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Seborrhea In Dogs

Written by Ella White


spaniel having a scratch

Have you noticed your dog is suffering from dry or itchy skin? It could be a case of seborrhea. Though uncomfortable and unattractive, seborrhea is easy to cure and won’t cause any long-lasting harm to your dog once treated. However, it could be a sign of another underlying issue.

In this blog we will look at seborrhea in dogs, what it is, what causes it, and how it’s treated.

What Is Seborrhea In Dogs

Seborrhea is a skin condition which affects how the skin creates sebum and keratin – an oil and a protein that are essential for healthy skin and hair. Producing too much keratin or sebum can lead to skin that is scaly, flaky, and itchy, or too greasy. 

Seborrhea oleosa is the oily skin, and seborrhea sicca is the dry kind. Though many dogs will have a combination of dry and oily seborrhea known as seborrheic dermatitis. Dry seborrhea will either feel excessively oil, or dry which will flake off like dandruff, which you will notice in their fur and on their bedding. Seborrhea is often itchy and inflamed, and can have an odor which becomes worse if a skin infection occurs in the area.

Though it affects all of the skin, seborrhea is often found on the face, back, toes, and flanks. Because it’s worse within creases of skin, dogs with skin folds like Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels tend to be more prone to the disorder. Seborrhea can be a hereditary condition (primary seborrhea) or it can be caused by an underlying issue that affects how the dog’s skin produces sebum and keratin (secondary seborrhea).

Causes Of Seborrhea In Dogs

If your dog has primary seborrhea, which is genetic, then you will notice that they have excessively dry or oily skin from a young age. This tends to get worse as they age. If you bought your dog from a breeder, they should be able to tell you whether they have a family history of genetic seborrhea. 

American Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Basset Hounds, and West Highland White Terriers commonly carry primary seborrhea.

If your dog has secondary seborrhea, then it is likely caused by one of the following underlying health conditions:

  • An allergic reaction to fleas, food, or something in their environment
  • Hormonal imbalances like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Immune issues like lupus
  • Diabetes 
  • Lymphoma of the skin
  • Mites and lice

Symptoms Of Seborrhea In Dogs

As well as dry and itchy, or greasy skin, there are a number of symptoms that owners should be aware of if they think their dog might have seborrhea.

  • Dandruff-like dryness
  • Greasy skin with a bad odor
  • Hair loss
  • A dry, dull coat
  • Rough, crusted lesions on the skin
  • Consistent itching
  • Excessive earwax and other ear debris

How To Diagnose Seborrhea In Dogs

If your dog has any of the above symptoms or illnesses and you think they might have seborrhea, take them to the vet for a physical examination. Usually, they will check for other symptoms and will want to know if they have been scratching more than usual or if any changes have been made to their routine.

As well as a visual examination, your vet might carry out skin scraping or collect debris from the skin and ears to check for mites or infections. If they suspect a hormone imbalance they might run blood tests. It’s also possible they’ll check for cancer or other diseases for which they might carry out a biopsy.

Treating Seborrhea in Dogs

Once your dog has been diagnosed with seborrhea, the treatment will depend on the cause. 

If your dog has primary, or genetic seborrhea, they will probably be prescribed a medical shampoo containing anti-seborrheic ingredients like coal, tar, or salicylic acid. This should be used every 2-3 days, reducing to 2-7 days as it begins to heal. Medicated ear cleaners might also be prescribed for use every 2-3 days to clear up the excessive wax production.

These treatments usually last for at least three weeks, or until the skin has improved. This bathing and shampoo should help to remove excess keratin and sebum. But if the inflammation continues some dogs might be prescribed immunosuppressants like prednisone.

If your dog has secondary seborrhea caused by another health issue, then it’s likely that the cause will be treated and the seborrhea will clear up as a result. Treatments for different health conditions that cause seborrhea include:

  • Insulin injections for diabetes
  • Hormone replacement medication for hypothyroidism
  • Anti-parasitic medication for mites or lice
  • Flea medication for flea allergies
  • Cancer medication for lymphoma
  • Vetoryl for Cushing’s disease
  • Vitamin supplements for deficiencies in zinc of Vitamin A
  • Antibiotics for infections
  • Therapeutic diets for food allergies
  • Medication for autoimmune diseases

Dogs with secondary seborrhea might also be prescribed anti-seborrheic shampoo and medicated ear cleaning solutions to clear up the irritation at the same time as treatments for the original cause. It’s important to follow all treatment plans to ensure it fully clears up.

What Is The Recovery Process For Dogs With Seborrhea?

Your vet will want to monitor your dog’s recovery with frequent check ups. If their seborrhea is not clearing up, they might require further medications to help cure a bacterial or yeast infection in the skin.

Though primary seborrhea can usually be treated, some dogs may need a lifelong prescription of medicated shampoos. However, they will be able to live a long and happy life with the skin condition kept under control.

For dogs with secondary seborrhea, the prognosis will depend on the cause of their condition. Dogs with allergies, infections, or bites should be able to have their condition treated easily, and the seborrhea will clear up as a result.

For dogs with more serious issues, like auto-immune diseases or cancer, the recovery process will be longer and more complex – though the symptom of seborrhea can easily be treated separately from their disease.