What to do if your dog has dandruff or dry skin

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What to do if your dog has dandruff or dry skin - Picture of a smiling dog in a snowfall

Dandruff and dry skin in dogs can be difficult to treat because there are so many potential causes. If you’re concerned about your dog’s dry, flaky skin, read on to learn:

  • What is dandruff in dogs?
  • How will a vet treat my dog’s dandruff?
  • Why does my dog have dandruff?
  • How do I know if my dog has dandruff?
  • I think my dog has dandruff. What should I do?

Skin flakes in a dog’s fur can be caused by overbathing, fungal or bacterial infections, or a number of other medical conditions. For treatment of canine dandruff to be successful, it is important to get help from a vet to determine the underlying cause.

What is canine dandruff?

Dandruff is not a specific condition. It’s a term used to describe flaky skin in dogs, which is a symptom of an underlying condition. There are many factors and diseases that can cause a dog’s skin to become flaky. Dandruff in dogs can occur with dry or overly oily skin. “While it’s common for dandruff in humans to be a chronic condition that becomes a part of everyday life, this is rarely the case for dogs,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “Most of the time when a dog has dandruff, there’s an underlying issue causing it and the dandruff will go away once the problem is identified and treated.”

How is dandruff in dogs treated?

The treatment for dandruff in dogs depends on the underlying cause. Testing such as skin scrapes, blood work, and a physical exam are often recommended to establish a diagnosis. Once the cause of dandruff is identified, appropriate treatment can be given.

Appropriate grooming and brushing

Brushing a dog’s fur redistributes healthy oils to help with dry skin and remove dead skin cells. In addition, matted and tangled fur can pull at the skin underneath, causing irritation. Both short and long-haired breeds benefit from daily brushing.

Bathing and grooming are often necessary for skin and coat health. However, overbathing, harsh shampoos, and hot water can dry out the skin. Dog groomers and vets can help you choose the best bathing products and practices for your individual dog.

Diet changes

Dogs require omega fatty acids in their diet for healthy skin and a shiny coat. Most commercially prepared dog foods contain the right amount of fatty acids for otherwise healthy adult dogs. Dogs eating homemade or non-traditional diets are most at risk of essential nutrient deficiencies. Work with a vet to ensure your dog’s diet is nutritionally complete.

Food allergies can result in inflamed, itchy skin. If a food allergy is suspected, an elimination diet trial with a veterinarian may be recommended to identify the problematic ingredient. This process can take eight weeks or more and requires ongoing care from a vet. Note: it isn’t recommended or safe to try and eliminate foods or ingredients from your dog’s diet without veterinary guidance. Some dietary restrictions may lead to serious health complications.

For dogs with specific skin disorders or who require more omega fatty acids in their diet, a vet may recommend fatty acid supplements. Always work with a vet when changing your dog’s diet or adding a supplement to ensure it is safe and needed.

Quote by Dr. Jo Myers: Most of the time when a dog has dandruff there's an underlying conditon causing it and the dandruff will go away once the problem is identified and treated.

Treating underlying conditions

Various health conditions and skin infections can cause dry, irritated, and inflamed skin. Treatments for these conditions vary widely but may include:

  • Antibiotics or antifungals for skin infections
  • External parasite treatment and prevention to control skin irritation from bug bites and other pests
  • Weight management to ensure adequate mobility for regular grooming
  • Arthritis medication to ease mobility limitations that interfere with grooming
  • Allergy medication and treatment to control allergic itch that can lead to skin damage
  • Nutritional changes to support all of the above

Other medical conditions that affect the skin may require long-term treatment and care to manage and alleviate symptoms.

Increase humidity

Dry environments and air can contribute to dry skin in both people and dogs. Investing in a humidifier for your home can help with minor concerns about dry skin. Offer multiple water bowls throughout the home and provide fresh, clean water daily so your dog stays hydrated.

What causes dry, flaky skin in dogs?

Skin issues have multiple causes in dogs. Consulting a vet about your dog’s symptoms is best so you can identify and treat the underlying cause of your dog’s dandruff.

Grooming issues

Dogs who are unable to groom themselves properly due to mobility issues such as obesity, arthritis, or injury may develop flaky skin. Matted, tangled fur pulls at the skin underneath, causing irritation and dryness. Overbathing a dog, using harsh shampoos, overly hot water, and hot blow dryers may further dry out your dog’s skin and cause flakiness.

Food or environmental allergies

Dogs who are allergic to ingredients in their food or other allergens in the environment can develop itchy, irritated skin. Allergies in dogs can occur seasonally or year-round and need long-term treatment from a vet. Food allergies may also require an elimination diet. Allergies cannot be cured but can be managed to ensure a high quality of life. Note: it isn’t recommended or safe to try and eliminate foods or ingredients from your dog’s diet without veterinary guidance. Some dietary restrictions may lead to serious health complications.

Skin infections and parasites

Skin conditions can occur due to a variety of bacterial and fungal infections. External parasites such as fleas, mites, and mange can also cause itchy skin, irritation, and inflammation, especially if a dog is allergic to flea saliva. Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is the most common type of canine allergy, and usually involves excessive itching and skin inflammation. As a common condition, FAD is just one of many reasons why it’s important to keep your dog on external parasite control consistently.


Certain breeds of dogs are more prone to dry skin, breed-specific skin conditions, or genetic conditions such as primary seborrhea. Breeds that have folds in the skin are prone to skin infections within these folds. Unusual color varieties, such as blue Dobermans, are more likely to develop skin problems. Some individual dogs simply have drier skin than others, just like people.

Other underlying health conditions

Other health conditions and diseases can cause symptoms that affect skin health. These diseases include, but are not limited to:

Treatments for these conditions vary and often involve continued, long-term care from a veterinarian. Regular wellness exams and testing help with early detection and treatment of these conditions to control symptoms.

What does dandruff in dogs look like?

Dandruff in dogs refers to white flakes found in the fur and on the skin. This can occur in overly oily or dry skin. Other symptoms associated with canine dandruff include:

It’s important to talk with a vet any time you notice a change in your dog’s skin or coat. Pet dandruff and other skin problems are almost always caused by an underlying health issue that needs to be addressed for the symptoms to go away.

Can pet dandruff be prevented?

Dandruff cannot always be prevented, but there are steps pet parents can take to minimize the risk of skin problems in their dogs and promote healthy skin, including:

  • Feed a balanced diet
  • Exercise your dog daily
  • Regularly brush your dog and work with a groomer
  • Stay on a year-round broad-spectrum parasite prevention
  • Get regular wellness checks and testing from a vet
  • Follow your vet’s recommendations for managing any chronic illnesses your dog may have, including any instructions for how to administer medications

What should I do if my dog has dandruff?

With minor dandruff or dry skin, gently brush the fur or use a humidifier if you live in a dry environment. Avoid over-bathing, hot water, and drying shampoos. Stay on year-round parasite prevention and work with a vet to ensure your dog is eating a well-balanced diet. Consult with a veterinarian sooner if:

  • The skin has sores or a rash
  • There is a foul odor
  • There is hair loss
  • Your dog is very itchy
  • There are visible parasites, or another pet in the household has parasites

Before trying at-home treatments or products, consult with a veterinarian about your dog’s symptoms. Fatty acid or fish oil supplements, special shampoos, and diet changes may not be necessary, and the priority is identifying and treating the underlying cause. If you have questions about your dog’s flaky skin, you can connect with an online vet near you for advice.

FAQ - What to do if your dog has flaky skin or dandruff

How do you get rid of dandruff in a dog’s fur?

Dandruff in dogs can be caused by a wide variety of underlying problems. For minor dandruff, try gentle brushing and avoid overbathing, harsh shampoos, and hot water. If the dandruff persists or the skin is itchy, irritated, or has a rash, talk with a vet for advice and treatment.

What shampoo should I use if my dog has dandruff?

There are many dog shampoos that are advertised for dry skin and dandruff. Most cases of canine dandruff are due to an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed, so it’s best to use these products only when recommended by a veterinarian. In the meantime, make sure your dog is on a nutritionally complete diet and is up-to-date with broad-spectrum parasite control. Gently brush and bathe your dog in lukewarm water while you wait until a vet or groomer can advise you on the best product for your individual dog.

Can I use human dandruff shampoo on my dog?

Human dandruff and dog dandruff are different, and so is their treatment. Dandruff in humans is usually treated by drying out overactive sebaceous glands on the scalp. There are also moisturizing products for dry scalps that may flake. Dogs usually have poor skin health and dandruff due to an underlying illness and the dandruff is expected to resolve once that’s identified and treated. Use human pharmaceutical products on your dog only when directed to do so by a veterinarian. Bathing your dog with human shampoo can irritate the skin further and will not treat the underlying problem, even if it is intended to treat human dandruff. Note that many human dandruff shampoos are medicated and not safe for use on pets.

What is the best supplement for dry skin in dogs?

Dry, flaky skin and dandruff in dogs are almost always caused by an underlying problem. The issue affecting your dog may not benefit from a dietary supplement. In some cases, a vet may recommend an omega-3 fatty acid supplement as part of the treatment plan for the underlying condition causing your dog’s dandruff.