prescribe appropriate treatment.


By addressing the underlying cause and following a veterinarian's recommendations, you can effectively manage and treat dandruff in dogs, helping to keep their skin and coat healthy.


Reference:

 

Mueller, R. S. (2013). Allergy testing in dogs and cats: A practical approach. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, 43(4), 731–760. doi:10.1016/j.cvsm.2013.03.002.


American Kennel Club (AKC) - "Dandruff in Dogs: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention"

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