Dog Dandruff: Why Do Dogs Get it?

Dandruff, like in humans, is relatively common in dogs as well. While unsightly, it may indicate that your pet has a health issue or due to change in their environment. These dry flakes are made up of dead skin cells that exfoliate away from the skin into your pet’s coat. While your anti-dandruff shampoo isn’t the best idea for your pet, there are other options depending on the root cause. In this article we’ll explore some of the causes and treatments of dog dandruff for your canine companion.

dog dandruff peoria il

Signs of Dog Dandruff

The occasional dry skin or flaking that doesn’t stick around may not be much to worry about. However, it’s important to be able to recognize when your dog may have dandruff so you can get on top of it.

There are a few symptoms of dog dandruff that if seen could indicate your pet needs a visit to the vet and they include: 

  • Increases in itching, scratching, chewing, or licking
  • Odor
  • Redness or changes in skin color
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Scabbing or matting

Causes of Dog Dandruff

There can be a variety of causes for dandruff, some of which may need to be managed with your veterinarian in Peoria, IL, others you may be able to address at home.

Seborrhea can be either dry (Seborrhea Sicca) or oily (Seborrhea Selosa). Any dog can suffer from either and the condition could be secondary to other health problems. Primary seborrhea is generally genetic and is seen more often in a few breeds, such as the West Highland White Terriers, Doberman Pinchers, and Cocker Spaniels.

Some other causes of dog dandruff are:


The frequent accompanying itch of allergies, prompts your pet to scratch, lick, or even bite at their skin. The resulting inflammation can cause dandruff, redness, infection, and potentiate the cycle of pruritus. Itching leads to scratching, that in turns irritates the skin more, and leads to more scratching.


Bacterial and fungal infections cause the skin barrier to flake. Self trauma from excessive scratching or attention to the skin can lead to infection and irritation, even if not present at the start.


Internal parasites can rob your pet of some their nutrition leading to a poor coat quality and dandruff. External parasites can cause irritation that can lead to flaking, infection, and pruritus.

Systemic Diseases

Many disease processes can cause your pet to have a poor coat. This may be because the disease changes the natural balance of hormones that in turn causes changes in the skin. Several autoimmune disorders in canines often affect the skin and mucocutaneous junctions (eyes, ears, mouth, genitals). In any disease process where the coat is affected, there is a chance for dog dandruff to arise.


Excessive weight can lead to poor self grooming in most animal species. Additional skin folds could become a place for moisture and infection to linger. Severely overweight dogs may also be unlikely to move around as much which could cause problems with the skin.

Environmental Factors

Dry winter months can be not only hard on our skin, but our pets as well. The low humidity and the cold has an overall drying effect. Changes in temperature and humidity are common causes of flaking.

Behavioral Factors

While not true for every pet, some dogs when anxious or excited will have some flaking. Have you ever notice that your dog’s skin seems clean, but then sitting in the exam room there is fine dandruff? Stress can cause mild dandruff in some pets. If you notice that the dandruff is not present at other times then this could be normal.

Poor Nutrition

Missing essential nutrients from the diet can lead to poor coat quality and subsequently dandruff. Your veterinarian near Peoria IL can help you pick out a high quality food.

Dandruff vs Walking Dandruff

Cheyletiella mites are also known as “walking dandruff.” Luckily, even though highly contagious, it is not seen commonly. The mite can be transferred between dogs, cats, humans, and rabbits by close contact.

Living on the surface, their pale whiteish appearance resembles dandruff that walks. Excessive scaling usually accompanies the infection. Thankfully these critters are now rare due to improved monthly flea and tick prevention, and often can be treated easily.

Humans are considered accidental hosts and generally the infection on our skin will be self limiting.

Diagnosis of Dog Dandruff

The cause of dandruff is best diagnosed by your veterinarian, considering the lengthy list of possible causes. After a thorough examination of their skin, your vet may recommend basic screening blood work to look for systemic disease or a further examination by taking samples. In severe or chronic cases they may even need to biopsy the skin for analysis at the lab.

A common  test is called a “skin scrape” where a scape blade is used to gently scrape the superficial layer of the skin and then placed on a slide to look for mites under the microscope. By taking using a slide to press against the skin, cells present there can be transferred and then stained and studied under the microscope. There are also fungal tests that can be run by plucking a few hairs or taking some blood.

While there are many different tests to try and narrow down the causes of your pets dandruff, most can be run quickly in hospital during your visit or sent off to the lab with results in a few days.

What To Do if Your Dog Has Dandruff in Peoria, IL

One of the easiest things your can do is regularly bathe and brush your dog’s coat. Depending on the breed of dog this may be more or less frequent. Hairless breeds need to be bathed every 1-2 weeks whereas coated dogs may need it every 3-4 weeks. Keeping your pet on a high quality food can also improve your pet’s coat. Although every dog has individual nutritional needs, some may require prescription foods through your veterinarian.

Specialized shampoos may be recommended by your vet that are prescription only. Over the counter products often have little to no medication in them. If dry skin is the only problem, a moisturizing or soothing shampoo may be of benefit. Most medicated shampoos need to sit on the coat for a few minutes, so make sure to follow the directions. Other topicals products are available, but it’s best to consult your vet first.

Omega 3 fatty acid supplements are commonly prescribed for pets with dry skin or other skin diseases. There are many pet versions available, but in general you are looking for a cold water fish source such as salmon. It may take 3-4 weeks before seeing the full effects of the supplement. Dogs with underlying health conditions should consult with their vet prior to starting in supplementation, as it may be be inappropriate for them.

Dandruff can be an indicator of illness in your pet and should be explored if seen or if your pet is experiencing any discomfort. With this basic guide we hope you now feel more comfortable the next time flakes appear on their skin. At Whitney Veterinary Hospital, we’ll find the cause of your dog’s dandruff and develop the best treatment plan.