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Dry Flaky Skin (Dandruff) with Hair Loss in Dogs [Vet Advice]

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Dry flaky skin with some hairloss on a dog's tail

This article was updated on August 3rd, 2023

Noticing your dog is suddenly losing fur and has developed dry and flaky skin can be quite an alarming find for any owner. Some dogs may also be itchy and starting to chew or lick at their skin, while others may not have any other signs.

Figuring out what has caused the dry skin and fur loss in the first place is key when it comes to deciding on a treatment plan. When I see a dog with these signs in my clinic, I’ll want to know all about the dog’s history and signalment. This means whether or not they have had skin issues before, if they have any other signs and what age and breed they are. This information alone will help us tremendously with determining what is going on.

What normal dog skin should look like

You should get familiar with what your dog’s skin usually looks like. For most dogs, it is a pale pink color and some areas will have darker brown and black splotches of pigment. Areas like the groin, belly and armpits will naturally have less fur. The skin should be smooth and pale, without any areas of scabs, crusting or flaking.

Close up of veterinarian's hands exam the dog skin problem, concept of healthcare, medical and skin disease in pet animal.

What medical conditions result in both hair loss and dry flaky skin?

1. Fungal and bacterial skin infections

Skin infections can present in a number of different ways and signs can include flaky, dry skin as well as fur loss and reddening of the skin.

ringworm lesion on dog skin

Dogs can be affected in any location, but we more commonly see skin infections where there are skin folds and places like the face, rump and armpits.

Infections can lead to itching which will cause the dog to traumatize their skin, leading to damaged skin and broken fur. Skin infections are not uncommon amongst the canine population and will generally be triggered by other issues such as parasites or allergies.

Some milder skin infections may be managed from home with a medicated wash, but most dogs will require veterinary attention and courses of medication such as antibiotics or anti fungals.

2. Hormonal disorders such as Cushing’s disease or Hypothyroidism

Typically, we will see hormonal disorders in the middle aged to older population. As well as skin issues, we’d expect to see some other signs such as weight changes, lethargy, bloating, panting or excess thirst. Fur loss can be caused by the hormone imbalance and this tends to be symmetrical and non-itchy.

hormone imbalance in Dog

These dogs have a weakened immune system and can develop thinner skin; both of which will leave them open to developing secondary skin infections. View more pictures of dogs with cushing’s disease. A veterinarian visit is needed to diagnose a hormonal condition, and this usually entails blood tests and urine tests. For most, treatment will mean daily medication as well as addressing any co-existing skin disease.

3. Nutritional deficiencies

Though less common nowadays thanks to the availability of good quality commercial dog dogs, nutritional deficiencies do still occur. This is sometimes seen in dogs fed a home-made or raw diet or in those with malabsorption disorders.

As well as signs like dandruff and fur loss, we may also notice lethargy, a failure to thrive and diarrhea. The body does not have the micronutrients it requires to maintain equilibrium and the immune system will be weakened and less able to fight off infection.

Skinny dog with hair loss

If an owner suspects a deficiency, a vet visit is needed to determine what the body is lacking in and to provide supplementation, which may be given as injections initially. If the owner is making a home-made diet, they will need to consult with a canine nutritionist, to get the balance right.

4. Parasites

External parasites including fleas and mites frequently lead to fur loss and damaged, flakey skin due to the trauma they cause to the skin as well as the damage done by the itchy dog.

Licking, scratching and rubbing all lead to broken skin, damaged fur and bald patches. In the case of demodectic mange (when a dog is not especially itchy) the fur loss is due to inflammation which adversely affects the hair follicles.

dog skin after flea bites
Dry, irritated skin with hair loss – due to flea allergies

Owners should keep their pets up to date with effective parasite prevention. If parasites are suspected, a vet visit is wise so they can be issued the correct treatment, which may include a topical medicine and a specific wash.

5. Atopic dermatitis

Allergies are highly prevalent in dogs and they can react to a wide range of things including certain foods, mites, dust and pollen. Signs can include pink skin, dandruff, itching and fur loss.

For most dogs, signs come and go and may be worse at certain times of the year. It is useful for owners to keep a ‘reaction diary’ to try and determine their pet’s triggers.

Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.

Many atopic dogs will develop secondary skin infections as their skin barrier is weakened and the dog is constantly introducing bacteria and yeast when they lick and scratch. Damaged hair follicles results in thin fur and bald patches.

Pet dog body with red irritated skin

While owners can help to minimize symptoms at home by avoiding allergens, using medicated washes and starting skin supplements, vet visits are needed to control allergic flare ups. This usually means issuing some strong anti itch medicine to break the itch scratch cycle, as well as antibiotics to address secondary infections.

Symptoms of dry flaky skin or dandruff in dogs

Owners may notice dry skin or dandruff when petting or grooming their dog. On closer inspection, they might see areas of thin fur or fur loss.

A small amount of dandruff may be the norm for some breeds, particularly in the winter when we turn the central heating on and dry out our dog’s skin. However, excess flakey skin or any balding, is worth talking to the vet about.

What to do when you notice dandruff and hair loss in dogs

Dandruff can occur due to over bathing, which strips the natural oils from the dog’s skin. So, it is sensible to consider bathing your dog less. For many dogs, a bath a few times a year is all they need. Always use a shampoo made for dogs and not dish soap or human shampoo.

Dead skin cells will normally be shed alongside fur, but sometimes get ‘trapped’ if a dog is not groomed enough. Owners should be brushing their dog’s coat every day, to remove dead and flaked off skin.

For those prone to dry skin, starting a skin supplement is an easy thing to try. This will usually be a capsule, powder or oil that is added to the dog’s food once daily.

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When to visit the vet

A vet visit is advised if a dog’s skin is flakier than usual or we are noticing other signs such as crusting, oozing, a bad smell, fur loss, thin fur or itching.

WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]

While you may try to manage milder signs at home, if you are not seeing improvement within a week or two, it is best to have your dog checked over.

Treatment options and likely costs

Which treatment is needed will depend on why your dog has developed this flakey skin and fur loss. For some dogs, they may simply need a parasite preventative. For other dogs, managing their skin will be a lifelong endeavor, with regular check ups and a multi-modal treatment regime consisting of anti-itch medicine, shampoos and supplements.

Frequently Asked Questions

• Should I be concerned if my dog is experiencing hair loss along with dry flaky skin or dandruff?

Yes, any hair loss is abnormal and a sign of an underlying issue that should be looked into.

• How will a veterinarian diagnose the underlying cause of my dog’s dry flaky skin or dandruff?

Your vet will take into consideration your dog’s signalment (age, sex and breed) and medical history. They should examine the skin and perform a full check over. Oftentimes, additional tests such as skin scrapes and swabs are under taken.

• Can I use over-the-counter products to treat my dog’s dry flaky skin or dandruff?

Milder dandruff can be treated with OTC products like shampoos and skin supplements, yes.

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  • Dr. Linda Simon, Veterinarian

    Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS) has 10 years of experience as a veterinarian. She is a veterinary surgeon with a special interest in geriatric patient care, dermatology and endocrinology. She is a member of the British Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. She graduated top of her class from UCD School of Veterinary Medicine in Dublin in 2013. Linda has also worked as a locum vet in a range of clinics, including 24 hour emergency clinics and busy charity clinics.

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