How to prevent dry, flaky skin in dogs

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How to prevent dry, flaky skin in dogs - A dog lying on someone's lap while being brushed

Dry skin and dandruff in dogs are usually caused by an underlying medical problem. Many of these issues can be prevented or treated, promoting a healthy coat and skin. If you have a dog, read on to learn:

  • How do I know if my dog has dry skin?
  • Can canine dandruff be prevented?
  • Why does my dog have flaky skin?
  • How will a vet help my dog’s skin issues?

Proper grooming practices, flea prevention, a well-balanced diet, and annual wellness checks with a vet can keep a dog’s skin healthy and flake-free. Consult a vet any time your dog’s skin or coat is looking dull or flaky to discover the source of the problem and receive treatment.

What are the symptoms of dry skin in dogs?

Dry, inflamed, scabbed, and itchy skin can be caused by a number of underlying health conditions in dogs. Depending on the underlying cause, a dog can experience varying symptoms, including:

“Dry skin and dandruff are not as common in dogs as in people and are usually caused by an underlying health issue,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “It’s best to seek treatment any time you notice a change in your dog’s skin or coat health.”

Can I prevent my dog’s dry skin?

Dry skin and dandruff in dogs cannot always be prevented. However, many of the common causes of skin issues in dogs can be avoided with proper care and precautionary measures.

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Use a broad-spectrum parasite prevention

Fleas and other external parasites can cause skin irritation and itchiness. Flea allergy dermatitis is a common condition in dogs that causes excessive scratching and rash and increases the risk of secondary skin infections. A broad-spectrum preventive also wards off mites such as mange and scabies, and other pests that can live in your dog’s fur and on the skin. Not all parasite prevention products are created equal. Talk with a vet to find the best product for your dog.

Visit the vet regularly

Regular wellness checks and testing with a vet can help catch serious diseases that can lead to skin problems. Conditions such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and skin cancer  can all lead to skin problems in dogs. A vet may also notice skin irritation that is not immediately apparent to dog owners during a physical exam, especially if the dog is not showing other symptoms.

Avoid harsh shampoos and over-bathing

Regular grooming is an important part of skin health, but over-bathing can strip natural oils from a dog’s skin. For most dogs, a bath once every other week at the most is sufficient. Many dogs do fine with only one or two baths a year, if ever. It all depends on their coat and lifestyle. In addition, some dog shampoos are overly harsh and can cause dryness. Hot water and hair dryers can also dry out a dog’s skin and cause irritation. Talk to a veterinarian, technician, or groomer about the best bathing practices and products for your dog. Always rinse shampoo thoroughly out of your dog’s coat, and use lukewarm water to help avoid skin dryness.

Regularly brush your dog

Regular brushing of both short and long-haired dogs at home helps distribute oils, keeping skin hydrated and healthy. Brushing can also help remove dead skin cells that can look like dandruff. Matted and tangled fur pulls at the skin, leading to skin irritation and dryness underneath. Frequent brushing in between more fulsome grooming sessions helps prevent these from occurring. In addition to brushing, skin folds on the face and body of wrinkly breeds such as bulldogs and shar-peis need cleaning to prevent irritation and skin infections.

Provide a balanced diet

Dogs require fatty acids in their diet to help promote skin health. Most commercially prepared dog foods have the right amount for otherwise healthy dogs. Some dogs with skin conditions may require more omega fatty acids in their diet and may benefit from supplements a vet recommends. Homemade diets often lack these essential fats, leading to dry skin and more serious medical conditions.

What causes dry, itchy, or flaky skin in dogs?

Skin problems and dandruff in dogs have a wide variety of causes, some more serious than others. It’s often difficult to know the exact cause of the issue from the visible symptoms alone.

Bacterial or fungal skin infections

Bacterial and fungal infections are common in dogs and often result in dry, flaky skin. Observation of bacteria or fungus under a microscope is often necessary for a diagnosis and effective treatment.

External parasites

Fleas, mites, and other external parasites can cause skin irritation and itchiness. Dogs can also be allergic to flea saliva, causing excessive itching that can lead to secondary skin infections. A vet-approved broad-spectrum parasite control plan is the best way to prevent these parasitic infections.


Dogs can have environmental, flea, and food allergies that often cause itchiness and irritated skin. Allergies can be difficult to diagnose and often involve diagnostic testing to rule out other causes of the symptoms. Allergies cannot be cured but can be managed with long-term guidance from a vet.

Dry air or inappropriate bathing practices

Most dogs cope with dry air better than people do, but some can develop dry skin in low-humidity environmental conditions. When bathing a dog, some shampoos and products can be too harsh on the skin and strip essential natural oils. Hot water and blow dryers can also dry out the skin. Work with a vet or groomer to determine the best bathing practices for your dog.


Certain breeds are more susceptible to skin issues than others. Dogs with skin folds on the body or face often develop problems within the folds. Dogs with unusual coat colors, such as blue dobermans, may also be more likely to have unhealthy skin. Other dogs are simply more prone to dry skin or medical conditions that contribute to skin problems. There are also breed-specific skin problems that occur in hairless dogs, boxers, Shar Peis, and various other breeds.

Other underlying medical conditions

Other medical conditions and diseases that dogs develop can affect the skin and coat. Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, and cancer can all cause skin problems. Routine checkups are essential to catching these conditions and receiving proper treatment. Canine acne and seborrhea are other skin conditions that a dog can develop that may appear similar to dandruff or dry skin.

How do veterinarians diagnose and treat skin conditions in dogs?

Some skin conditions are harder to diagnose than others. A physical exam, medical history, and diagnostic testing, such as skin scrapes, are used to help diagnose skin issues. Depending on your individual dog’s situation and symptoms, other diagnostic testing may be recommended to rule out other medical conditions that can contribute to the problem. Treatment for dry skin in dogs depends on the diagnosis and may include:

  • Parasite treatment and control
  • Medicated shampoos
  • Antibiotics or antifungals
  • Diet change
  • Fatty acid supplementation
  • Allergy medications to help control itchiness and inflammation
  • Other treatments for underlying medical conditions

Ruling out common skin disorders and conditions using diagnostic testing is important to determine what is causing a dog’s dandruff and dry skin. Some treatments, such as those for allergies, require long-term care with a veterinarian to prevent the symptoms from returning.

What should I do if my dog has irritated skin?

Dandruff is less common in dogs than people and should never be ignored. Talk to a vet any time you notice changes in your dog’s skin or coat to determine the cause and receive appropriate treatment. Ensure you feed your dog a healthy diet and maintain year-round parasite prevention. Avoid excessive bathing and bathing in too-hot water. Urgent care is needed if:

  • There are open sores on your dog’s skin
  • The skin is itchy or inflamed
  • The skin has a foul odor
  • Fleas or other parasites are seen
  • The skin irritation does not get better or worsens

If your dog is experiencing dry skin or dandruff, you can receive help from an online vet near you on Vetster.

FAQ - How to prevent dry, flaky skin in dogs

Why does my dog have white flakes in their fur?

Dandruff is not as normal in dogs as in people and is usually caused by an underlying problem. Parasites, food or environmental allergies, fungal and bacterial infections, and other underlying conditions can contribute to dry, flaky skin in dogs. Talk to a vet anytime you notice a change in your dog’s skin or coat.

How can I help my dog’s dry skin?

Dry skin in dogs can be caused by numerous problems ranging in severity. If you notice your dog has dry skin, it’s best to seek advice from a veterinarian who can help pinpoint the underlying cause and offer effective treatment options.

Why does my dog have dry skin?

Parasites, allergies, genetics, skin infections, and other underlying medical conditions can all cause dry skin in dogs. The only way to know for sure what is causing the dry skin is to talk with a vet and receive a physical exam and diagnostic testing for your pet.

Can coconut oil help dandruff in dogs?

Dandruff, flakes, and crusty skin in dogs can be caused by a number of issues. Before trying home remedies such as coconut oil, it’s important to receive a diagnosis from a veterinarian so your dog can receive effective treatment.