This article was updated on June 15th, 2023
As a veterinarian, I must see dogs with dry or scabby skin on a weekly basis; it is a very common problem that many dog owners face and can lead to an unsightly coat and sometimes a very irritated dog! With many causes of dry or flaky skin in dogs, it can be confusing for owners to know where to start. In this article I’ll highlight the most frequent causes of dry and flaky skin with scabs, and explain how you can help your dog, with home remedies and veterinarian help.
Dry flaky skin with scabs in dogs: what does it look like?
The actual look of dry flaky skin with scabs can vary, depending on the cause. Commonly this condition will cause a dog’s fur to become dull and brittle with flakes of skin that have either fallen off or are still attached to their coat. Some areas may become irritated and scaly, and you might even see open sore or scabs often as a result of signs of discomfort like scratching or chewing. Hair loss is also common on these affected areas of skin.
Dry flaky skin might look like small white or gray flecks on your dog’s skin or fur. These may be more noticeable in areas with less hair or where the skin is darker, such as the belly, groin, or armpits. You might even think it looks similar to dandruff in humans!
Scabs may also be present on areas of irritated skin. A scab is a protective crust or clot that forms over a wound or abrasion on the skin. As the damage to the skin begins to heal, a scab forms over the area to protect from further injury and infection.
What are the top causes of dry flaky skin with scabs in dogs?
The most likely causes include:
Dogs can be allergic to various things, just like humans. Food, pollen, insect or parasite bites, or even different materials or substances can cause an allergic reaction resulting in skin irritation, itching, and inflammation. This can then lead to flaky skin with scabs. Signs that you may have an allergic dog might be recurrent ear infections or anal gland issues, excessive paw licking or are constantly itchy “all over”.
Avoiding the allergen is the most direct way to prevent allergic skin disease at home, but unfortunately that’s not always possible. Therefore, you may need to work with your dog’s veterinarian to start medications, topical treatments, or even allergy shots. Fortunately, there are many treatment options that can keep your dog’s allergy signs under control and prevent uncomfortable skin signs.
Below are 2 examples of dry flaky skin or scabs due to allergies:
Parasites on your dog’s skin, including fleas, ticks and mites, can cause irritation that may lead to flaky skin and scabs. The area around a tick bite may become red, flaky, and form a scab. Flea infestations can cause localized skin reactions and swelling, sometimes eventually even hair loss and severe skin thickening. Many mites also result in flaking and scaley skin as they burrow under the skin surface, resulting in irritation and shedding of the outer layers of the skin.
Pictures of dry / flaky / red skin due to parasites:
To take care of a parasite problem at home, there are many flea and tick prevention options readily available. These can stop external parasite issues before they start, and they can even help if you’re managing a parasite problem after it’s begun. It’s best to go with a veterinary prescription product for this as many products available in superstores and pet shops are not effective enough.
If you think your dog is suffering from a parasite infestation, then talk to your vet. They’ll have many great options, not only to manage the parasites, but also to treat the dry, flaky skin and scabs as your dog’s skin starts to heal again.
3) Skin infections
Bacterial or fungal skin infections (including ringworm) can cause skin inflammation, itching, and flaky skin with scabs. These infections can occur on their own or secondary to allergies or parasites, therefore it’s essential to talk to your veterinarian if you think your dog is suffering from these problems. You may notice excessive dampness, or even excessive dryness, in a patch of skin with an infection. Flakiness and scabbing are common, and often limited to a specific area, sometimes called a “hot spot”.
Pictures showing irritated, dry, flaky skin on dogs as a result of infections:
Sometimes topical treatments or medicated baths are enough to treat infections and help your dog’s skin heal at home. But if the infected area is large or badly inflamed, specialized wound care (including shaving the fur in the area and treating with antiseptics), systemic antibiotics (an injection or oral medication provided by the veterinarian), antifungals (in the case of ringworm) and even steroids (if it’s bad enough) may be necessary. Swabs of the affected area may even need to be taken to identify the causative agent in order to target the treatment effectively. These veterinarian-prescribed treatments are very effective when given as directed.
If the infection is secondary to an underlying condition then this will need to be addressed as well in order to successfully treat the infection.
4) Hormonal imbalances/endocrine disorders
Some hormonal imbalances, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease, can affect skin health and lead to flaky skin with scabs.
On this picture below, a Yorker mix has dry and flaky skin in places with some darkening of the skin (hyperpigmentation) due to Cushing’s disease. On his belly, there are some raised plaques and his skin also looks a little red and inflamed:
In the case of hormonal imbalances, these are conditions that need to be addressed and treated with the help of your veterinarian; diagnostic tests are required to figure out what disorder they need to treat. Various hormone regulating drugs can be administered to try and correct the imbalance once a diagnosis has been made.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
In addition to treating the hormonal issue, your veterinarian may prescribe other treatments that will treat the skin condition separately at the same time as addressing the hormonal issue. Treating the dry, flaky skin condition often includes supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, topical medications that promote skin health, or other medications to reduce inflammation.
5) Poor grooming habits
Not regularly bathing or brushing your dogs coat can lead to dry flaky and even scabby skin. The skin naturally rejuvenates itself with time, and dead skin cells are pushed to the surface. If these aren’t brushed away then they can accumulate, giving the ‘dandruff’ look.
6) Nutritional deficiencies
A poor-quality diet or a lack of essential nutrients such as vitamins and omega 3 can lead to a poor coat condition and flaky skin. Oils in the diet are essential in keeping the skin moistened, without these then it can dry out, leading to soreness and scabbing.
Other causes of dry flaky skin and scabs in dogs
Other medical conditions, such as autoimmune disorders, cancer, or kidney disease, can also affect skin health and lead to flaky skin with scabs. Each of these conditions carries its own set of unique signs, and they each are treated differently. If attempts to treat dry, flaky skin with scabs at home prove ineffective, and your veterinarian has ruled out other causes, they may recommend additional testing to decide if another medical condition is to blame.
What are home remedies you can try at home to help a dog with scabs and dry skin?
If your dog’s dry, scaly skin with scabs is in its early stages, and your pet isn’t experiencing significant pain and discomfort, there are a variety of things you can try at home. Make sure you discuss any home remedies with your veterinarian first (only your veterinarian knows your dog’s health profile and will be able to ask you questions and examine your dog to understand the situation better):
1) Adding omega-3 fatty acids to the diet: Omega-3 fatty acids, like this, may help improve the quality of your dog’s coat and skin barrier, preventing it from drying out and becoming flakey.
- Made With Wild-Caught Fish From Iceland - PetHonesty's Omega-3 Fish Oil is made with sardines, mackerel, anchovies and herrings, caught in the pure and clean waters off the coast of Iceland. These fish are high in Omega-3s but low in mercury and toxins and will help support your dog's joint, heart, immune system, skin, coat and overall health.
2) Moisturizing shampoos: There are a multitude of shampoo options in stores and online such as this one:
- DID YOU KNOW WE USE NATURALLY DERIVED INGREDIENTS? Our dog coat shampoo formulas are made with 99.7% naturally derived ingredients including coconut oil, which provides a natural infusion of moisture to sooth dry dog coats
It’s important to avoid using shampoos labeled for treating certain conditions like fleas and ticks. Also be careful not to bathe your dog too vigorously or too frequently, as this can strip the skin of natural oils and cause dry skin.
3) Applying coconut oil: Applied in small amounts topically (to the surface of the skin), coconut oil such as this product listed below this one may have moisturizing properties that can help alleviate dry skin:
WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]
- BALM FOR DOGS AND CATS: Coconut oil for dogs, a soothing, natural treatment for dogs dry nose, elbows, ears, and paws, that heals and softens a pet's dry skin. As a dog ear cleaner or paw balm, coconut oil provides safe and highly effective itch relief for dogs. Great benefits for your feline friends too, all natural coconut oil, a moisturizing treatment for cats itchy skin, cracked paws, and effective in cleaning cat ears.
Apply a small amount of coconut oil to your dog’s skin and massage it thoroughly. Please do not apply coconut oil to open wounds, do not apply copious amounts (your dog should not look greasy), and don’t feed coconut oil to your dog unless under the direction of your veterinarian.
4) Using a humidifier in your home: Dry air can contribute to dry skin, especially in hot dry summers, or during winter when in-house heaters are naturally removing moisture from the air. Consider using a humidifier in your home, especially in areas where your dog frequently hangs out.
5) Avoiding irritants: Be mindful of any potential irritants that may be contributing to your dog’s skin issues, such as harsh chemicals in cleaning products or allergens in the environment. For instance, if your dog likes to sleep on the kitchen floor, avoid using strong cleaners or lay down a blanket so your dog doesn’t have direct exposure. Reduce use of air fresheners, carpet fresheners, and other chemicals that you wouldn’t feel comfortable walking barefoot on or sprinkling in your own bed.
6) Regular grooming: Brushing your dog’s coat a few time per week will help remove dandruff and dirt from accumulating in their fur.
7) Ensuring adequate hydration: Always make sure your dog has access to fresh water throughout the day.
What are signs that your dog’s scabs need veterinary attention now?
It is important to see a veterinarian if your dog has persistent scabs and dry skin despite the interventions listed above; these symptoms may indicate an underlying medical condition that requires treatment. While there are some remedies you can try at home for minor, superficial issues that are new, skin problems that have been ongoing for more than a few days or a couple of weeks, and skin problems causing significant pain or discomfort should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as an appointment is available.
A veterinarian can perform a thorough examination and diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the skin issues, such as allergies, parasites, infection, or an underlying medical condition.
Your pet likely needs a veterinarian’s expert care if you’ve noticed any of these signs:
- Severe itching or scratching (frequent or constant, maybe even enough to cause damage to the skin)
- Hair loss or bald patches
- Foul odor from the skin
- Redness or inflammation of the skin
- Discharge or pus from the affected area
- Changes in behavior, appetite, mood, or activity
If left untreated, or not properly treated, these scabs and dry skin can lead to more serious skin infections or other health issues.
How can a veterinarian help with conditions causing scabs and dry skin in dogs?
A physical exam, along with a thorough medical history, are a veterinarian’s first step to diagnose your dog’s scabs and dry skin. Be sure to share all relevant information you can when you make your pet’s appointment, and again at the appointment when they’re asking questions.
During the physical exam, the vet will look at your dog’s skin, coat, and overall appearance. They may also take a sample of your dog’s skin to examine under a microscope or perform skin scrapings to look for parasites or fungal infections. Depending on the physical exam, and any initial testing, blood tests and allergy testing may also be necessary help diagnose the cause of your dog’s skin issues.
Once the cause of your dog’s skin issue has been determined, you can expect a customized treatment plan that might include medications, supplements, or other therapies.
Questions your vet might ask you
Most veterinarians are going to ask you the same kind of questions when it comes to your pet’s skin issue:
- When did you first notice the problem?
- Is your dog still eating/ drinking/ acting the way they always have?
- How often is your dog scratching or biting at the area you’re concerned about? Have you noticed them scratching or biting other areas too?
- How much has the affected area changed since you first saw a problem?
- Are there any new cleaning products, shampoos, foods/ treats, medications, human food, etc that your pet has been exposed to?
- What kind of parasite prevention are they on?
- Do you notice issues are worse after your dog has been somewhere specific- like a bedroom, your laundry room, or outside?
- Does your dog have a history of skin issues, allergies, or other medical conditions?
- Is there anything that makes your dog’s dry, flaky, and scabbed skin improve noticeably?
It might seem like a lot of questions, but these can all help your veterinarian form initial opinions about the cause of your dog’s condition. The more relevant information you can share, the closer your vet will be to understanding how to help your pet.
Veterinary treatment options & recovery
Once the cause of your dog’s dry flaky skin is determined by a veterinarian, treatment may include a combination of topical medications and shampoos, dietary supplements, medication, and lifestyle changes. These treatments will help to soothe the skin and reduce inflammation while also helping to heal scabbed areas. In some cases, anti-allergy or antibiotic medications may be required to help reduce the symptoms of dry flaky skin in your pet.
Recovery from dry flaky skin can take some time, usually a few weeks or months depending on the severity. If your pet is suffering from an underlying condition such as allergies, appropriate management and lifestyle changes may be necessary for long term relief. It is important to monitor your dog’s skin and coat regularly to ensure there is no reoccurrence of the problem.
Regular visits to the veterinarian during treatment will ensure that your pet is on the road to recovery.
Typical veterinary costs of treating scabs and skin infections in dogs
The typical costs of treating scabs and skin infections in dogs can range from $50 to $150, depending on the severity of the condition. It’s important to note that some more complicated issues such as ongoing allergies or underlying skin cancers that require more advanced treatments are more expensive to treat.