Seborrhea in Dogs

Courtesy of digital_image_fan / Flickr

Courtesy of digital_image_fan / Flickr

Let’s face it; dogs can stink from time to time. It can be caused by a pleasant dunk in the water, rolling around in a funky pile of leaves or a medical condition known as seborrhea. Caused by an overproduction of sebum, the oily exudation emits a scent every dog owner dreads. In other words, it is responsible for that rancid dog smell that sends people running for the hills.

Both forms of the disease, primary and secondary, produce flakes of dead skin as their most common symptom. These dandruff-like flakes can be either unctuous or dry, depending on the sebaceous glands. Shed from the hair follicles and the epidermis, the scales tend to stick to the hair or fur.

What causes seborrhea in dogs?

In most cases, an underlying medical issue is to blame. Common culprits include allergies, hormonal imbalances, parasites (fleas, ticks, and mites), infections (especially yeast infections), thyroid disease, Cushing’s disease, dietary deficiencies, environmental factors, obesity, and fungal infections. In rare cases, testing may not reveal any underlying medical problem.

At-risk breeds

Because they have different types of fur and hair, some breeds are more likely to suffer from the disease than others. Irish Setters, English Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Basset Hounds, Chinese Shar-Pei, and West Highland White Terriers are just a few of the breeds that are at an elevated risk of primary seborrhea. Most affected animals develop dry or greasy skin flakes that get caught in the coat. For obvious reasons, oily flakes are more likely to stick to the hair or fur, making them harder to remove, and much smellier to boot.

Problem areas for all affected breeds include the hocks, elbows, front of the neck and chest, and the hair that borders the ears.  Seborrhea that is oilier can also accumulate in the ear canals, which can cause a painful condition called ceruminous otitis.

Treatment of Seborrhea in Dogs

Although incurable, primary seborrhea is treatable. Rinses and shampoos for dogs  are used to control scale formation, which varies based on the specific problem. For example, if a pooch has mild dry flaking, he will require a moisturizing shampoo or rinse that rehydrates the skins and keeps scaling in check. For more severe flaking, however, he may need a shampoo that contains salicylic acid or sulfur; the same ingredients that are in most dandruff shampoos for human beings.

For oily seborrhea, moisturizing is obviously not the intention. The shampoos and rinses that are used to treat the condition contain ingredients that dry out the hair follicles, such as benzoyl peroxide and coal tar. Both have proven remarkably effective at removing the greasy flakes that stick to hair shafts like glue.

Ask your pet’s veterinarian about Oxiderm Antiseborrheic Pet Shampoo to help you fight seborrhea on your dog.

One alternative to shampoo that is meant to specifically address seborrhea is  DOUXO Seborrhea Spot-on. It is intended to be focused on troubled areas rather than be applied from head to tail, and can limit inflammation and infection.

Secondary seborrhea in dogs.

As the name implies, the secondary version of the disease is triggered by another disorder. Diseases that are frequently linked to secondary seborrhea include demodectic mange, hypothyroidism, scabies, canine atopy, dermatitis, flea allergies, hormone disorders, and others.

Because the symptoms are similar, secondary seborrhea is treated the same way as primary seborrhea. The only difference is the symptoms usually disappear as soon as the underlying disorder is identified and treated. It is for this reason that veterinarians always look for the primary cause when they encounter a case of seborrhea. Every now and then, they are faced with a case of secondary seborrhea that does not have a primary cause. These patients suffer from idiopathic seborrhea, which means that the cause is unknown. When this occurs, the dog’s doctor must simply manage the symptoms of the disease.

Complications of Seborrhea in Dogs

The most common symptom of both secondary and primary seborrhea is severe itching, which can result in subsequent medical conditions that are more serious than the disease itself. In particular, skin infections and folliculitis can be caused by excessive scratching. The former might be treated with a course of antibiotics, while the later can often be managed with anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids; both of which control itching and swelling.  Dietary supplements that contain omega-3 essential fatty acids from fish oil may also have salubrious effects on the skin and may help alleviate some of the more serious secondary symptoms of seborrhea, such as skin infections and folliculitis.

Pet parents are encouraged to ask their dog’s veterinarian about omega-6 topical applications to help reduce the symptoms of seborrhea.

When to seek veterinary care for seborrhea in dogs.

Dogs scratch themselves for lots of reasons. They might have fleas, ticks, mites, or skin, environmental, or food allergies. This makes diagnosing the disease difficult for pet parents who trust home remedies. It is for this reason that dog lovers be acutely aware of the more specific symptoms of the disease.  What are they?

Unlike fleas and ticks and any other irritants that cause your animal to scratch at his skin, seborrhea produces flaky, dandruff-like skin that is either oily or dry and often has an offensive odor. So, if your dog smells and he has itchy, flaky, red skin, odds are seborrhea is to blame.