Otherwise known as Seborrhea, dandruff in canines is characterized by dry, flaky skin, and often oily skin, however, in serious cases, it can also lead to hair loss. Here's a beginner's guide to Seborrhea, its symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention.
Depending on the breed of the dog, dandruff can present itself as either oily clumps of dead skin or dry flaky skin which can lead to excessive shedding and irritation.
Dandruff, or Seborrhea, often present themselves through many variants including, but not limited to Cheyletiellosis and Atopic dermatitis. This condition either manifest as oily lumps of dead skin which stick to the fur of breeds like Labradors, Spaniels, and Basset Hounds, or as dry skin flakes that dot the coats of Dobermans, German Shepherds, and Dachshunds.
This condition is sometimes accompanied by excessive shedding and itching. Seborrhea can be a primary cause or a secondary symptom of a more serious condition. While primary Seborrhea is an extremely rare genetic condition, secondary Seborrhea, which is much more common is often a symptom of a serious skin disease, hormonal imbalance, allergies, or parasitic infections. Environmental factors like dry air and extreme temperatures, grooming habits, diet etc., can also play a part in triggering this condition.
Consulting a vet at the onset of any signs of Seborrhea is highly recommended in order to diagnose the exact cause, in order to arrest and treat any underlying conditions. For instance, Cheyletiellosis, a highly contagious mite infection can easily get mistaken for an innocuous case of dandruff. The Cheyletiella mite, that lives in the keratin level of their host, often carry scales of dead skin, earning them the name ‘walking dandruff’. A simple skin scrape can help your vet diagnose this parasitic condition, which is easily treated with a course of insecticides. However, if left unchecked it can cause severe dry skin and irritation. In addition to the Cheyletiella mite, other parasites like Sarcoptic mange and Demodex mange can also present dandruff-like symptoms, though these infections are much more severe. While the Sarcoptic mange or canine scabies is characterized by irritation, hair loss and pimples, the Demodex causes dry skin, scaling and lesions around the eyes and face. All of these can be topically treated with medicated anti-parasite shapes and powders.
Dandruff is also one of the most common symptoms of allergies that dogs exhibit. A host of food intolerances, reactions to insect saliva and bites, and environmental irritants like pollen and dander, can present themselves as dandruff. This form of dandruff, diagnosed as Atopic dermatitis is often accompanied by other symptoms like skin inflammation and discolouration. Consulting with your vet can help narrow down the most likely allergens and help form a plan of action accordingly. While knowledge of your dog’s genetic history is key to ruling out any hereditary possibilities, a detailed blood screen along with an allergy panel helps determine your dog’s degree of intolerance to pests, foods, and environmental irritants.
After a diagnosis, it is important to supplement medication with a balanced diet plan and grooming routine. Though Atopic dermatitis never goes into complete remission, regularly bathing your dog in cold water along with anti-itching shampoos can help relieve discomfort. It is pertinent to only use vet-grade products to bathe and groom your dog to avoid further irritation. Additionally, your vet can also recommend corticosteroids and daily antihistamines to tackle environmental irritants. In more chronic cases, such as hypersensitivity, or atopy, hyposensitization therapy can also be recommended, where small doses of irritants are directly injected into the bloodstream to promote the growth of antibodies and create resistance to allergies. It is important to consult your vet regarding the best course of action, as treatment is entirely dependent on the degree of allergic responses and your dog’s reaction to medication. Many vets have taken to prescribing homoeopathic regimes to counter allergies. Though homoeopathy takes much longer to come into effect than allopathy, it is a much less invasive course of treatment and has proved to be beneficial in the long run.
While medical intervention is necessary to treat the underlying causes of dandruff, actively monitoring your dog’s health is key to its well-being. Though topical ointments can relieve dry skin and irritation to a great degree, nothing can substitute regular grooming and a healthy diet. In order to stimulate hair follicles, it is crucial to use a hard brush and provide adequate pressure while grooming. Regular grooming not only promotes a healthy coat but also induces a sense of well-being.
Along with regular grooming, a carefully monitored diet ensures that your canine’s nutritional requirements are met and prevents excessive weight gain. Canine obesity not only triggers dandruff but also leads to a host of other, more severe, and often lethal medical complications. Pre-prepared pet food already accommodates the dietary needs of your pet, though individual requirements might mandate extra supplements. Including omega rich meats like fish, or supplementing daily meals with Salmon oil goes a long way in ensuring a healthy coat and skin.
Further, there are additional measures that can be taken to relieve irritation and itchiness at the onset of seasonal allergies. There are special oils and sprays designed to lock in moisture, medicated sprays to help relieve itchiness, and anti-dandruff dog shampoos which can minimize the symptoms of Atopic dermatitis. Coconut oil massages before baths can prevent dry skin induced by frequent bathing, while a healthy fat-rich diet can improve the quality of fur. Finally, extreme itching and irritation brought on by dermatitis might also lead to a condition called Lick Granuloma, where constant licking creates wounds that penetrate several layers of skin. Contrary to popular belief, canine saliva instead of healing wounds, hosts a plethora of bacteria which infects small pockets in these wounds. What begins as small lesions, eventually become large, infested, patches.
A regime of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, and topical antibacterial creams are then prescribed. In extreme cases, additional surgical intervention might also be needed, where infected tissue is surgically removed. While an Elizabethan collar or cast might temporarily allow a Granuloma to heal, the canine might resume licking when they are removed. Constant irritation leads to habitual licking. Carefully monitoring your dog is thus crucial to warding off further discomfort.