Dandruff/Flaky Skin in Dogs

When the quality of your dog’s coat changes, when they start having skin issues, you need to look past skin and coat.

There is a reason for everything that happens in the body. Skin problems are no exception. So what could be the reason behind your dog’s dandruff, then?

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Dandruff/Flaky Skin

If you google dry, flaky skin in dogs, most results you find are how to treat your dog. Your dog’s coat full of white flakes is not aesthetically pleasing, and you want to fix that. That’s all fine and dandy, and sometimes home remedies might help, but …

For example, when Jasmine started suffering from dandruff–among other things–she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism shortly after. And guess what? Once we treated her hypothyroidism, the dandruff went away too.

That was also the only time any of my dogs had dandruff.

Why could your dog get flaky skin?

There are some relatively benign causes, such as

  • lack of grooming
  • poor choice of dog shampoo
  • too many or too few baths

Don’t forget, though, that by allowing the skin to remain unhappy, you’re begging for further trouble down the road. Your dog’s skin is like a protective armor; take good care of it.

Strangely enough, humid rather than dry conditions are more likely to contribute to skin issues.

Nutritional deficiencies

Fatty acids

If your dog’s skin is like an armor, natural skin oils are like a power shield.

Not enough omega fatty acids in the diet will reflect in the skin before you can see problems elsewhere. These fats are vital; fortunately, fixing this problem is easy by adding more linoleic acid and/or omega-3 fatty acids to your dog’s diet.

Officially, it is only the omega-6 (linoleic acid) that is essential. However, the debate about the essentiality of omega-3 is not over for many reasons. As well as omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and can help battle skin issues that are rooted in allergies.

Omega-6 fatty acids/
linoleic acid

The only fatty acid AAFCO considers essential is linoleic acid because dogs cannot make it within their bodies. It is an unsaturated omega-6 fatty acid.

Linoleic acid is vital for

  • healthy skin and coat
  • the health of sebaceous glands
  • wound healing
  • hydration/water barrier function
Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are not officially considered essential. However, they are known to be beneficial for dogs because of their anti-inflammatory properties.

Because of their anti-inflammatory action, they can help with inflammatory skin conditions, such as environmental or food allergies or skin disorders that are autoimmune in nature.

Skin health can often improve simply by optimizing omega fatty acids in the dog’s diet. Of course, a high-quality diet should contain ideal amounts of these fats. But even then, these can get damaged by prolonged or improper storage.

Other nutrients

Deficiencies in other nutrients that work to promote healthy function of the immune system, such as zinc, can also be at play. Zinc is involved in a long list of biological processes. It is also required for the body to utilize fatty acids.

Allergies and inflammation

When the skin is irritated and inflamed, it cannot maintain a normal function. Further, if your dog scratches their itchy skin, it adds fuel to the existing fire.

.That can result in flaky skin and even infections, which only worsen the problem.

Endocrine disorders

Endocrine disorders that mess with cellular turnover and maintenance will quickly reflect in the skin. That includes

  • hypothyroidism or diabetes–not enough energy is available for normal function
  • Cushing’s disease–available resources are redirected to a fight or flight state, and normal maintenance is put on hold

Dermal symptoms of these endocrine disorders can include

  • dull coat
  • hair loss
  • increased skin pigmentation
  • skin infections
  • thin or dull coat
  • bacterial skin infections
  • yeast infections
  • ear infections
  • allergic dermatitis
Cushing’s disease
  • thin skin
  • loss of elasticity
  • susceptibility to skin infections
  • hair loss
  • darkening of the skin
  • scaly patches
  • unexplained bruising

Non-dermal symptoms that come with these conditions can include

  • weight gain
  • lethargy
  • low energy
  • intolerance to cold
  • increased thirst and urination
  • increased hunger
  • unexplained changes in weight
  • weakness
  • lethargy
  • vomiting
Cushing’s disease
  • excessive thirst
  • increased urination
  • increased hunger
  • excessive panting
  • pot-belly appearance


I’d be surprised by a primary bacterial skin infection case unless there was significant trauma to the skin’s protective barrier, such as trauma or surgery. Most of the time, they happen because some other vital function has broken down.

Parasites and fungal infections can be a different story, as some of them are very contagious. There is even a parasitic infection called walking dandruff, cheyletiella mites. It is the mites themselves that look like dandruff. Yikes.

Immune dysfunction

When the immune system becomes unable to perform its function typically, there are two possible scenarios

  • you have either an immune system that lets invaders run the place
  • or one that goes wild and attacks the very body its meant to protect

Allergies are one example, but there are more conditions where the immune system goes haywire. And with underlying systemic issues, it might not get sufficient energy or nutrition to do its work.


Sebaceous glands are the glands responsible for excreting their oily matter to lubricate the skin and hair. Seborrhea is a term describing the dysfunction of these glands. Notice that the word ends the same as diarrhea. Yes, the problem has to do with unruly flow.

There are two types of this disorder, oily and dry. But often, a dog might suffer from a combination of the two. Some breeds have a genetic predisposition to suffer from seborrhea. More often than not, it is a problem secondary to another disease process, as listed above.

If flaky skin is the only problem I can see, I’m willing to revisit my dog’s diet and grooming regime first. I wouldn’t go trying out things for too long, though. If my dog had flaky skin and any other symptom, be it itchiness, frequent infections, lethargy, or anything else under the sun, I’d want to investigate rather than experiment.

In conclusion

Before you grab a dandruff shampoo at your pet store, consider that skin issues are not skin-deep.

Related articles:
6 Causes of Dog Dandruff (And How to Treat It)

Further reading:
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Dull, Dry Coat

Categories: DandruffFlaky skinSymptoms

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Jana Rade edited by Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience. Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc is our wonderful sponsor and has been kind to edit and fact-check my important articles.

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