By: Scott Richmond
Don’t use a dandruff shampoo made for people. By: Scott Richmond

Dogs, just like people, can get dandruff — an annoying, uncomfortable skin condition.

Technically known as seborrhea, dandruff is caused by dry skin. Dandruff is made up of dead skin cells that fall from the skin. When it clumps together, it looks like white flakes.

You may notice scabs or bumps accompanying the flaky skin, and your dog may be scratching himself more than normal. Look for thinning or balding patches on the coat, as these might indicate a particularly severe problem.


5 Possible Causes

As with humans, dandruff can be a result of many factors in your dog’s health. Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Allergies: Common allergens range from dust and pollens to household cleaners to certain foods. Sometimes an allergen will cause a topical reaction — that is, a reaction only where the allergen directly touches your dog. Sometimes an allergen can affect areas it doesn’t even touch.
  2. Chyletiella mites: Also referred to as “walking dandruff,” these white mites make themselves comfortable in a dog’s skin and coat while they lay eggs. They make life miserable for your dog.
  3. Fungal skin infections/bacteria: If your dog has an underlying skin condition, it could affect his whole body instead of a localized area.
  4. Low humidity: If you live in an especially dry area, the air in your home might be stripping your dog’s skin of moisture, which means he will scratch frequently. This scratching will only worsen existing skin conditions.
  5. Poor diet: If your dog isn’t getting enough water to drink or enough vitamins, minerals and fat from his food, his coat will probably suffer.


  • Bathing: Regular baths will help wash away the dandruff before it can accumulate in the coat. During the winter, 1 bath a month will suffice. During the summer, 2 baths a month should keep the coat healthy and clean. Use warm water and a mild shampoo, and thoroughly rinse and dry your dog.
  • Dandruff shampoo for dogs: Certain pet shampoos are designed to prevent and eliminate dandruff. The active ingredient will be either sulfur or salicylic acid. Keep in mind that a dandruff shampoo designed for humans will be too harsh for your dog, so using Head & Shoulders is a bad idea.
  • Improve the diet: Switch to a high-quality brand of pet food that contains enough fat (the good kind, not just bacon grease), and consider investing in a good nutritional supplement. Put several water dishes throughout the house so your dog will always have access to fresh water.
  • Oatmeal magic: People with dry skin often use an oatmeal bath or oatmeal soap to help relieve itching and get rid of dandruff. The same thing will work for your dog. The easiest way to do this is to use an oatmeal shampoo, which is “particularly effective on dry skin,” according to Bud Stuart, DVM. You can buy Viva La Spa oatmeal dog shampoo from Pets Adviser. We have a conditioner, too.
  • Brushing: Treat your dog to a good brushing session once a day. This helps distribute the natural oils from the coat and massage the skin, which promotes oil production.
  • See your vet: Your veterinarian will be able to properly diagnose your dog and advise on treatment and prevention. If your dog has allergies, for example, your vet might prescribe a topical ointment, antihistamines or fish oil capsules. If the allergen can be avoided or eliminated, that’s probably the best option.

* * *

This article was written by Samaiyah Islam, who writes about pet care on behalf of Pet Medical Center of Edmond.

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  • Laurie P

    I had no idea that Cairns were more susceptible to dandruff. The mites under causes sounds gross as well as miserable for the poor dogs. Ewww! Poor babies. Where do these mites come from and is there a treatment to prevent them or kill them once they are present?

    • Cynthia

      Hi Laurie may I ask.. Are you still struggling with this kind of issue? If so, I can reply to you here or faster via email if you still need help, at answers@immuneiq(com) – Cynthia

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      Thanks Sharon. That’s really cool.

  • awesomegal

    Thank you for the info on doggy dandruff! I wouldn’t have known what was wrong! I’m sure glad my dog lexie doesn’t have fleas or severe dandruff! I must be lucky!

  • Gundi

    Can a dog develop bad dandruff if he has cancer?

  • Rachel Morales

    I have always noticed my hound mix scratching but I know she doesn’t have fleas. It wasn’t until this morning scratching her that I noticed the white flakes coming off her. Daisy has always been on a good diet (purina one) and the only shampoo I’ve ever used on her is a mild oatmeal shampoo designed for frequent thing, which she gets. Have I been bathing her too much (at least twice a month)? Her trouble area has always been her back right at the base of her tail, could it be mites? Help! :(

    • rich

      I am no expert, but our coon hound “Buddy” was allergic to literally every single dry food on the market. We ended up boiling great pots of rice and adding either chicken thighs or pork(whichever was on sale) cooked in a crock pot with a mixed veg added after cooking for vitamins/minerals and not only could Bud not wait to eat, but his coat, attitude, energy-level, and comfort were on an orbit to were they had been: I felt like I had been torturing him with store bought food…turns out there is a chance some of the euthanasia drugs can stay in the meat of the sick animals used in dog food. I don’t know if that is a fact of all brands, but, just hearing that it was a possibility made the labor intensive rice making worthwhile.

  • Nisa W

    My dog is half pitbull and half German shepherd but her coat is short like the pitbull side in her. I noticed within spring and fall her dandruff and excessive shedding is more prominent. I am a little worried though that I may not be dealing with it to the best of my ability. During spring and fall I try and bathe her at least once a month with oatmeal shampoo and try and brush her as often as I can to help her shedding. I also feed her Actrium adult dog food. Is there anything else I can do to ensure she is getting the best treatment?

  • Jean

    My dog doesn’t have flaking but he has a very fine powder on his coat. It’s like baby powder. Is this considered dandruff? Has anyone every had this before?

  • Grace Sia

    My dog is a shih tzu and we live in a tropical country. When she was younh she doesnt have this but when she grew up she started to have flakes , bad smell, itchy skin that most of the times she hurt herself while scratching and you can just see the blood in parts of her body. we tried everything but nothing seems to be working on her.

    • Iris Chua

      Hi grace

      Exactly the same as my shih tzu. May I know if you are able to fix your dogs skin prob?

  • Rich

    Our dog Max was a rescue tagged as a lab, but gimme a break, he is a pit bull! I love him, my five year old son loves every thing about him except trying to walk when Max wants to GO! Poor pup, He has dandruff and he smells like corn chips in as little as three days after a bathing. I brush, scratch, massage, bathe, and love on him, but the poor guy needs relief. I am going to try the shampoos, but I sure wish there were OTC meds for pupulups like there are for peepaleeps.

  • Chooki

    Our Miniature Pinschers are fed a Raw Diet. Rena, age 5, had a fungal ear infection and quite bad dandruff when we got her. This has improved somewhat in the eight months we have had her, but she is still flaking a lot and her coat smells. Marty, age eighteen months, was starved and had a sparse coat and no hair on his ears. He is fine now – no dandruff.

    I have been using Vetadine as a shampoo and treatment with no appreciable result.

  • Brittany

    I have a black German Shepherd puppy. He’s a little over 3 months old. I just noticed today when I took him outside that he had a bunch of dandruff. He drinks a crap ton of water and we make sure we get him dog food that only had a first ingredient of meat in it. Not sure why he would have dandruff! I didn’t even know this was possible for dogs.

  • Loni

    The love of my life , an eight year old chuweenie/puggles mix has had a very soft shinny coat her entire life. From the day I got her I’ve only bought the best dog foods ( Origen /tryed timber wolf ) and also make sure to feed her steamed extremely diced up veggies with boiled chicken/steak and the juices from the meat poured over the veggies and meat over rice at least two times a week. The last few months I had to pick up another job and spend my free time taking her on her long hikes but not preparing her homemade food.Sense this her skin has been flaking and itching like a snow storm. I tried a few of the expensive oatmeal shampoos and none of them worked I even tried aloe and ground up some whole oat oatmeal and lathered on her. She would stop itching for a couple of days but the flakes where still there. After researching numerous sites and natural remedy cures .. Nothing changed. The only thing I didn’t try was going back to her homemade food feeling confident that her food had more than enough nutrition in it for her health. WRONG! Sure enough..the very next week after making her homemade dishes..the dandruff became less and less and is almost gone.

  • Morgan

    I am 14 and a female…. I picked out my dog at a animal shelter called paws, I have had her for about 6-8 years… So I pay a lot of attention to her. She is a German Shepard and I have noticed that she has been having dandruff in the middle of her nose and head also on her neck and back? I told my mom we need to get her some medicine from pets smart but i don’t know what’s the best to help her condition… :(

  • aaron

    I rescued my dog he is half blue tick half put bull he’s a beautiful black and white tall pit bullish looking with real faint hound features and a loving sweetheart had been tied out neglected starved and beat up and filthy…now in a loving household plenty of food & water care and baths an so on he looks so much better no ribs showing now but now he’s having skin and coat problems and cannot get rid of his fleas he’s digging his hind end bare in shoots and bad dandruff. It breaks my heart to see him in discomfort…any help wud b appreciated

  • pooja thakkar

    hi…yes my dog is suffering from dandruff n lots of itching…pls tell me what can I do….he has hairfall too..there is something look like pimples are also in his skin

  • Aaron

    My dog has chewed through the fur and is now chewing at her skin at the base of her tail. I am considering purchasing a cone until this subsides.

  • Calvin

    I have the same issue with my black lab max is 2 and has had skin conditions since I rescued him wandering in a field recently I’ve noticed the dandruff after adding fish oil to his food he cleared up and lost the itch i recommend using fish oil on the food I didn’t have a very good luck with the capsules and tablets but the oil in the bottle worked great and the love the taste

  • Ivy jones

    I recently adopted a 6 month old Yorkie. She scratched all of the time, so I had her groomed, and treated her for fleas. That didn’t help, so I changed her diet to grain free. The scratching got better, she only scratches first thing in the morning, I feed her twice a day , so I don’t think it’s the food. She has only ever scratched the back half of her body and I have noticed big flakes of dandruff on that part of her body also. Any ideas?

  • Pets Adviser

    Hi, everyone. Thanks for reading. As a reminder, these comments are not monitored by vets, and unfortunately we are not able to offer advice about individual conditions. So please consult your veterinarian for appropriate guidance about your pet’s specific condition. As always, in cases of emergency, call your vet or animal hospital immediately.

  • Angie Brook

    My black Chihuahua had itchy skin, bad dandruff and was scratching & biting her paws. She was being fed the best dry food, then the vet put her on a hypo allergenic dry food, helped for a while but her poops were runny. For the past year I have been feeding her a raw diet of chicken, beef, lamb, oily fish, cooked veg, dried liver for treats. She is bathed twice a month in I Love Pet Head (I am feeling flaky). I also keep her off the grass as she seems to bite at her paws and scratch, so I am thinking she is allergic to grass as well . To my delight her itching has stopped, NO dandruff, coat smells lovely and is really shiny. I will never go back to feeding her dry food ever again. Hope my info helps xx

  • patrica

    My baby shih tzu is suffering from a severe dandruff condition? what will I do??? My mom is combing her everyday and giving her a bath just enough.. I feel so sad for her what can we do? fish oil or cvod liver oil will work for her? or vitamin E?

  • Tiph

    I have two lab hound mixes they started getting pretty bad dandruff but big flaky pieces too. I don’t know if because of the weather change or because they aren’t drinking enough water. And one of their tails is starting to lose quite a bit of hair which has never happened. But they are on a high protein diet and we have a great brand for them as well. I don’t know what to do because I also bathe them appropriately.

  • Midhun

    Please some one help me my dog is having a massive dandruff problem its a labrador retriver 7 months lod .everyday im grooming her and bathing but i usually bath her at 4.30 pm .on every next day when i go to my dog to clean her up dadruff is sticken to her body massively. now her fur is loosing from her body im using episoothe shampoo for bathing.

  • Sumit Singh

    Consider using a dandruff shampoo such as head and shoulders. I use it on my dogs and so does my veterinarian.

  • steph45

    My dog is a pomerian/border collie mix. I have had her for about 3-4 weeks she is a rescue puppy probably 11-12 weeks now? And just today i noticed her side had alot dandruff. She didnt have that before. And we used oatmeal shampoo to bathe her yesterday. What happened overnight?