Dandruff (Pet Dander) in Dogs

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Last updated on
5 min read

Key takeaways

Dandruff in dogs describes an accumulation of dry flakes on the surface of the skin.

  • It is a common symptom affecting dogs of any age and results from a variety of underlying conditions
  • Dandruff presenting with no other symptoms is not an emergency, but canine dandruff usually indicates an underlying condition that needs to be addressed
  • Dandruff may affect only a small spot or the whole body and usually occurs along with other symptoms like itchiness and hair loss
  • If dandruff is ignored or only treated symptomatically, the underlying disease may progress and eventually become severe or life-threatening
  • Some of the diseases that cause dandruff can spread to people or other household pets, so appropriate hygiene and isolation may be necessary during treatment
  • Typical diagnostics include microscopic examination of the hair and skin, culture, and biopsy
  • Once the underlying cause of dandruff is successfully treated, dandruff typically resolves
  • Rare, hereditary disorders that cause dandruff cannot be treated
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A closer look: Dandruff (Pet Dander) in Dogs

Dandruff is the accumulation of dry flakes or scales on the surface of the skin.

Patches of dandruff are common in dogs, but are rarely a sign of an emergency. Unlike humans, dogs don’t typically experience “dry skin”.

Dandruff may be focal (just a spot) or generalized (widespread). Demodicosis is an example of a disease that can present either way.

The area where dandruff presents also may differ. For example, while flea allergy dermatitis is associated with dandruff over the hips or base of the tail, atopy often results in dandruff near the armpits and flanks.

The affected area may stay the same size or it may spread. Infectious and parasitic skin conditions like sarcoptic mange and dermatophytosis are likely to spread.

The skin surface with dandruff may also differ. For example, dandruff associated with seborrhea oleosa is greasy and foul-smelling, while seborrhea sicca produces dry flakes and crusts.

Dandruff may be a solitary symptom or be accompanied by other clinical signs. Dogs with atopy are also itchy, and dogs with endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism or hyperadrenocorticism often show excessive thirst and urination and thinning of the hair coat.

The color of dandruff may vary. Some dogs have very dark pigment in their skin, so their dandruff may appear gray instead of white.

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Possible causes

The broad categories of illnesses associated with canine dandruff include:

  • Parasites (both internal and external)
  • Bacterial and fungal infections
  • Immune-mediated diseases
  • Tumors
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Circulatory disturbances
  • Congenital and hereditary skin disorders

Frequent bathing, especially in hot water, strips canine skin of its protective barrier and can lead to dandruff.

Risk factors

Canine dandruff is the result of a variety of different underlying conditions. If a dog has significant dandruff, veterinary attention is required to determine why so the underlying cause can be addressed. Some skin conditions associated with dandruff, like dermatophytosis or sarcoptic mange, present a health risk to other pets or people in the household.

Conditions that cause dandruff may be present at or shortly after birth, or be acquired later in life. Puppies that are born with the inherited form of ichthyosis usually develop flaky skin before the age of one. Demodex is more common in puppies. Histiocytomas commonly affect young adult dogs, while mast cell tumors are more common in dogs over the age of eight.

The skin of healthy and active dogs maintains its own hygiene and biome (to some degree) so dandruff is more common on dogs who are less active or obese if they are not bathed regularly.

Testing and diagnosis

A full history for a dogs presenting with dandruff includes information about:

  • Diet
  • Parasite prevention
  • Onset and progression of symptoms

Diagnostic testing depends on presence of other symptoms and may include:

  • Skin scrape
  • Fungal or bacterial culture
  • Skin cytology
  • Flea combing
  • Trichogram (microscopic evaluation of hair)
  • Blood tests
  • Biopsy

Symptomatic therapy for dandruff may include:

  • Broad-spectrum parasite control to eliminate fleas, mites, and lice
  • Deworming and feeding a nutritionally complete diet
  • Topical lipids
  • Omega fatty acid supplementation
  • Therapeutic trial with allergy medication Specific therapy involves medications to treat any underlying condition. Medicated anti-dandruff shampoos are indicated only when the underlying condition cannot be treated or eliminated.

Similar symptoms

Dogs who roll outside can end up with debris in their fur that looks like dandruff. Flea dirt sometimes looks similar to dandruff, except it is always dark brown or black and turns rusty red when wet.

Dogs with very sensitive skin and thin to no hair can get sunburned badly enough to peel, and peeling skin looks like dandruff.

Associated symptoms

Since canine dandruff is usually associated with an underlying medical condition, symptoms of the other condition are expected to present alongside dandruff.


estaff - Writing for YourDog
Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Tammy Hunter, DVM; Debbie Stoewen, DVM, MSW, RSW, PhD - Writing for VCA Animal Hospitals
Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Karen Helton Rhodes and Alexander H. Werner - Writing for Wiley-Blackwell

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