Seborrhea in Dogs

Seborrhea in dogs is a common skin condition that can be caused by either excessively oily or excessively dry skin. It causes itching and excessive scaling of the skin. Here's what you should know about the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of canine seborrhea.

Types of Canine Seborrhea

Canine seborrhea often occurs as a complication of another skin disease. This type of seborrhea is known as secondary seborrhea. When seborrhea occurs by itself, it's called primary seborrhea. Primary seborrhea is often more difficult to treat, while treating secondary seborrhea often involves treating the underlying condition.

Primary seborrhea occurs more often in some breeds than in others. Breeds more vulnerable to primary seborrhea include:

  • West Highland White Terriers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Irish Setters
  • Basset Hounds
  • American Cocker Spaniels
  • English Springer Spaniels
  • Chinese Sharpei
  • German Shepherds

Secondary seborrhea may occur as a complication of one of the following skin conditions or parasitic infestations of the skin:

  • Food or flea allergy dermatitis
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Canine atopy
  • Demodectic mange
  • Scabies
  • Color mutant alopecia
  • Pemphigus foliaceus

Symptoms of Seborrhea in Dogs

Seborrhea causes excessive flaking of the skin, especially on the elbows, chest, throat, ears and hocks. Seborrhea may cause skin to be too dry or too oily. If skin is too oily, ear wax can accumulate inside the ears, causing an infection of the ear canal. Seborrhea can cause extreme itchiness of the skin, and skin lesions may appear.

Dogs with seborrhea are often at an increased risk of skin infections, because the condition can encourage the growth of yeast and bacteria on the animals' skin. Skin lesions and injuries caused by scratching can make infections worse. 

Diagnosing Seborrhea in Dogs

Your vet will need a thorough physical exam and complete medical history in order to diagnose seborrhea in your dog. Your vet will need to know details about your dog's skin symptoms, including when they first appeared. If your dog has multiple skin symptoms, your vet will need to know the order in which they appeared.

Your vet will need to rule out all possible underlying causes of secondary seborrhea before a diagnosis of primary seborrhea. Numerous tests may be necessary, including skin swabs and skin biopsies. If your dog is suffering from secondary seborrhea, these tests can pinpoint the cause and make treatment possible. If your dog is suffering from primary seborrhea, your vet will confirm it by eliminating all possible underlying causes.

Treating Seborrhea in Dogs

If your dog is suffering from secondary seborrhea, treatment will involve resolving or controlling the underlying condition. If your dog's seborrhea is primary, shampoos and rinses can control scaling and flaking. Your dog's shampoos and rinses will be moisturizing if your dog is suffering from dry skin seborrhea, but more astringent if he's got oily-skin seborrhea.

In addition to shampoos and rinses, your dog may need anti-fungal or antibacterial medication to treat any yeast or bacterial skin infections due to his seborrhea. Treatment with anti-fungal and antibacterial drugs may need to continue for several weeks, depending on the severity of your dog's infection.