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Dandruff in Pets: Causes and Treatments

Black cat laying down

Are tiny white flakes popping up on your pet’s fur or the places they like to hang out (like your bed)? If your pet has dandruff, you might start drumming up images of a Head & Shoulders commercial. But unlike humans, your furry friend doesn’t just deal with flakes on their head but lots of other places too. It’s actually pretty common, so how do you get rid of dandruff in pets?

What Does Pet Dandruff Look Like?

Pet dandruff looks similar to human dandruff. It’s small, white flakes that show up primarily on your pet’s back and near the tail. These white flakes are dead skin cells that shed and hang out on your dog or cat’s fur.

If you want to get technical, the scientific name for dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis. But no matter what you call it, this condition can often be a sign of underlying issues. If it’s just an occasional nuisance that goes away in a few days, it’s likely no big deal. However, if it’s persistent, then it’s essential to pinpoint the root cause of your pet’s dandruff problem.

How Does Your Pet Get Dandruff?

The sebaceous glands in your pet’s skin produce an oil called sebum that keeps your pal’s skin moist and supple. However, if the glands produce too much or too little oil, it creates an imbalance between new and dying skin cells, leading to dandruff.

There are two main types of dandruff, dry (seborrhea sicca) and oily (seborrhea oleosa), or your pet can have a combination of the two. Dry seborrhea results from inadequate sebum, while oily seborrhea results from an excessive amount.

Many different things can lead to dandruff, so it might be tricky to pinpoint a cause without a trip to the vet. However, here are some of the common issues that can cause dandruff in pets.

  • Poor Diet or Malnutrition — Your pet might lack the essential nutrients necessary to maintain a healthy coat and skin. A poor diet can also lead to obesity, which could make it difficult for pets to groom themselves.
  • Too Many Baths — Keeping your pet clean is a significant component of their overall health. But too many baths could strip your pet’s coat of the oils they need to keep their skin and coat in tip-top shape.
  • Buildup in the Coat — If you don’t brush your pet regularly, dead skin cells, dirt, loose hairs, parasites, and other unpleasantries build up in their coat. These elements can affect the overall health of your pet’s skin.
  • Fungal or bacterial infections — Various infections may cause dandruff as they attack weakened or damaged skin.
  • Allergies — If your pet has allergies, they could experience dry skin which could contribute to dandruff.
  • Stress — Stress manifests in a variety of ways encompassing social, emotional, and physical issues. If your pet is stressed, one way they could be showing it is through their dandruff.
  • External Parasites (like fleas, ticks, mites, etc.) — Fleas and ticks and similar parasites create itchy skin, making your pet scratch and irritate their skin. If your pet’s dandruff looks like it's moving, then they might have “walking dandruff.” This isn’t dandruff at all. It’s tiny mites known as Cheyletiella.
  • Underlying Health Problems — There are also several underlying health conditions that can cause dandruff, including arthritis, diabetes, autoimmune skin disorders, hormonal conditions, and cancer.

Does My Pet Have Dandruff?

Aside from the white flakes on your pet’s fur and on the places they’ve been, how else can you tell if your fur baby has dandruff?

You may notice hair loss, excessive scratching, frequent bacteria or yeast infections, excessive licking, or skin hyperpigmentation. Their skin might feel greasy, and they may have a foul odor because of the extra sebum. If you notice any of these signs, it’s best to see your vet as soon as possible.

Small dog in bath tub

Seven Ways to Treat Dandruff in Pets and Help Prevent It

Here are seven things to do if you suspect your pet has dandruff.

1. Take Your Pet to the Vet

Since there are so many potential causes of dandruff, many of which are from infections or underlying issues, a trip to the vet is wise. Discuss your concerns with your veterinarian and let them examine your pet.

Based on the exam and various lifestyle factors, your vet will narrow down the potential causes of your pet’s dandruff. They’ll create a treatment plan with you and also rule out any underlying problems.

If there is a more serious condition at play, your vet will order the necessary tests to reach a diagnosis. If the dandruff is a symptom of a more serious problem, your pet’s doctor will devise the proper care plan. They will also prescribe any necessary medications for your pet.

2. Give Your Pet an Oatmeal Bath

An oatmeal bath can help soothe irritated and inflamed skin. Oatmeal shampoos are available at pet stores and online. Or you can create your own using warm water, baking soda, and uncooked oatmeal.

Mix one cup of uncooked, ground oatmeal with one quart of warm water and ½ cup of baking soda. Wet your dog (or cat if they're willing) and add the mixture slowly as you would shampoo. Let the oatmeal bath sit on your pet for a few minutes before rinsing your pet thoroughly.

3. Brush Your Pet Regularly

Brushing helps keep your pet’s coat healthy and shiny. It distributes the oils in your pet’s skin throughout their coat, and it gets rid of loose hair, dirt, and debris, preventing buildup.

4. Try a Humidifier

If your pet’s dealing with dry skin, using a humidifier for your pet could help combat the effects. However, be careful with what type of humidifier you use and where you put it. Use a cool mist humidifier without essential oils or fragrances, and keep it out of reach of your furry friend.

5. Keep Your Pet on Flea and Tick Prevention

Make sure to stay up-to-date on your pet’s flea and tick prevention. You typically need to give these products to your pet on a set schedule for them to be most effective. Talk with your vet about the best types of prevention for your pet and your lifestyle.

6. Ease Your Pet’s Stress

If stress seems to be the culprit for your pet’s skin issues, talk with your vet about ways to reduce their anxious feelings. Using products like calming sprays or diffusers or the Neat-Lik treat mat gives your pet ways to ease their stress and help them self-soothe.

7. Feed Your Pet a Balanced Diet

Make sure your pet eats the proper types of food and an adequate amount of food each day. Avoid overfeeding your dog or cat, including things like treats and chews. If you’re unsure about how much food should go in your pet’s dish, discuss a proper diet plan with your vet.

Keeping Your Pet Dandruff-Free

Many times, a little dandruff isn’t a reason for major concern. However, if it’s persistent, it could be a sign of a larger problem. Therefore, always check things out with your vet before assuming anything. Feed your pet a balanced diet, brush them regularly, and avoid overbathing. 

Provide your dog or cat with ample opportunities to reduce stress, and stay current on flea and tick prevention. Regardless of your pet’s dandruff status, these are all good things to practice for their overall health. Check out the rest of the Neater Pets blog to learn about other ways to up your pet-parenting game.


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