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Seborrhea in Dogs: What Causes It, Symptoms and How to Treat It

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It can be disheartening when you notice your beloved pup is experiencing skin issues - and even more worrisome when the underlying cause remains elusive. Your dog's skin condition could be caused by a variety of factors, including seborrhea. This common skin disorder affects many dog breeds, but certain ones are more prone to it than others.

This skin condition can be very uncomfortable for your canine friend, and if left untreated, it can cause an increased risk of secondary bacterial infections. By becoming informed on what causes seborrhea in dogs, prevention and treatment options will become much clearer for both you and your pet.

In this article, we will discuss the root causes of seborrhea and provide tips to help manage this condition so that your pup can get back to feeling its best!

giving paw

What is Seborrhea in Dogs?

Seborrhea, also called "seborrheic dermatitis," is a dermatological condition that affects the production of keratin, a crucial protein that provides structure and strength to the skin and hair.

Improper production of keratin leads to flaky, scaly, and itchy skin. There are two types of canine seborrhea, primary and secondary.

Types of Seborrhea

  1. Primary seborrhea is a genetic disorder that occurs when a dog inherits a faulty gene from its parents. It can develop at any age but is commonly seen in young adults.

  2. Secondary seborrhea is a result of an underlying condition, including bacterial skin infections or yeast infections, endocrine disorders, allergies, or parasites. These conditions can cause a disruption in the natural balance of oils and bacteria on the skin, leading to excessive oil production, inflammation, and further skin damage.

What Causes Seborrhea in Dogs?

Determining the root cause of your dog's seborrhea comes down to whether it is a primary or a secondary condition.

Let's dive into the details of what causes seborrhea in dogs so you can make sure that your furry friend gets the proper diagnosis and treatment.

Primary Seborrhea

Primary seborrhea is a congenital, genetic disease commonly seen in breeds such as West Highland White Terriers, Basset Hounds, American Cocker Spaniels, and English Springer Spaniels. This type of seborrhea typically starts at a young age and worsens as the dog gets older.

Secondary Seborrhea

There are several potential causes of secondary seborrhea, including skin allergies to fleas, food, and environmental factors. Hormonal imbalances, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing's disease, have also been linked to secondary seborrhea.

Other contributing factors may include parasitic infestations such as mites and lice, autoimmune diseases like pemphigus foliaceus, sebaceous adenitis, and lupus, cutaneous epitheliotropic lymphoma, diabetes mellitus, and vitamin deficiencies like zinc-responsive dermatosis and vitamin A-responsive dermatosis.

It is essential to note that identifying the underlying cause of seborrhea in dogs is crucial to its proper treatment and management. Therefore, seeking veterinary attention is recommended, especially when the condition persists or worsens despite home remedies or over-the-counter treatments.

Early diagnosis and intervention can significantly improve the prognosis so if you have already noticed changes in your pup's skin, it is best to seek veterinary assistance.

skin rash

Symptoms of Seborrhea

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of seborrhea in dogs is essential for timely diagnosis and effective treatment. Below is a comprehensive list of symptoms of seborrhea in dogs with detailed explanations and facts to help you identify the condition in your pup:

  1. Dry, dull coat: Seborrhea can cause the skin to become excessively dry, leading to a dull and lackluster coat. The hair may appear brittle, thin, and prone to breakage. The dog may also exhibit increased shedding and baldness in some areas.

  2. Dandruff: Seborrhea can cause the skin to produce excessive amounts of dead skin cells, resulting in flaky and white dandruff. The dandruff may be visible on the dog's fur, bedding, and clothes. The flakes may be accompanied by redness, irritation, and itchiness.

  3. Greasy, oily skin that smells bad: In some cases, seborrhea can cause the skin to produce excess amounts of sebum, a natural oil that normally moisturizes the skin and hair. Excessive sebum can make the skin feel greasy, oily, and dirty. It can also emit a pungent odor that may be noticeable from a distance.

  4. Crusted, plaque-like (rough and scaly) skin lesions: Seborrhea can cause the skin to develop scaly, crusty, and flaky patches, which can be difficult to remove. The patches may be red, inflamed, and itchy, and can occur in random locations throughout the body.

  5. Itching that ranges from mild to severe: Seborrhea can cause intense itching and discomfort, which can be one of the most noticeable symptoms. The dog may scratch, bite or lick the affected areas, leading to further irritation, inflammation, and skin damage. In severe cases, the itching can interfere with the dog's daily routine and disrupt its sleep.

  6. A large amount of earwax and ear debris: Seborrhea can also affect the skin inside the ears, leading to an overproduction of earwax and debris. The ears may appear red, inflamed, and smelly, and the dog may shake its head or tilt it to one side due to discomfort.

  7. Skin folds affected: Generally, seborrhea affects the entire skin, but the folds of skin between the toes, in the armpits, on the belly and perineum, and at the bottom of the neck are usually more prone to this condition. Dogs with lots of skin folds, like Basset Hounds, are especially susceptible to seborrhea.
giving paw to vet

Seborrhea is a complex condition that can manifest in many different ways. If you suspect that your dog may be suffering from this condition, it is crucial to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible. Your vet can perform a thorough physical examination, identify the cause, and recommend an appropriate specific treatment plan to relieve the symptoms and restore your pup's health.

How to Diagnose Seborrhea in Dogs

Seborrhea in dogs is actually a common skin condition among dogs. But even though it is relatively common, the excessive oily skin, scaly patches, and secondary skin infections that accompany seborrhea can be difficult to manage. In addition, it can also be hard to diagnose since its signs and symptoms can vary from one dog to another.

To diagnose seborrhea, a veterinarian may perform several tests, including skin scraping to test for mites and lice, impression cytology to identify yeast or bacterial infections that resemble seborrhea, and a blood chemistry panel to screen for underlying conditions like diabetes or Cushing's disease.

In addition to these tests, a blood test for thyroid hormone levels may be conducted to diagnose hypothyroidism, which may result in seborrhea-like skin issues. A skin biopsy may also be performed to investigate autoimmune diseases or skin cancers that could potentially contribute to seborrhea.

Other skin conditions, such as allergic skin disease and fungal infections, can also cause seborrhea-like symptoms. However, a comprehensive diagnostic workup should be able to differentiate between these various conditions.

Treatment for Seborrhea in Dogs

Apart from the underlying conditions causing seborrhea, treating the bacterial and yeast infections that trigger the condition is crucial in the overall treatment. Anti-seborrheic shampoos are highly recommended, as they contain ingredients such as sulfur, salicylic acid, tar, and selenium sulfide that can help reduce the excessive oil production and alleviate inflammation.

A dietary change can also help manage seborrhea in dogs. A balanced diet containing essential vitamins and minerals can be supplemented with additional vitamins to address vitamin deficiencies that may exacerbate the condition. Hypoallergenic food trials may also be recommended by a veterinarian if a food allergy is suspected.


Clinical management of underlying conditions such as hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease, and autoimmune disease is essential in the treatment of seborrhea. Hormone replacement therapy, lifelong medication, and referral to a specialist are some of the treatment options that can be recommended.


The outlook depends largely on the underlying cause. If the primary disease or condition causing seborrhea can be effectively managed, the symptoms of scaly, itchy skin may improve or go away entirely.

While it can take several weeks for symptoms to improve, regular care and management will be necessary over the long term. This may include a combination of medicated shampoos, topical treatments, and dietary changes, among other strategies.

Owners of dogs with seborrhea should also be vigilant for any signs of worsening symptoms, such as increased itchiness, development of skin lesions, or hair loss. In these cases, prompt veterinary care is essential to prevent further complications.

Overall, with proper management and ongoing care, many dogs with seborrhea can live relatively healthy and comfortable lives. Owners need to work closely with their veterinarians to identify and address the underlying causes of seborrhea, as well as to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that meets the unique needs of their pets.

owner on couch with dog


Seborrhea in dogs is a common skin disorder that affects a large population of dogs. It can be caused by various factors such as allergies, hormonal imbalances, dietary deficiencies, and genetic predisposition. It can result in intense itching, skin lesions, and hair loss that can significantly impact a dog's quality of life.

Understanding the root causes of seborrhea is crucial for proper management and prevention. Identifying and addressing predisposing factors such as breed disposition and underlying medical conditions can help prevent or reduce its severity. Maintaining a healthy diet and providing regular grooming and hygiene practices can also aid in preventing seborrhea and promoting healthier skin in dogs.

Owners need to ensure that their dogs have a healthy diet, routine grooming, and regular veterinary check-ups to prevent and manage the condition effectively. Seborrhea treatment options vary depending on the identified cause; this ranges from topical antifungal or antibacterial treatments to medications that help in regulating hormonal imbalances.

Although seborrhea in dogs can be frustrating, diligent and proactive management can help your pet achieve healthier skin and a comfortable life.