Dog Dandruff: Causes and Natural Treatments
Those little white flakes you spot on your dog’s coat may not be a serious problem, but they can signal that your dog’s health is compromised beneath the surface. Dog dandruff is usually a secondary condition that springs from a deeper issue. Even if your pup seems perfectly healthy, you’ll need to get to the bottom of it before you be rid of those flakes and dry skin for good.
Dog dandruff (seborrhea) as a primary condition is rare. There’s a small chance that oily, flaky skin is a hereditary issue or the result of a systemic condition like adrenal disease, hypothyroidism, or diabetes. However, it’s more likely that your dog’s dandruff results from one of the following:
- Allergies - Your dog may be allergic to something outdoors, an ingredient in dog food, or grooming products with chemicals that cause skin irritation. Overwashing your dog with soap can also lead to dry skin.
- Cheyletiella yasguri mites - Cheyletiella mites, unlike sarcoptic mites, hang out on the surface of your dog’s coat rather than burrowing into the skin. They cause dandruff, often dubbed “walking dandruff” because of the way the mites move through the skin flakes.
- Fungal or bacterial infections - Infections irritate and dry out the skin, sometimes causing more skin cells to grow too rapidly, resulting in the excess sloughing off. This covers a broad range of different infections and parasites from ringworm to impetigo (a bacterial infection marked by red sores).
- Environmental factors - If you live in an arid climate, the air may be drying out your dog’s skin.
- Over vaccination or suppressed immune health could be the cause, especially if your pup was recently rescued or adopted.
There are two types of dandruff: dry (seborrhea sicca) and oily (seborrhea oleosa). The two may co-occur. Identifying dandruff is usually pretty straightforward. Skin dryness or an overproduction of skin cells cause skin to flake off, while excess oil produced by the sebaceous glands produces oiliness and an odor. The itchiness leads your dog to scratch, nibble, and lick its own skin, potentially causing further irritation.
If you suspect the condition is severe and you think there might be a chronic underlying cause, skip the home treatment and visit a holistic veterinarian. Your veterinarian may need to perform skin scrapings or blood tests to diagnose the root of the problem and offer adequate dog dandruff treatment. Don’t wait for your pup to get more and more uncomfortable as her symptoms worsen.
How Do I Know What’s Causing My Dog’s Dandruff?
If the case of dandruff is mild and accompanied by minor itching and no open sores, you may not need to visit a veterinarian to discover the source of your dog’s dandruff. There are a few safe and natural tactics you can try at home to pinpoint the cause and help your pup overcome this uncomfortable, itchy problem. You may want to try these one at a time in the order of “most likely” to “least likely.” That way, you can more easily observe the exact cause of the dandruff, weed out unlikely factors, and prevent the condition from developing again in the future.
First, if you see your dog itching at dry, irritated skin and you don’t see white flakes characteristic of dandruff, your dog may have a different, more serious conditions such as mange, which is caused by sarcoptes or demodex mites. Mange can expose your dog to serious complications, like bacterial infections and sores. Check out our article on dog mites if you’re not sure whether the problem you’re seeing is mere dandruff. If you suspect your dog has mange, visit a holistic veterinarian before the condition worsens.
If you think the climate may be drying out your dog’s skin, try purchasing a humidifier for your home and see if that helps. You can also try a moisturizing oatmeal and honey dog shampoo made with all-natural ingredients. Honey is a natural humectant, which means it helps the skin retain moisture. Regardless of the underlying cause of the dandruff, a gentle shampoo free of harsh chemicals and artificial fragrances is a safe way to help alleviate symptoms.
You may see movement along your dog’s coat, which, as mentioned above, may indicate the presence of cheyletiella mites (again, these are not the same as the mites that cause mange). Mites are too tiny to see with the naked eye, but you may be able to see the eggs if you comb through the dog’s hair with a fine-toothed comb or dab with a piece of clear tape. If you suspect the presence of this type of mite, you don’t need to run straight to a veterinarian’s office. First, wash all of your dog’s bedding and plush toys as well as any furniture, rugs, or sheets she might have come into contact with. Wash your dog with warm water and gentle shampoo. Patiently comb through the hair and rinse again. Dogs contract mites through close contact with other dogs (and cats), so keep your pet away from daycare, dog parks, and boarding facilities while you wait to see if the condition clears up. Humans can contract cheyletiella mites, but they can’t complete their lifecycle on human skin. They may cause momentary and minor skin irritation on you or other people in your household, but that will resolve itself, especially if you wash with warm water.
You shouldn’t bathe your dog more than once or twice a month with a soapy cleanser. Frequent baths can lead to an unbalanced PH and skin irritation, especially if there are harsh chemicals or artificial fragrances in your shampoo. Try a gentler dog shampoo or stop bathing your dog for a few weeks to see if a product may be the source of the irritation. If you regularly make professional grooming appointments for your dog, hold off for a little while and see what happens.
Now, let’s talk about allergies. “Allergies” is such a broad terms covering a host of potential irritants, so it can be intimidating to consider. But the solution may be as simple as upgrading your furry best friend’s diet from processed food containing common irritants (like grain, dairy, and soy) to a natural, organic, and well-rounded diet that supplies the needed vitamins and minerals. Switching to high quality food is an essential step of holistic health treatment, and is preferable to simply treating the surface symptoms of a problem. A healthy diet will in turn help your dog maintain a healthy, shiny coat.
Another possibility is that your dog has flea allergy dermatitis. If you see springy little wingless insects ranging in color from reddish-brown to black, you may need to rid your dog and home of fleas before investigating other potential causes of the dandruff.
If you think your dog may suffer from allergies but don’t see any improvement after switching to quality food, healthier treats, and natural skin care products, you may need to visit a holistic veterinarian who can help diagnose your dog’s allergies and their sources.
Puppies are more likely to have contagious bacterial infections due to their developing immune systems and close contact with other dogs. If your dog is younger than one year old, you may want to visit a holistic veterinarian before you try home remedies.
Some breeds, such as basset hounds, cocker spaniels, labrador retrievers, and dachshunds, are just naturally more prone to dandruff. However, finding that your dog’s breed is prone to this condition doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to alleviate it. A healthy diet and a gentle routine of brushing and bathing with the right skin care products should improve the situation.
Other Dog Dandruff Treatment Tips
It can take some experimenting to find out the underlying cause of your dog’s dandruff. While you wait and make observations, here are a few tips to keep in mind to make sure your dog is healthy and comfortable:
- Make sure your dog always has access to clean, fresh water. Dehydration leads to dry skin.
- When you decide to switch your dog’s food to a healthier, more natural brand or type, make sure to slowly transition by mixing the new food with the old for several days. This will prevent digestive issues.
- Brush your dog daily, and do so gently. This will not only rake away the flakes and help prevent excessive shedding - it will distribute the natural oils throughout the coat.
- Choose a dog food rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. This is the good kind of fat that your dog needs in order to flourish.
- Use a gentle skin tonic spray formulated to treat dry and itchy skin. You can spray this directly on the affected area.
- The same way you choose gentle, natural products for your dog’s skin, make sure you’re choosing gentle cleaning products for your home. Harsh cleaners often have toxic chemicals that cause respiratory symptoms and skin irritation. The same goes for any pest control you use on your lawn and garden. There are effective, natural alternatives to most harsh chemical products. Quality products will not only keep you and your pets safe, but will also spare beneficial insects like pollinators who are just trying to do their jobs!
- If you need a quick and easy natural home remedy, mix equal parts water and apple cider vinegar and wipe the solution on your dog’s skin with a cloth or cotton balls. This gentle remedy is actually a great last-minute help for many skin conditions.
- If you’re frequently bathing your dog with dandruff-alleviating shampoo, make sure to keep her ears dry so as to avoid the risk of developing ear infections.
- Walk and exercise your dog regularly, as exercise supports overall health, including immune system health.
- Dogs can perpetuate and worsen skin conditions by biting, chewing, and licking the affected area. While you’re waiting for new products and habits to work their magic, try keeping your pooch distracted from attempting to groom their problems away by providing a new chew toy, such as naturally-shed elk antler.
- Don’t use a blow dryer to dry your dog after a bath. This can dry out her skin.
- If you think your dog may have cheyletiella mites, treat the other animals in the house (cats, too!) and their belongings as well.
- Don’t automatically treat two breeds alike. If you have more than one dog, take each dog’s separate needs into account. Research each breed’s health conditions and look for solutions that specifically address their common skin issues.
- Pet dandruff can trigger allergic responses in humans. If you think you may be allergic to pet dander, be sure to take care of yourself so you can take great care of your pup!
The best way to ensure that your dog won’t repeatedly struggle with dandruff or other skin conditions is to treat your dog holistically and make lifestyle changes. Diet, exercise, and every choice you make about products - from treats to dog shampoo - has an effect on your dog’s overall health. Don’t just tackle the symptoms of dandruff; make sure your pup is living a well-rounded, healthy life.