- There are many potential causes of dog dandruff. These include allergies, infections, dietary problems, illness, self-grooming issues, and environmental factors.
- You should always consult a vet about changes in the quantity of your dog’s dandruff. The right treatment depends on the underlying cause.
- Some quick methods to get rid of dog dandruff include using a vet-recommended anti-dandruff shampoo, regular brushing, oatmeal baths, and treating dry areas with moisturizer.
- Your vet may also need to check for a food allergy, assess your dog’s nutrition, and prescribe a skin supplement.
Have you noticed dandruff on your dog’s fur? Or are you wondering how to get rid of dog dandruff? While dandruff isn’t harmful by itself, it can signify a skin issue, allergy, environmental problem, or hormonal disease, so it shouldn’t be ignored.
The good news is that dandruff is often simple to resolve with the help of a vet. Here’s an overview of what causes dandruff in dogs, along with seven tips for getting rid of it.
- Key Takeaways
- What Is Dandruff?
- Why Does My Dog Have Dandruff?
- How To Get Rid Of Dog Dandruff (Including Home Remedies)
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Dandruff?
A dog’s skin cells are continuously dying, shedding, and being replaced by new cells. This is a natural process that’s essential for regeneration and skin health.
These dead skin cells clump into white flakes, which we call dandruff. It’s normal to see small amounts of dandruff on a dog’s fur, but the flakes are usually removed as the dog grooms itself.
Sometimes, too much dandruff is produced though. The flakes then become more visible, as the dog’s grooming isn’t enough to remove them all from the coat.
“Canine dandruff is not uncommon, although I see it more in senior dogs or certain breeds, including Dachshunds and West Highland White Terriers,” says Dr Linda Simon, veterinary surgeon. “Small amounts can usually be seen on any dog if you look hard enough, particularly in dry, heated homes during the cold winter.”
Dandruff is unsightly, but it isn’t usually harmful by itself. However, it’s often a symptom of another issue, such as allergies, parasites, or a lack of humidity in the environment. Excessive dandruff can also happen if the dog isn’t grooming itself as much as normal.
“It’s common for owners to focus on dandruff as the primary issue, when it is actually secondary to another problem,” says Dr Linda Simon. “For example, owners may bring an old dog with arthritis to me because they have dandruff, but really the dandruff is due to the dog having poor mobility and being in too much pain to self-groom. Providing the right pain relief can resolve the issue.”
Types of Dandruff
Several types of dandruff can affect a dog’s coat. These are called dry and oily seborrhea:
- Dry Seborrhea. This is when there are large amounts of white flakes in the dog’s fur. When most people talk about dandruff, they mean dry seborrhea.
- Oily Seborrhea. Dogs with oily seborrhea have excessively oily skin. There is often a noticeable odor.
Additionally, a type of mite called cheyletiellosis is sometimes called “walking dandruff.” While they might look like dandruff, they are highly contagious parasites that can cause itching and scaling. “Thankfully, these mites are generally very easy to treat with topical preparations,” adds Dr Simon.
Why Does My Dog Have Dandruff?
There are many causes of dandruff in dogs. Some cause dandruff across the whole coat, while others are localized to a specific patch of fur.
The causes of dandruff can broadly be divided into three categories:
- Skin Problems. This category includes conditions that directly affect the skin, such as allergies, infections, fleas, and ringworm. But it also includes conditions that can have an indirect impact on the skin, such as dietary problems, stress, and hormonal conditions.
- Self-Grooming Problems. Dead skin cells are usually removed by a dog’s self-grooming routine. If the dog can’t groom itself enough, dandruff may build up over time. Joint pain and obesity are two common reasons a dog may find it more difficult to self-groom. “I often find dogs with obesity or arthritis struggle most to groom their rump,” says Dr Linda Simon, veterinary surgeon. “Therefore, this is where most of the dandruff is seen in dogs with self-grooming issues.”
- Environmental Issues. Sometimes dandruff is due to external factors, rather than a problem with the dog. For example, low humidity can cause the skin to become dry, leading to flaking. Excessive bathing can have a similar effect, as important oils are stripped from the skin.
In many cases, dandruff is not serious and goes away once the underlying problem has been resolved. You probably don’t need to book an urgent vet appointment, unless there are other symptoms.
“Assuming the dog isn’t itchy and has normal-looking skin, we may not need to do much about a small amount of dandruff,” says Dr Simon. “This may just be a sign that you need to brush your dog more regularly or bathe them less.”
You should still take your dog for a vet checkup if you notice an increase in dandruff though. This will allow you to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
“If your dog has never had dandruff but suddenly develops it, you need to ask what has changed in their home or diet,” says Dr Simon. “You should also watch for other symptoms. For example, panting and excess thirst could signify a hormonal disorder, such as Cushing’s disease, which can lead to secondary skin issues.”
How To Get Rid Of Dog Dandruff (Including Home Remedies)
Listed below are seven of the best methods for treating dog dandruff. Remember that the most effective treatment depends on the underlying cause of dandruff, so not every method will be suitable for your pet.
This is also why you should always consult a vet about your dog’s dandruff. Home remedies can help, but only if you first have an accurate diagnosis from a vet.
Some causes of dandruff may also require medical treatment, such as hormonal imbalances or mites.
1. Try An Anti-Dandruff Shampoo (With Your Vet’s Advice)
There is a range of anti-dandruff shampoos for dogs on the market. Over-the-counter options often contain ingredients to soothe and moisturize the skin, such as aloe vera and oatmeal.
While anti-dandruff shampoos often can’t solve the underlying problem, they can help reduce irritation and the amount of dandruff on your dog’s fur. These shampoos may provide benefit for mild cases of dandruff that isn’t caused by an underlying problem.
However, over-the-counter shampoos are not meant for dogs with a medical problem. “For dogs with a medical issue, like seborrhea sicca, your vet can give medicine to help clear the issue, and this will need to be used regularly,” says Dr Simon. “Shampoos available in pet stores aren’t likely to cut the mustard.”
It’s also essential to get advice from your vet before choosing a medicated dog shampoo. Anti-dandruff shampoos contain a wide range of active ingredients, and the shampoo won’t benefit your dog if you use the wrong one.
- Yeast or bacterial overgrowth – Dogs with these issues generally benefit from shampoos containing ingredients like Miconazole and Chlorhexidine.
- Greasy seborrhea – These dogs need a shampoo to reduce grease and oil. The shampoo must also be effective at breaking through crust and scale.
- Dry seborrhea – Dogs with dry seborrhea typically need a shampoo that helps with water retention (ingredients like chitosanide can help) and that contains emollients.
Make sure you read the label carefully to check the shampoo is suitable for your dog. Depending on the instructions, you may also need to leave the shampoo in the fur for several minutes.
Never use human shampoos on your dog (such as Head and Shoulders). These are not made for a dog’s skin and can be harmful.
2. Treat Dry Areas With Moisturizer
If your dog has dandruff in patches of their fur, this could be caused by dry skin areas. Applying a dog moisturizer to these areas could help soothe the skin and reduce irritation, leading to less dandruff.
As with shampoos, it’s important to only use a moisturizer specifically made for dogs. Human moisturizers could cause additional skin issues and may not be safe for your pet.
Unfortunately, moisturizers are not very useful if your dog has lots of dandruff in their coat. “Creams or balms are not usually effective for widespread dandruff,” says Dr Simon. “You also need to be sure your dog isn’t licking the product off.”
Dryness can also be caused by a lack of humidity, particularly during the winter months. You may need to consider using a humidifier if this is causing your dog’s dry skin.
3. Identify Potential Food Allergies
Food allergies can cause many symptoms in dogs, with some of the most common being itchy skin, ears, and paws.
Itchiness shows that the skin is irritated and inflamed. This can cause dandruff to appear on the fur, as there are more dead skin cells shedding faster than normal.
Most dog allergies are caused by proteins, such as those found in wheat, soy, dairy, or chicken. Any food can potentially be an allergen though.
This can make identifying a food allergy difficult, so you should ask your vet for help. A temporary elimination diet is one of the most effective options, although your vet may also use a blood test for specific foods.
4. Brush Your Dog More Frequently
Brushing is vital for maintaining your dog’s healthy coat. By spreading healthy oils across the skin and improving coat health, you can reduce the amount of dandruff on the fur. Daily brushing also removes existing dandruff, leading to a more attractive coat.
“Daily brushing can help to prevent dryness and reduce itchiness,” says Dr Simon. “However, you also don’t want to over-brush your pet, as this can stimulate excess oil and sebum production.”
Choosing the right brush for your dog’s coat and skin is essential though. A brush that’s too stiff may cause extra skin irritation, making dandruff worse. But a brush that’s too soft won’t be effective.
On a related note, it’s important not to bathe your dog too often. Bathing can strip healthy oils from the dog’s coat, leading to skin irritation, dandruff, and discomfort.
An occasional bath every 3-4 weeks is probably fine for some breeds, such as Poodles and Chinese Crested. But other dog breeds, like the Cavalier King Charles, don’t need to be bathed more than once every 8-12 weeks (unless there is a specific reason to do so).
5. Ensure Your Dog is Getting a Balanced Diet
Don’t overlook the importance of diet when maintaining your dog’s skin and coat health!
Your dog needs nutrients and minerals to maintain a shiny coat and skin that doesn’t flake. By providing a nutritionally complete and high-quality diet, you can reduce the chance of dandruff.
A poor diet (or lack of exercise) can also cause obesity in dogs. This can make it hard for the dog to groom themselves effectively, making dandruff more visible.
6. Provide Dog Skin Supplements
Several types of dietary supplements may reduce dandruff in dogs. These supplements only work if a deficiency is causing the problem though.
For example, dogs need the right amount of healthy fat in their diet to maintain their coat. If your dog isn’t getting enough of these fats, then this may cause skin dryness and dandruff.
A potential solution is to supplement with fish oil. These supplements contain healthy fatty acids (such as omega-3), which may help to restore coat health.
“When I encounter dogs with dry skin or dandruff, I usually recommend a daily skin supplement rich in ingredients like omega-3 fatty acids, biotin, and vitamin E,” says Dr Linda Simon, veterinary surgeon. “Steer clear of omega-6 fatty acids, which may have a negative effect on skin inflammation.”
Additionally, some supplements are effective for specific underlying problems. For example, this study found that oral sunflower oil may be beneficial for dogs with seborrhea sicca.
However, you should always discuss supplementation with your vet before you add a new supplement to your dog’s diet.
7. Give Your Dog An Oatmeal Bath
Oatmeal baths are a common home remedy for dog dandruff. This is because oatmeal’s anti-inflammatory properties can soothe irritated skin, reduce itchiness, and remove existing dandruff.
It’s easy to make an oatmeal bath, as long as you have a blender or food processor. Here’s how to do it:
- Blend 0.5-1 cup of oatmeal (or slightly less for smaller breeds) on the highest setting. The goal is to reduce the oats to a fine powder.
- Take a tablespoon of powder and test it in a glass of warm water. If the oatmeal doesn’t easily absorb the water, you’ll need to grind it finer.
- If the oats absorb the water and turn it into a milky color, you can bathe your dog.
- Start running a bath of warm water, then tip in the oat powder. Stir the water, so the oat is fully dissolved.
- Put your dog in the bath, then use a cup to pour the oat water over their coat. Use your hands to gently rub oatmeal onto the worst areas for irritation.
- If possible, keep your dog in the bath for around 10 minutes to let the mixture have full effect.
- Rinse off the oat solution with clean, warm water, then use a towel to dry them off. Do not use a hairdryer.
Note: If your dog has never been in a bath before, gradually introduce the idea using treats and lots of positive reinforcement.
Dogs and Human Shampoos: A Vet’s Story
“A few years ago I treated a dog who would come in with very dry and irritated skin. This didn’t seem to improve regardless of the treatments we were using. On closer quizzing of the owner, it turned out they were bathing the dog morning and evening with a human shampoo!”
“This was removing all of the dog’s natural oils, and was the reason why the poor dog had skin like sandpaper. As soon as the owner stopped doing this, the dog’s skin and coat returned to normal.”
– Dr Linda Simon, Veterinary Surgeon
Frequently Asked Questions
Oatmeal baths can be a quick way to treat your dog’s dandruff. Oatmeal moisturizes the skin and helps balance healthy oils, which can reduce flaking. However, it’s important not to bathe your dog too frequently, as this can cause dry skin.
Certain foods may help with a dog’s dandruff, but only if a nutritional deficiency is causing the excessive flaking. One of the most common examples is a lack of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for maintaining healthy skin.
Any dog can potentially develop dandruff. Some breeds are more prone to skin problems though, such as the Dachshund, Spaniels, and Doberman.
Dandruff isn’t dangerous, but it can be a symptom of a medical condition. It may also show that your dog has difficulty grooming or the environment is too dry.
For this reason, it’s important to get a vet checkup if you notice your dog has excessive dandruff. Once you’ve received a diagnosis, you may be able to use some of the tips in this article to reduce the problem.
Do you have any questions about how to get rid of dog dandruff? Please let us know in the comments. You may also want to read our article about why a dog’s fur might change color in spots.