Seborrhea in Dogs: Are Vitamins the Answer?

Seborrhea in dogs is a very serious condition, often linked with skin problems. It not only is very uncomfortable for the dog, but it also frequently is a sign of other medical conditions and can lead to serious infections. Learn more about this skin disease, and what to do about it.

Seborrhea in Dogs and Vitamins


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What is Seborrhea?

seborrhea in dogs


In dogs, seborrhea is a skin disease that is characterized by a defect in keratinization or cornification of the outer layer of the skin, hair follicles, or claws. Keratinization is the process in which the protective outer layer of skin is being constantly renewed by new skin cells. 

Seborrhea results in increased scale formation, skin problems, occasionally excessive greasiness of the skin and hair coat, and often secondary inflammation and infection.

In other words, Seborrhea in dogs is a skin disease that can cause your pets skin to be very dry and flaky, or it can be just the opposite, very greasy. It is believed to be an inherited disease as it generally has a family history.

It usually starts to form when a puppy is between the ages of 12 to 18 months old. The term Seborrhea actually means a scaling or flaking of skin.


Types of Seborrhea

There are three types of Seborrhea in dogs; Seborrhea sicca, which is the dry form and will demonstrate dry and scaly conditions in your pet, Seborrhea oleosa, which causes an overproduction of oil in the skin which makes it stink and actually helped to coin the word smelly dog, and Seborrheic dermatitis, which demonstrates both conditions.seborrhea dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis can be dangerous to your pet as it often caused inflammation. It will start around the oil glands located on your pet’s face, behind the ears, and on their scalp.

It can cause your pets scalp to become inflamed, very greasy, waxy, and if severe, it can a rash that may lead to infections.


Causes of Seborrhea

Seborrheic dermatitis is brought on by a yeast infection which is also the major cause of dandruff in dogs. The other forms are caused by inadequate functions within your pet’s cells of their skin.

In most normal circumstances cells in the skin will dry out as they are worn off and making way for new cells that will replace them. These new cells will form deeper into your pet’s skin.

This process is called keratinization and it is making keratin and drying the cells at the same time. Keratin is a very tough and insoluble protein that is the main structural constituent of the hair as well as the nails of your dog. This process normally takes about 2 to 3 weeks in dogs; however, with Seborrhea, this all changes.

This is normally a process that is both gradual and quite structured, but it breaks down, drastically speeds up, and as a result does not allow for the cells to function properly.

dog dandruffThey essentially have no time to go deeper into your pet’s skin, and as a result, they start to build up on the layers of the skin, developing seborrhea in dogs, causing dry skin, dandruff, rashes, and sores.

To compound the situation, there may also be a malfunction in both the amounts and the quality of secretion from the sebaceous glands.

Those glands are the glands that are found in the dermis of your pet’s skin that open into hair follicles and these glands major function is to produce and secrete sebum.

When operating normally, they gradually release and enrich your dog’s skin with oil secretions.

The actual cause of Seborrhea in dogs will be either primary or secondary. In primary cases, it will be genetic, or inherited. In secondary cases, in can be caused by several underlying conditions such as; flea or food allergies, hormonal disorders such as hypothyroidism, Cushing disease, internal or external parasites, ringworms, or nutritional disorders.

There can be two major causes of this condition; primary, which is genetic and thus inherited, or it can be secondary and the result of several underlying causes, but in most cases it will be a nutritional deficiency. With the secondary form, it can affect any breed of dog.

The breeds that seem to be the most affected genetically are German Shepherds, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Dachshunds, Basset Hounds,obese dogs and skin problems Terriers, and Spaniels, especially American Cocker and English Springer’s, and well as Miniature Schnauzers.

However, it can also be found in obese dogs of any breed as they will have a more difficult time in properly grooming themselves.

Primary seborrhea is an inherited skin disorder.

It is seen most frequently in American Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Basset Hounds, West Highland White Terriers, Dachshunds, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherd dogs.

Among dogs with seborrhea, there is usually a family history of the disorder, suggesting genetic factors are involved.

The disease begins at a young age (usually less than 18 to 24 months) and progresses throughout the dog’s life.

Secondary seborrhea is a sign of an underlying disease that causes excessive scaling, crusting, or oiliness, often accompanied by pus-filled inflammation, infection, and hair loss.

In the vast majority of cases it is a nutritional disorder.

dog skin problems are generally a nutrition problem


Signs and Diagnosis 

A diagnosis of primary seborrhea is reserved for dogs in which all possible underlying causes of seborrhea have been excluded. Most dogs with seborrhea have the secondary form of the disease. The most common underlying causes are hormonal disorders and allergies. 

The goal is to identify and treat these underlying itching

Allergies are more likely to be the underlying cause if the age of onset is less than 5 years.

Hormonal disorders are more likely if the seborrhea begins in middle aged or older dogs.

A lack of itching helps to exclude allergies, scabies, and other itching diseases. 

If itching is minimal, your veterinarian will seek to exclude hormonal disorders, other internal diseases, or other primary skin diseases. If itching is significant, allergies, scabies, and fleas will also be considered by your veterinarian.

Other important considerations in making a diagnosis include the presence of excessive urination, excessive drinking, heat-seeking behavior, abnormal estrous cycles, skin infections, the season, diet, response to previous medications, fungi or bacteria present, and the environment.

Your veterinarian will give your pet a thorough physical examination, including internal organ systems and a comprehensive skin examination.

This is the first step in identifying the underlying cause.thorough skin examination

The skin examination documents the type and distribution of the abnormalities; the presence of hair loss; and the degree of odor, scale, oiliness, and texture of the skin and hair coat. 

The presence of follicular boils, papules (pimples), crusts, and other bumps usually indicates the existence of a superficial pyoderma (bacterial infection).

Darkening indicates a chronic skin irritation (such as infection or inflammation), and skin thickening indicates chronic itching. Yeast infection will always be considered during this process.

Secondary infection is a problem for dogs with seborrhea. The keratinization abnormalities in seborrheic dogs usually provide ideal conditions for bacterial and yeast infections. The self-trauma that occurs in itchy animals increases the likelihood of a secondary infection. The infections add to the itchiness and are usually responsible for a significant amount of inflammation, papules, crusts, hair loss, and scales. 

Samples of the affected areas are taken to identify the quantity and type of bacteria or yeast present. In a seborrheic dog with itching, the infection may cause all or most of the signs. Other diseases may be uncovered by clearing the infections. Thus, you should be sure to comply with any follow up examination requests made by your veterinarian.

Additional tests may also be necessary, including skin scraping, fungal and bacterial cultures, flea combing, skin biopsy, and blood and urine tests.



There are many common symptoms of seborrhea.excessive dog skin scaling

Flakiness in dogs is quite normal among symptoms, especially in puppies as their skin and cells are still developing. However, what is not normal is excessive scaling or flaking.

If you your pet smells, even after you have bathed them, the chances are very high that they have Seborrhea.

You will know the wet dog smell when it happens; they basically start to stink.

If the symptoms are severe, your dog’s skin and hair will actually feel greasy, because it is. With excessive secretion, your pet may develop red skin, or a rash and the ears may become inflamed. When severe, you pet will start to both scratch and lick excessively.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals

“Seborrhea or seborrheic dermatitis is a skin disorder in which the sebaceous glands of the skin produce an excessive amount of sebum causing scaly, flaky, itchy, and red skin. Seborrhea typically affects the back, face, and flanks and is worse in the folds of the skin.

There are two types of seborrhea, called seborrhea sicca (meaning dry seborrhea), and seborrhea oleosa (meaning oily seborrhea). Most dogs with seborrheic dermatitis have a combination of dry and oily seborrhea…

“In dogs, seborrhea usually affects skin areas that are rich in sebaceous glands, especially the skin along the back. The affected areas of skin often flake off in whitish scales (dandruff) that can be seen on the dog's bedding and other places where the dog lies.

seborrhea can be a primary or secondary disease

"Many dogs will have an odor associated with seborrhea."

Some skin areas may be red and inflamed, with either a dry or an oily feel to the lesions. The dermatitis may be worse in areas with skin folds such as the feet, neck, lips, armpits, thighs, and underside. Many dogs will have an odor associated with seborrhea. This odor is usually worsened if the seborrhea is complicated by a secondary bacterial or yeast skin infection…

“Seborrhea can be a primary or secondary disease. Primary seborrhea is inherited and occurs in breeds such as Cocker Spaniels, West Highland White Terriers, and Basset Hounds. Secondary seborrhea is more common; however the exact cause cannot always be determined. In these cases it is called idiopathic seborrhea.

Secondary seborrhea is often related to an underlying medical problem, such as:

hormonal imbalances (e.g., thyroid disease, Cushing's disease)


parasites (internal and external) - fleas, ticks, mange mitesparasites can cause seborrhea

fungal infections - especially yeast skin infections (Malassezia)

dietary abnormalities - poor diets containing low levels of omega-3 fatty acids

environmental factors (temperature, humidity changes)


musculoskeletal disease or pain - the dog is unable to groom itself properly…

“Tests that can aid your veterinarian in diagnosing your dog's seborrhea include:

Complete blood cell count (CBC), serum chemistries and electrolytes. Looks for subclinical or hidden underlying conditions or imbalances.

Skin cytology and skin biopsy. Looks for inflammatory cells, bacteria, yeast, fungus, and abnormal cells.aim treatment at the underlying cause

Skin scrapings and hair pluckings. Looks for parasites such as mites.

Skin culture. Looks for bacterial and fungal infections, including ringworm.

Hormone tests. Looks for hormonal imbalances (e.g., thyroid disease and Cushing's disease testing)…

“Treatment is aimed at the underlying cause. If no underlying cause can be found, then a diagnosis of primary or idiopathic seborrhea is made. Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for primary or idiopathic seborrhea. In general, treatments that help manage seborrhea include:

omega-3 fatty acid supplements

antiseborrheic shampoos or sprays

corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone)


oral cyclosporine (e.g., brand name Atopica®)

antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections…”



The treatments for Seborrhea in dogs will vary depending on the actual cause of the condition. If there is an underlying cause other than a deficiency such as a yeast infection or bacterial infections, they will be treated with medications prescribed by your veterinarian.

Medicated shampoos will be the first line of attack, but it will depend on which type of Seborrhea it is, but once that is determined, selection is very easy. Douxo mousse and douxo shampoo are options to consider while combating your dog’s seborrheic dandruff.

You may have to trim some of your dog’s hair for the shampoo to fully penetrate and produce the best results.

Most products contained in medicated shampoos can be classified based on their effects. Keratolytic products include sulfur, salicylic acid, tar, selenium sulfide, propylene glycol, fatty acids, and benzoyl peroxide. They remove excess dead skin cells. This reduces the scale and makes the skin feel softer. Shampoos containing keratolytic products frequently increase scaling during the first 14 days of treatment, due to the loosened scales getting caught in the hair coat. 

The scales will be removed by continued bathing. Keratoplastic products help normalize keratinization and reduce scale formation. Tar, sulfur, salicylic acid, and selenium sulfide are examples of keratoplastic agents. Emollients (lactic acid, sodium lactate, lanolin, and numerous oils, such as corn, coconut, peanut, and cottonseed) reduce water loss from the skin. They work best after the skin has been rehydrated and are excellent products after shampooing. 

Antibacterial agents include benzoyl peroxide, chlorhexidine, iodine, ethyl lactate, tris-EDTA, and triclosan. Antifungal ingredients include chlorhexidine, sulfur, iodine, ketoconazole, and miconazole. Boric and acetic acids are also used as topical antibiotics. Most medicated shampoos are a combination of these ingredients.

Next, you will have to address the nutritional deficiency that is most likely the real cause. In most all cases Omega 3 fatty acids will be recommended by your veterinarian. They are available in pill or liquid capsule form, but the liquid form is much more effective.

Vitamins A, C, and E will also help not only controlling this skin infection, but in most cases to keep it in check permanently.

Vitamin C is extremely effective in skin conditions in dogs as it is an antioxidant as well as an agent that protects your pets system from pollutants. It also helps to clean the toxins clear from your dog’s tissues, cells, and blood.

Vitamin E is considered the wonder vitamin for dogs as it helps with their circulatory system especially in the proper generations of cells, as well, acting as the chief healing agent in their skin. It is an absolute must for Seborrhea in dogs.

Vitamin A deficiency is the number one cause of hardening and rough skin in dogs and it should also be a stable in the protection of your pet with this condition.

Treatment is needed in order to keep your dog comfortable while the underlying cause is identified and secondary skin diseases are corrected. In addition to treating any secondary infections with antibiotics, medicated shampoos are often used to help control the seborrhea and speed the return of the skin to a normal state. Medicated shampoos can decrease the number of bacteria and yeast on the skin surface, the amount of scale and sebum present, and the level of itching. They may also help normalize skin cell replacement.

Follow the advice of your veterinarian regarding the most appropriate medicated shampoo for your pet with seborrhea. The selection of a medicated shampoo is based on hair coat and skin scaling and oiliness. Never use a shampoo formulated for people without the consent of your veterinarian.

Antibiotics are typically recommended for 3 to 4 weeks for bacterial skin infections. Fungal infections are common and are treated with antifungal medications.





Seborrhea in dogs can be a real threat to your pet, but once properly diagnosed, treated, and then properly supplemented, it should be very easy to control. Once controlled, you will likely never have to worry about a stinky dog again.


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  1. Jorja says:

    thank you for this info our basset hound does have like dander once in awhile and scratches plus does have an odor so I will give him the vitamins and get medicated shampoo


  2. Trish says:

    My 11 year old border collie has dry flaky patches (mainly) on her underbelly, I have recently started her on Omega 3 for arthritis, so I will add in the other vitamins. Thank you very much.


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