Seborrhea in dogs is a chronic skin disorder caused by the overproduction of sebum. As a fellow dog owner, I’m in tune with every little thing that seems a little “off” about my dog. If you’re like me, you start wondering and worrying over every lump, bump, and strange itch. Most of the time, it’s nothing serious. Seborrhea in dogs isn’t what you’d call “serious”, but it is something that needs to be addressed.
As you’ll learn in this post, Seborrheic dermatitis will make your little pooch feel miserable. And…if you don’t fix the underlying condition it’s simply not going to get better.
Seborrhea in dogs is a complex skin condition that resembles dandruff. In fact, you might notice flakes of it in your dog’s bedding. The symptoms (listed below) are pretty straightforward. In some cases, dogs inherit the condition and show symptoms before two years of age.
When seborrhea is inherited, it’s known as “primary” or “idiopathic”. Idiopathic means there is no known cause.
Seborrhea more commonly occurs as a result of an underlying condition. Underlying conditions include everything from a parasitic infection to an endocrine (hormonal) disorder.
Wondering if your dog might have seborrhea? This post provides an easy-to-scan checklist of everything you need to know about seborrhea.
1. Is Seborrhea The Same Thing as Eczema?
Although both skin conditions are completely different, they’re so closely related that the terms “seborrhea” and “eczema” are often used interchangeably. Some doctors, in fact, might not be able to tell the difference on first glance.
Puppies younger than two years of age who presents with the symptoms of seborrhea, probably have the inherited form of the disease. Older dogs, however, could have either condition, and can even have both at the same time. Unless your dog has inherited the condition, there’s a good chance there’s an underlying condition that needs treatment.
Seborrhea can occur in patches all over the body. You’ll either notice a huge increase in dandruff or too much oil build-up on the face.
In most cases, you’ll notice both signs. The problem with seborrhea itself is the intense itching it causes. All that scratching and licking can really harm the skin, leaving it vulnerable to bacteria.
Seborrhea dermatitis develops when the skin’s sebaceous glands overproduce the oily substance known as sebum. Healthy skin secretes just enough sebum to keep the skin healthy. If seborrhea develops, an unhealthy accumulation leaves the skin waxy and very itchy.
Unfortunately, there’s no “cure” for seborrhea. It’s not inherently dangerous, but your dog could have flare ups. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to prevent that from happening.
2. What Are The Symptoms of Seborrhea in Dogs?
Symptoms of Seborrhea in Dogs Include:
This just means “extreme” itching caused by a disease or condition.
These are patches of scaly, flaky skin that might be red or inflamed because of excessive scratching and/or licking. Lesions can appear on the face, feet, under the tummy (known as ventral axilla), in or around the ears (otitis externa), and under the ear flap or on the paws (erythema).
Unfortunately, the waxy build-up of sebum is difficult to break down. The longer it sits, the worse it smells. The reason for this is because it tends to trap bacteria and when the cells begin to die off, a bad smell is emitted.
d. Fur Loss.
Fur loss isn’t directly related to seborrhea (usually), but is a result of the damage to the skin.
e. Scales on the Skin
This condition leaves patches of skin looking scaly and flaky, like dandruff.
f. Redness and Inflammation
Seborrhea in dogs doesn’t cause redness and inflammation. The itch is pretty intense, however, and your dog will likely dig at his/her skin enough to cause redness and inflammation.
2. Most Common Type of Seborrhea in Dogs
The most common type of seborrhea in dogs is known as “secondary” seborrhea. Things like allergies and parasites can trigger the condition.
Endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism, Cushing’s, and Alopecia X can create conditions ripe for seborrhea, because they upset the dog’s natural hormonal rhythm.
Primary seborrhea is more often seen in younger dogs (typically younger than 2 years of age) nd is considered an inherited disorder. The highest incidence is in American Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, West highland White Terriers and Basset hounds.
3. “Dry” Seborrhea (Sicca)
Ironically, dogs diagnosed with seborrhea often have a combination of dry AND oily seborrhea. Some dogs simply have dry skin that can be treated with the application of coconut oil (for example).
Dogs with seborrhea, however, will shed a lot of skin that resembles dandruff (flakes). Dry skin will cause your dog to itch, but dry seborrhea will be much more severe.
4. “Oily” Seborrhea (Oleosa)
Oily seborrhea produces the thick, waxy sebum that clings to your dog’s skin. This is the stuff you might notice on your dog’s face, paws, ears, or under the belly. You might even see it accumulating in your dog’s armpits.
It might seem to disappear after bathing your dog, but don’t be fooled! There’s a good chance it will come back.
The best way to prevent it from returning, or at least lessen the severity of seborrhea in dogs include treating the underlying condition. Keep reading to learn how to reduce and/or prevent flare-ups.
5. Fur Loss
Seborrhea in dogs can cause fur loss. That leaves the skin vulnerable to infection. Once the skin is bare, there’s not much left to protect it. The fur tends to disappear in patches, wherever your dog tends to dig and scratch the most.
There’s a greater urgency to treat the dog when the fur is worn off and the skin begins to open. Once this happens, bacterial infection can occur.
Some veterinarians might prescribe an antibiotic if the skin appears the least bit infected. Skin that is opened or cracked can invite in some pretty nasty bugs and sometimes it’s just safer to assume a bacterial infection is gearing up for attack.
6. Why Your Fur Baby Has Seborrhea
Sometimes there’s simply no reason for seborrhea in dogs. When no known cause is found, it’s called Idiopathic Seborrhea. More commonly, the condition is caused by common allergies or underlying disease like Cushing’s, Addison’s, and hypothyroidism are to blame. Other common reasons for the development of seborrhea in dogs include:
a. Fungal Infections (Malassezia Dermatitis)
Yeast is normally found on a dog’s skin, but if the growth goes into overdrive, it can cause dermatitis and inflammation. Interestingly, a fungal infection could be the cause of seborrhea or could be a secondary condition related to seborrhea.
There are close to 100 million obese dogs in America.
Overweight dogs tend to live shorter lives. In addition, obesity has a way of bringing on the types of hormonal disorders (like hypothyroidism) that trigger skin conditions like seborrhea.
c. Fleas and/or worms (internal and external)
I think it’s safe to assume we all know what fleas and worms are. We know what a nuisance they are and what they can do to a dog’s skin.
All that itching! Internal and external parasites need to be treated properly. That means continuous doses of appropriate medication (ask your veterinarian) in order to stop the cycle.
d. Poor Conditioning.
Poor conditioning can result from things like an injury, old age, arthritis, etc. Anything that limits your dog’s ability to groom can create conditions ripe for seborrhea in dogs.
e. The Environment
Your dog might be perfect for you, but not a good fit for the environment. Hot, humid weather isn’t right for some breeds just as cold, wet weather isn’t right for others.
f. Intestinal Malabsorption
This means that something is getting in the way of your dog absorbing vital nutrients. Intestinal malabsorption can be the result of a variety of things including SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), and pancreatic diseases including exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) which is common in dogs.
h. Vitamin Deficiencies
Vitamin deficiency could be the result of a poor diet or malabsorption. Vitamins important for health skin and immune function in dogs include vitamins A and C, all of the B vitamins ( biotin, folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin B-6, and vitamin B-12), vitamin D, E, K, and choline.
7. Is it Contagious?
Nope. Seborrhea in dogs is not contagious. However, the underlying cause of it could be contagious. There’s a risk of contagion from parasitic, bacterial, fungal and certain viral skin diseases. Conditions like mange (scabies), lice, and mites ARE contagious.
8. Should I Shampoo my Dog More Often?
It’s actually not a good idea to shampoo your dog more often, especially using the traditional dog shampoo you might buy at the store. The best thing you can do for your dog is talk to a licensed veterinarian or a licensed holistic vet about treatment options.
If you’d still like to shop around, do some research on quality brands like Earthbath Natural Pet Care.
The veterinarian will prescribe a medical-grade shampoo with specific instructions on how much and how often to shampoo your dog. In fact, the veterinarian may prescribe products that contain tacrolimus, glucocorticoids, and/or cyclosporin, all of which are good for seborrhea in dogs.
9. Is THIS Your Dog?
There are a handful of breeds thought to be more prone to seborrhea. Do you own one of the following breeds?
-West Highland White Terriers
Keep in mind that any dog can develop the condition. The breeds listed above are more predisposed due, in part, to genetics.
10. I Can’t Afford Veterinarian Treatment Options!
If you can’t afford veterinarian prescribed treatment options for seborrhea, try asking for a discount. If a small discount isn’t enough help, you might be able to try a “sample” of the product for free. Compare prices with other clinics and online in places like 1800PetMeds.com.
You might decide to try a holistic veterinarian; however, it may not be any cheaper. If you DO visit a holistic veterinarian, ask how you can make your own topical cream at home. Unfortunately, that might not be much cheaper either. It all depends on how expensive the ingredients are. At the end of the day, you might be just as well off buying the prescription.
11. Is Diet Change an Option?
If your dog is overweight, suffers from various allergies, or is fed a lot of unhealthy “human” food, you might want to try a diet change.
If there’s any chance that your dog could have an underlying condition, check with your veterinarian first. The thing is, some of the best dog food choices in the world may not be the best for your dog. It really depends on what’s going on inside your dog and the only way to get a clear diagnosis is through the vet.
Adding Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids to your dog’s diet might also be an option. A healthy diet combined with omega fatty acids could go a long way in helping your dog.
In most cases, diet change probably isn’t going to make a huge difference in treating seborrhea, especially if the underlying cause hasn’t been addressed.
12. How to Groom a Dog with Seborrhea
Ultimately, you’re going to find numerous products on the market that claim to cure seborrhea. Some probably work better than others and your veterinarian is the best person for advice. The product you choose will depend on whether your dog has oily or dry seborrhea.
Once you’ve settled on the right product for your dog, don’t overdo it. Too much grooming is as bad as too little. In the beginning, you might be instructed to wash/groom your dog a few times a week, gradually reducing the number of washes required.
Pay particular attention to cleaning the skin folds. Some dogs, like the Chinese Shar-Pei, pugs, and the bullmastiff, have numerous skin folds that need to be cleaned thoroughly.
After thoroughly cleaning inside the folds, it’s important to dab the area dry. Keeping moisture trapped against the skin will promote the development of yeast, worsening dermatitis, and hot spots.
13. What Do Ear Infections Have to do With Seborrhea in Dogs?
The waxy buildup of the oily-type of seborrhea is the perfect trap for bacterial growth. You might not even notice how much has accumulated if your dog has long, floppy ears. Even if you clean the outer ear, there is likely a lot more buildup much deeper in the ear canal that’s simply not safe for you to clean at home.
That stuff could have been sitting there for a long time…long before some of the other seborrhea symptoms became obvious. Over time, the buildup will lead to chronic ear infections that need to be treated with antibiotics.
14. Can I Make My Own Dog Soap?
The things you need to make homemade soap for your dog are likely things you have in your home right now. To start, you can use coconut oil, olive oil, and a base oil like almond oil. Certain essential oils might be acceptable in small amounts, as long as they’re not too strong.
Pinterest has a huge variety of soap recipes to choose from. Check out one of my faves: BloggerBlasts.com
I’ve never made any kind of soap in my life and I’m not really sure how to go about it. However, I do know that there are tons of great things you can add to the soap that, at the very least, could help with the itching.
It’s unlikely that any homemade soap is going to get rid of seborrhea in dogs. However, if you combine your home-made treatment with products that nab any underlying conditions (like parasites, for example), you just might be able to avoid flare-ups.
15. Will It Come Back?
The reality is, if you have a dog prone to skin conditions it will probably come back. There are some things you can do to avoid (or lessen the severity) flare-ups.
These include keeping on top of parasitic control, helping your dog maintain good hygiene (get in those skin folds!), being on the alert for the first signs of seborrhea to catch it quick, maintaining a healthy diet, and keeping regular check-ups with the veterinarian.
Let’s face it, seborrhea is not pleasant. It’s a smelly, greasy, flaky mess that’s going to make your dog feel miserable. Patches of fur loss is common in dogs who constantly itch. Skin can become inflamed, cracked, and vulnerable to bacterial infection. Don’t feel bad if your dog has seborrhea! Unfortunately, it’s a common thing. The best thing you can do is work with a licensed veterinarian to determine why your dog developed seborrhea in the first place. After that, all you can do is maintain a plan that will keep your dog healthy and happy over the long-term.
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Before you go, read: “How to Treat a Sebaceous Cyst on a Dog”
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