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Seborrhea in Dogs

By | Last Updated: 7th July 2018

What is seborrhea

Seborrhea, commonly called seborrheic dermatitis, is a skin disease that commonly occurs in dogs, and is characterized by an excessively oily, greasy, and flaky skin [1, 2]. It affects the areas rich in sebaceous glands, either causing them to overproduce sebum (a thick, oily secretion) or developing dryer skin that often flakes off [3].

Seborrhea in Dogs

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of canine seborrhea vary depending on its type:

Types of canine seborrhea

  1. Seborrhea oleosa or oily seborrhea [3]
  2. Seborrhea sicca or dry seborrhea [3]
  3. A combination of both the oily and dry forms [3]

In canine seborrhea, it is mostly a combination of seborrhea oleosa and sicca [1, 3] and its visible symptoms are:

  • Whitish, scaly, flaky skin (dandruff) on the face, flanks, and along the back, which can be seen on your dog’s bedding and the places where it lies [3, 4]
  • Redness, inflammation, and itching at the affected part with an oily or dry feel [3]
  • A distinctive odor, caused by the greasy substance exuding from the affected area [2]. The odor may worsen with the occurrence of further complications ( especially when occurring due to a secondary yeast or bacterial infection) [3]
  • Hair loss (alopecia) [4]
  • Thick crusted skin [4]

What causes seborrheic dermatitis in dogs

Primary seborrhea

In some cases, seborrhea is an inherited disorder (idiopathic or primary seborrhea), and the exact cause cannot be determined [1, 3].

Secondary seborrhea

Most often the condition in dogs is associated with an underlying health problem, in which case it is called a secondary seborrhea [2, 3]. Some of the medical conditions that may lead to seborrhea include:

  • Allergies [3, 4]
  • Internal and external parasites (like ticks, fleas, and mange mites) [3, 4]
  • Hormonal imbalances (such as thyroid disorder and Cushing’s disease) [3]
  • Fungal and bacterial infections, particularly yeast infections caused by Malassezia [3]
  • Obesity [4]
  • Temperature or humidity changes [3, 4]
  • Dietary deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids [1, 3]
  • Musculoskeletal pain or disease that prevents the dog from grooming itself properly [3]

Dogs more at risk for primary seborrhea

It commonly occurs before the dog is two years old, and progresses all through its life [2]. Dog breeds that are genetically predisposed to idiopathic seborrhea are:

  • English Springer Spaniels [5]
  • German Shepherds [2]
  • Golden Retrievers [5]
  • Dachshunds [2, 5]
  • Labrador Retrievers [2]
  • American Coker Spaniels [2]
  • West Highland White Terriers [5]
  • Basset Hounds [2, 5]
  • Shar-Peis [2]
  • Doberman Pinschers [2]

Another type of the condition, called ear margin seborrhea, is common in dog breeds with pendulous ears including Dachshunds and Cocker Spaniels [8].

Is it contagious

Seborrhea is not known to be contagious from dogs to humans or vice-versa.

Diagnosis of seborrheic dermatitis

After the initial assessment of your dog’s symptoms, a comprehensive physical examination of its skin and internal organ system may be done for identifying all possible underlying causes [5]. The following laboratory tests and procedures may help in diagnosing canine seborrhea:

  • Blood tests like CBC (complete blood cell count) and serum chemistry for determining underlying conditions or electrolytic imbalances [3].
  • Skin culture for confirming underlying fungal and bacterial infections [3].
  • Examination of dead skin layers (scraping) and tissue samples (cytology) [3].
  • Hormone tests for Cushing’s and thyroid diseases [3].
  • Skin biopsy for infections, cancer, or other disorders [3].

Diagnosis of idiopathic seborrhea is made only when no underlying conditions suggesting a secondary seborrhea are found [2, 3].

Treatment for seborrhea in dogs

The treatment of seborrheic dermatitis in dogs involves controlling the symptoms, frequent monitoring, and focusing on eliminating the cause [4].

Treating with medicated antiseborrheic shampoos

A combination of mild, antiseborrheic shampoos and conditioners is considered to be one of the most effective treatments since it may help in lessening flakes, keeping your dog’s skin clean, and alleviating redness or itchiness [2, 4]. Ingredients commonly found in medicated shampoos include coal tar, salicylic acid, sulfur, propylene glycol, selenium sulfide, benzoyl peroxide, and fatty acids [5].

Sprays and moisturizers may be used between baths or after shampooing because it helps prevent loss of water from your dog’s skin [2, 5]. Consult your vet regarding the amount of shampoo and the number of baths that works best for your pet.

Do not use human shampoo on your dog without talking to your vet.

Treating seborrhea in dogs with medication

  • For treating hormonal imbalance, oral medications may be prescribed [4].
  • If your pet’s seborrheic dermatitis is caused by an allergic reaction, your vet may first recommend a diet change to find out what food may be triggering the allergy [4].
  • In case the allergy is a severe form of autoimmune response, an immunosuppressive drug like oral cyclosporine may be prescribed [3, 4].

As shown in a study, treating idiopathic seborrhea with an oral retinoid may successfully treat it [3]. Antibiotic and antifungal therapies may be needed for treating secondary infections [2].

Natural home remedies for seborrhea in dogs

Your vet may recommend omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin or mineral supplements in cases of dietary deficiencies [2]. Giving natural supplements with digestive enzymes and vitamins A, C, and E may also be beneficial for your dog’s skin [6].

In addition to strengthening its immunity, herbs like sarsaparilla, red clover, and Oregon grape found in supplements may help in detoxifying blood [6].

Applying a topical solution of 50 percent apple cider vinegar mixed with 50 percent water on the affected areas may help with itchy skin due to seborrhea caused by secondary yeast infections [7].

According to some dog-owners, a bunch of fresh or dried thyme or rosemary boiled in one liter of water may be used to bathe your pet for a mild seborrhea, whereas coconut oil may also be applied for reducing odor and minimizing allergic reactions.

Consult your vet before trying these remedies.

Prognosis for canine seborrhea

The recovery rate of secondary seborrhea depends on the severity of your dog’s condition and how quickly its cause has been pinpointed and treated [3, 4]. The Idiopathic form on the other hand, is not curable, but with proper treatment it is possible to keep the symptoms in check [2].


    1. Seborrhea in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment – Revivalanimal.com
    2. Skin Disease (Canine Seborrhea) in Dogs – Petmd.com
    3. Seborrhea in Dogs – Vcahospitals.com
    4. Skin Disease (Canine Seborrhea) in Dogs – Wagwalking.com
    5. Seborrhea in Dogs – Msdvetmanual.com
    6. Canine Seborrhea – Natural-dog-health-remedies.com
    7. 3 Simple Ways Apple Cider Vinegar Can Help Your Dog – Dogsnaturallymagazine.com
    8. Ear Margin Seborrhea – Msdvetmanual.com

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