Dog: Seborrhea

General information

Other common/scientific names: scaly skin

Seborrhea is defined as increased scaling of the skin caused by accelerated epidermal (skin cells) turnover. Normal skin replaces its epidermal cells every three weeks. With seborrhea, the skin cells are recycled in as little as 3-4 days resulting in the build-up of these cells or scales. Seborrhea is common in dogs and is more of a symptom than a disease. Seborrhea can be classified as dry or oily.


Seborrhea can be either a primary disorder or secondary to another disease. Primary seborrhea is an inherited condition seen most commonly in American Cocker spaniels, English Springer spaniels and West Highland white terriers. Secondary seborrhea is much more common in the dog and can be associated with many diseases including: demodicosis, dermatophytosis, pyoderma, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, flea allergy, atopic dermatitis, Malassezia and sarcoptic mange.

Cardinal symptom



The main clinical sign of seborrhea is excessive scaling or flaking of the skin. In the dry form, the skin can be dry and the scales are white to grey. With the oily form, the skin is greasy with a rancid odor and the scales are yellow to brown. The hair can be clumped. An excessive amount of oil on the skin facilitates the growth of bacteria and yeast leading to red, inflamed and crusty skin. Many of these symptoms are worse in the folds of skin on the feet and underneath the body and neck. Dogs with seborrhea may or may not be itchy.

Abb. GGKJWQIE: Seborrhea.
This is a photograph of a dog with dry seborrhea or dandruff.


Diagnosis of seborrhea can be made from clinical signs and physical examination. However, identifying the underlying disease is crucial to treating seborrhea. A skin scraping and skin cytology should be performed to rule out ectoparasites and identify any skin infections. A skin biopsy may also be necessary to identify cells and rule out primary seborrhea. Dogs showing signs of systemic disease may need laboratory tests including a complete blood count (CBC), serum biochemistry, a urinalysis and endocrine testing to diagnose an underlying disease.


Primary seborrhea is controllable but not curable. Treatment of secondary seborrhea is geared toward treating the cause. Various treatments for seborrhea include:

  • Shampoos and Topical Treatments: Numerous types of shampoos are available to treat seborrhea. These include keratolytic agents to loosen the excess scale, keratoplastic agents to normalize skin turnover, degreasing shampoos to break down oils and emollients and humectants to help hydrate dry skin.
  • Antibiotics and Antifungals
  • Retinoids: Synthetic and naturally occurring vitamin A products. These medications can help promote normal skin growth.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Help to alleviate inflammation and pruritis (itching).
  • Immunosuppressive Medications: Can help in cases of primary seborrhea.


Prognosis will depend on the cause and severity of the seborrhea. Prognosis is good in cases where the underlying cause is identified and treated. However, seborrhea can be frustrating, recurring and costly to treat if the existing condition cannot be eliminated.


Dogs with primary seborrhea should not be used for breeding. Secondary seborrhea caused by allergies can be prevented by eliminating allergens in your dog’s environment. This includes prevention of fleas, ticks and other ectoparasites by administering a monthly oral or topical (spot-on) medication.


A contact time of 10 to 15 minutes is important for the success of shampoo therapy. Leave-on conditioners may be used after the shampoo for prolonged effect. Use all medication and follow all instructions as prescribed by your veterinarian.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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