Why does my dog have dandruff?

Has your pooch been leaving behind white flakes on their favorite spot on the couch? Your canine companion might have dandruff, which could be a sign of health problems. Join our Sharpsburg vets to learn about signs and treatments for dandruff in dogs. 

Do Dogs Really Get Dandruff?

They certainly do! Dogs, like humans, get dandruff when dead skill cells flake off at a faster rate than usual, settling on your pet's fur or hair. These dry flakes tend to collect on the backs of dogs (particularly near the tail), and you may notice them while petting or scratching your dog.

Just like your own skin, your dog's skin has glands that produce iul (sebum), which helps to keep the skin hydrated and supple. If the glands overproduce sebum, this can lead to imbalances and dandruff. Dogs can experience both forms of seborrheic dermatitis: seborrhea sica (dry) and seborrhea (oily). 

Why do dogs get dandruff?

Dandruff can affect any breed of dog and be caused by a variety of factors, including genetic conditions (e.g., primary seborrhea, seen in Basset Hounds and Cocker spaniels), but it is most commonly caused by environmental or health factors.

Although not exhaustive, here are some common causes of dandruff on dogs:

Dry Air

Dry and flaky skin on dogs is one of the main contributors to dandruff. Dogs are more prone to dry skin in winter months, just like their human families; in areas where central ('forced') heat is the main source of warming the home, the issue can be worsened. If your pooch seems to be flaky in the winter, dry air could be the cause. 

External Parasites

Dogs may itch due to dry skin, but there are also a number of external parasites that can live on your dog's skin and make them very unhappy. Famous parasites Cheyletiella mites are large enough to see without a microscope and resemble white flakes of dandruff, hence the nickname "Walking Dandruff." If your dog's 'dandruff flakes' start moving on their own, consult your veterinarian right away for parasite prevention. Some parasites (such as mites) are easily transmitted to other pets in the household.

Nutrition Issues

An unbalanced or improper diet, as well as an overall diet, can have an effect on your dog's skin and coat. Foods high in fatty acids (e.g., omega-3s, omega-6s) are important for maintaining your pet's skin and hair, but only your veterinarian can tell you if your pet requires additional nutrients.

Skin Infections

Dandruff can be caused by skin bacterial and fungal infections, which are adept at exploiting damage or weaknesses in your dog's skin. In order to address the dandruff problem, these underlying conditions must be addressed.


Skin problems are often the first sign of an allergic reaction to food or something in your dog's environment. Dogs with allergies may become flakier and itchier at different times of the year, and dandruff is usually present in conjunction with other symptoms such as recurring ear and skin infections.

Hormonal Conditions

Diseases like Cushing's or hypothyroidism can affect your dog's skin health, which, along with a compromised immune system, can make them more susceptible to secondary infections.

Idiopathic (Spontaneous) Seborrhea

If the cause of your dog's dandruff cannot be determined, it may be classified as 'idiopathic,' which means that while treatment for symptoms of dry, flaky skin in dogs can be effective, the underlying cause may not be identified. More information on how to manage your pet's condition can be obtained from your veterinarian.

Although dandruff is annoying and can be uncomfortable for many dogs if it is mild or seasonal it is usually not a cause for concern. If, however, your pet exhibits signs of dry, flaky skin along with these symptoms, head to the vet for a physical examination:

  • Itchiness
  • Skin odor
  • Excessive dandruff
  • Loss of hair/fur
  • Irritated, red skin
  • Excessive licking of paws or legs
  • Signs of feeling unwell or being uncomfortable

Your dog's symptoms and your vet's findings will determine the next course of action, which could include further diagnostic testing to confirm any issues such as underlying health problems, allergic reactions, or potential parasites. 

Treatment for Dog Dandruff

Luckily, most milder cases of dog dandruff can be treated at home with a combination of instructions and guidelines from your primary vet, and these helpful tips:

  • Groom your pet regularly to ensure their skin isn't overly oily and removes dead hair. Check with your vet before using grooming products on your dog.
  • Bathing your dog can help treat dandruff as well as bacterial and fungal skin infections. Your veterinarian may advise you to use a medicated shampoo on your dog; carefully follow the directions. Excessive bathing of your dog can aggravate dandruff!
  • Supplements can be helpful, but be aware that many commercial supplements are not heavily regulated for pets. Ask your vet for recommendations.
  • Use a humidifier in your home if the air is dry. During winter months especially, your dog (and your family!) could find this helpful for preventing dry skin.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog has dry, flaky skin, contact our Sharpsburg veterinarians to book an examination today! Our compassionate, skilled vet team will do all they can to have your canine companion feeling their best again.