Dog Dandruff: When To Treat at Home & When To See a Vet

3 min read
Sep 05, 2023

Dog dandruff can be an itchy and bothersome skin condition. It’s marked by flaky, white pieces of dead skin. This condition alone isn’t considered serious. But if the small, flaky pieces of skin are accompanied by other symptoms, it may be worth checking out with a veterinarian.

Here’s what you need to know about why your dog may have dandruff, when to be worried, and how to best care for your itchy pup.

What Is Dog Dandruff?

Dandruff occurs when your dog’s dead skin cells flake off at a higher rate than normal. This can cause a buildup of dead skin cells on their skin and fur, which can cause irritation and itching.

Even if your dog’s dandruff isn’t caused by anything serious, it’s important that you address the irritation. If your dog is scratching a lot, they may be at risk for an infection or hair loss, which can lead to greater health concerns.

Why Does My Dog Have Dandruff?

A variety of factors can cause dandruff on dogs. It may be genetic, environmental, or a symptom of an underlying disease. Let’s look at some of the more common reasons your dog has dandruff.1

Allergies and environmental factors

Allergies, or atopy, can cause skin irritation like dandruff. Your dog may be allergic to their food, grooming products, carpet, dust, pollen, or the changing of the seasons. Other environmental factors — like sun exposure, humidity, or cold weather — may also be the reason for your dog’s dandruff.

Thyroid issues

Hyperthyroidism or low hormone levels both affect your dog’s skin and coat. If their thyroid hormones are imbalanced, this can cause their immune system to attack it. This can cause dandruff and other skin problems.1

Nutritional deficiencies

A healthy dog’s skin should be clear, and their fur should be shiny and thick. Vitamin A, Omega-3s, Omega-6s, and other fatty acids all contribute to a healthy coat. However, a lack of these vitamins can lead to dry skin and fur, causing itchiness and dandruff.2

Parasites and infections

Bites from parasites — like fleas, lice, ticks, and mites — can cause irritation. If your dog itches too much, this can result in dry skin and dandruff. Ringworm infections can also cause dandruff.1

It’s important to be mindful of parasites that imitate dandruff as well. For example, cheyletiellosis is often mistaken for dandruff because the parasites are tiny, white, and live in your dog’s fur.3 They may look like flaky, white pieces of dandruff, but in reality, they’re a harmful infestation.

Primary seborrhea

This is a genetic condition where your dog’s oil glands malfunction — they either overproduce or underproduce sebum, which leads to flaky skin.4 Primary seborrhea in dogs is typically diagnosed between 1 and 2 years of age, and they either display oily seborrhea or dry seborrhea. As the names suggest, this means their dandruff is accompanied by oily skin or dry skin.

Here are some dogs that are prone to genetic seborrhea:1

Dog breeds prone to oily seborrhea:

Dog breeds prone to dry seborrhea:

When a dog is diagnosed with primary seborrhea, it means the dandruff is its own condition. Secondary seborrhea occurs when the dandruff is a symptom of a larger health concern, like allergies or lymphoma.4

Is a Costly Dog Itch a Concern?

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When To Take Your Dog to the Vet for Dandruff

Dandruff can be a sign of other skin or internal issues. If your dog exhibits symptoms beyond dandruff, you may want to take them to see a vet. This lets you ensure it’s only dry skin and not a symptom caused by another underlying condition.

Here are some signs to watch out for:2

  • Excessive dandruff
  • Fur loss
  • An odor on their skin
  • Excessive licking or itching

How To Get Rid of Dog Dandruff

Puppy dandruff can make your dog’s skin itchy, flakey, and irritated. If your dog itches too much, they can cause irritation or infection. You’ll want to soothe their skin, treat the dandruff, and work to prevent dandruff as well. Here are some dog dandruff treatment options.

Groom your dog

A healthy grooming routine is one of your best defenses against dandruff. Bathing and brushing your dog can both help in different ways.

Baths can reduce or eliminate dandruff. You’ll want to find a shampoo for dandruff in dogs, specifically designed to eliminate dandruff. While regular baths are important, be sure not to give your dog too many baths. Over-bathing your pet can cause medical problems by changing the pH of your dog’s skin.

Brushing your dog assists in distributing the natural oils on their skin throughout their coat. Make sure to choose the right brush for your dog. Choosing a brush that isn’t suited to your pet may do more harm than good.

Balance your dog’s diet

A well-balanced diet assists with dandruff as well. Dogs require a certain amount of fatty acids in their diet to maintain a healthy coat and skin. Talk to your vet about switching to a high-quality dog food and/or supplementing their diet with necessary oils to help their skin. Whatever you do, prioritize providing your dog with nutrients crucial to their skin and coat health.

Try a home remedy

Home remedies for itchy skin are a great way to help ease your dog’s irritation. Consult your vet to ensure the home remedies won’t irritate your pup’s skin even more. If they give you the green light, try giving your dog the spa treatment with one of these soothing ingredients:

  • Oatmeal: This common breakfast ingredient contains moisture-retaining and anti-inflammatory properties. Try making a homemade oatmeal shampoo, and bathe your dog in it to help their skin retain moisture.
  • Coconut oil: This is moisturizing and helps promote wound healing. Try giving your dog a massage with coconut oil to help eliminate itchiness and start healing their dry skin.
  • Apple cider vinegar: This is both antimicrobial and antifungal, and it can help stop any bacteria or fungi that contribute to your dog’s dandruff. Dilute the vinegar by making a mixture of 50% water and 50% apple cider vinegar. Then, spray the liquid directly onto your dog’s skin and fur.
  • Lime juice: Limes contain high levels of citric acid and vitamin C, both of which promote healthy skin. Rinse your dog’s skin with lime juice to help exfoliate that dead skin.

Consider Investing in Dog Insurance

Whether your dog’s dandruff is from allergies, primary seborrhea, parasites, or something more serious, MetLife Pet Insurance can help.

Dog insurance empowers you to take your dog for diagnostic testing, get the proper medication if needed, and give your dog the best care possible. This access to affordable care can make your dog insurance worth it. There’s no better time than now to get started with a free quote.

Need to See a Vet? Pet Insurance Can Help You Save

As with any insurance policy, coverage may vary. Review our coverage and exclusions

1 “Dandruff in Dogs,” petMD

2 “Dandruff & Dry Skin on Dogs,” Animal Hospital of Clemmons

3 “Walking Dandruff in Dogs,” petMD

4 “Seborrhea in Animals,” Merck Vet Manual

Coverage issued by Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, and Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85454. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations and application is subject to underwriting. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC (“MetLife Pet”) for details. MetLife Pet is the policy administrator. It may operate under an alternate or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota) and MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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