How To Treat Dog Dandruff

Is your pup leaving flaky white stuff everywhere he goes? If so, he may have pet dog dandruff! Dog dandruff is a treatable condition with a wide variety of causes. Though treating it is simple once you figure out why it’s happening, getting to the bottom of things can be a bit complicated.

Fortunately, we’re here to help with a step-by-step guide to understanding how to prevent dog dandruff, keep your pet’s coat in optimal condition, and treat dog dandruff when it does show up.

What Causes Dog Dandruff?

First of all, dog dandruff is common, especially during the winter. When we run the heater, the ensuing low humidity sucks the moisture out of our skin and our dogs’ coats, resulting in lots of shedding, dry skin. It’s also common for dogs to shed fur and dandruff during the spring when they’re getting rid of their thick winter coats.

These are seasonal causes of dandruff that come and go (and usually don’t stick around too long), but there are other things that cause dandruff, too:

  • Food allergies or food intolerances
  • Dietary or nutritional imbalances
  • Parasites such as fleas
  • Worms
  • Skin infections like hot spots
  • Fungal infections such as ringworm
  • A parasitic mite called “walking dandruff”
  • An immune disease, such as thyroid disease or Cushing’s disease
  • A lack of or imbalance in omega-3’s or omega-6’s
  • Improper bathing or grooming
  • Genetic tendency

Whew. That’s a lot of potential causes for your dog’s dandruff! The good news is that most of the time dog dandruff can be treated simply by tweaking diets or grooming habits. We’ll show you how to make simple changes, and then if those don’t work--it’s time to visit your vet!

Is Your Pet Getting Enough Omega-3’s And Omega-6’s?

dog on the floor

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You’ve probably heard about how important omega-3’s and omega-6’s are for humans (they’re the reasons doctors recommend fish oil), but did you know they’re also important for dogs? The problem is that they’re not readily available in most dogs’ diets because the heat in the dog food manufacturing process usually destroys the oils.

If your dog is getting omegas, it’s probably omega-6’s, which are found in sunflower and flax oils, and an imbalance between omega-6’s and omega-3’s can cause dog dandruff and other skin problems as much as a lack of these ingredients can!

Fortunately, supplementing is easy thanks to omega-3 and omega-6 supplements designed just for dogs. You can work with your veterinarian if you’re worried about getting the balance right.

Are You Grooming And Bathing Your
Pet Enough?

Different dog breeds require different types of grooming. Dogs with thick, short coats, for example, don’t need to be brushed as often because their coats don’t get tangled. Dogs with longer hair, however, need more frequent brushing to avoid matting and snarled hair.

The amount of brushing your pet needs varies depending on her coat and the season, but if your pet has dandruff, reassessing your grooming habits is wise.

Give Her A Bath

woman kissing dog

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Years ago, we were advised to bathe dogs infrequently, as shampoos were harsh on their skin. However, today’s pet shampoos are designed specifically for dogs, so it’s ok to bathe your pet much more often.

You shouldn’t bathe every day or probably every other day, but you might need to start bathing her weekly or twice a week if she’s shedding lots of dry skin. Make sure when you bathe her that you use a dog shampoo and not a human shampoo--you can even find a dog shampoo made specifically for dog dandruff!

If she’s fighting dog dandruff, there are two types of natural treatments that work wonders: one is a tea tree oil spray, and one is a coconut oil mask.

Tea Tree Treatment

Tea tree oil is a natural antibacterial that treats dandruff in humans and can help repel dust and irritation when used as a spray for your pet after grooming. You can make a DIY spray, but be very
careful, since tea tree oil can hurt your pet if it’s not diluted enough!

Coconut Oil Mask

Coconut oil, however, is safe and even healthy for your dog to eat, and makes a great mask. It has antibacterial properties as well, which can be extremely helpful if your pup is dealing with skin
infections.

Slather human-grade coconut oil all over your clean, dry dog, and let it sit for about five minutes. Then, rinse off with warm water.

The Best Brushing Method

dog biting a brush

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The American Kennel Club recommends using the following technique daily on your pet, especially if she’s experiencing dog dandruff, to remove the excess skin and hair that’s shedding. Following these steps will also stimulate circulation and oil production, giving your dog a healthier, shinier coat.

1. Start With A Rubber Mitt

A rubber mitt for dogs will have lots of little rubber nubs that help to loosen up whatever’s stuck in your dog’s coat--grass, dirt, loose hair, and so forth. Make circular motions all over your dog’s body, including his legs and tail (be gentle!).

2. Use A Coarse Brush And A Comb

Next, use a coarse brush. Use long strokes and sweeping motions, and run a comb through the brush after every sweep to remove the hair and sediment that’s been picked up, so it doesn’t stay in the skin.

3. Use A Soft “Finishing” Brush

Repeat step two, but with a softer brush. Again, use long, sweeping motions and use a comb in between each movement to remove the extra gunk.

4. Use A Soft Rag Or Towel

Finally, use a soft rag or towel to wipe down your dog’s coat, removing any remaining surface dust and smoothing the newly stimulate oil through her hair, helping to soften and condition it.

At this point, you can also use the tea tree oil treatment. Another helpful brush to use is a wire brush designed to remove excess hair. This can come in handy if your canine is shedding heavily. 

Allergies Might Be Causing Your
Pet’s Dandruff Problems

pug wrapped in a blanket

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Just like people, dogs can suffer from food allergies, food intolerances, and seasonal allergies. Unlike people, dog’s allergies mostly show up on their skin, so if your dog has dandruff, there’s a
good chance it’s because of some type of allergy.

Some dog breeds are more prone to allergies than others, and your vet might be able to help you understand what, if any, kinds of allergies your dog might be dealing with. Your vet might also be able to help you treat your pet’s allergies with Zyrtec or Benadryl, which might clear up the dog dandruff.

If not, you might need to start experimenting with eliminating certain foods from your dog’s diet. Common dog allergens include:

  • Soy (one of the most common
    irritants)
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey

Check your pet’s dog food as well as his or her treats. These types of allergies will often be accompanied by gastrointestinal trouble. You can try switching to hypoallergenic dog food if you suspect one or more of these foods are the main culprit.

It’s also helpful to keep a record of what your dog has eaten and come in contact with to track trends. If dandruff increases every time you go to the park, there’s a chance he has contact dermatitis and is allergic to grass or pollen present at the park. Taking this information to the vet is helpful.

Cut The Humidity

dog on the floor

Image by flickr

If you suspect the dry winter weather is causing your dog’s dandruff, try using a humidifier. You can place one by where he sleeps at night to make sure he’s getting as much ambient moisture as possible. You might even benefit, as well!

Soothe Your Dog’s Sensitive Skin

Whether your pup has dandruff because of allergies or dryness or her skin is simply irritated, you can try a soothing oatmeal bath to help calm and relax her skin. Oatmeal is great for people with
sensitive skin, and it helps dogs, too.

To use, place a cup of oatmeal inside a blender and pulse till the oatmeal becomes a powder. Dissolve inside a washtub or bathtub full of water, then allow your dog to soak for fifteen or more
minutes. If you don’t think your dog will sit that long, you can try making a wet paste with the oatmeal powder, and rubbing it gently on her coat.

Dog Dandruff Doesn’t Have To Rule
Your Life

If you’re frustrated by all the dog hair and flaky white stuff floating around your house, apartment, or car, take heart! Use the tips and tricks we’ve suggested, and you’ll be well on your way to a
dandruff-free home (or at least, your dog won’t have dandruff anymore!).

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Dr Roger Johnson

Roger K. Johnson, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board- certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include cardiology as well as using advanced diagnostics to help his patients. His particular favorites include echocardiography, abdominal ultrasonography, and endoscopy.

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