Seborrhea in Dogs

What is seborrhea?

Seborrhea or seborrheic dermatitis is a skin disorder in which the sebaceous glands of the skin produce an excessive amount of sebum. Seborrhea typically affects the back, face and flanks causing scaly, flaky, itchy, red skin. There are two types of seborrhea, called seborrhea sicca meaning dry seborrhea, and seborrhea oleosa (oily seborrhea). Most dogs with seborrheic dermatitis have a combination of dry and oily seborrhea.

What are the clinical signs of seborrhea?

seborrhea_in_dogs_general_1_2009In 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. 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."

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.

What causes seborrhea?

In some cases, the exact cause of seborrhea cannot be determined (called idiopathic seborrhea). Seborrhea is often related to an underlying medical problem, such as:

  • Hormonal imbalances - thyroid disease, Cushing's disease, etc.
  • Allergies
  • Parasites (internal and external) - fleas, ticks, mange mites
  • Fungal infections - especially yeast skin infections (Malassezia)
  • Dietary abnormalities - poor diets containing low levels of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Environmental factors (temperature, humidity changes)
  • Obesity
  • Musculoskeletal disease or pain - the dog is unable to groom itself properly

How is seborrhea diagnosed?

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

  • Complete blood cell count (CBC), serum chemistries and electrolytes - looking for subclinical or hidden underlying conditions or imbalances
  • Skin cytology and/or skin scrapings
  • Skin culture - for bacterial and fungal infections, including ringworm
  • Skin biopsy
  • Hormone tests - including thyroid disease and Cushing's disease testing

How is seborrhea treated?

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 seborrhea. In general, treatments that help manage seborrhea include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplements
  • Antiseborrheic shampoos
  • Moisturizers
  • Retinoids
  • Oral cyclosporine
  • Antibiotics - to treat secondary bacterial infections

What is the prognosis for seborrhea?

The prognosis for seborrhea is based on your dog's specific condition and severity. The prognosis is better if an underlying cause has been identified and treated. Your veterinarian will discuss a diagnostic and treatment plan for your dog to help you manage this common and often frustrating condition.

Related Tags

antiseborrheic, bacterial, cushing, cytology, dermatitis, electrolytes, fungal, idiopathic, manage, retinoids, sebaceous, seborrhea, seborrheic, subclinical, thyroid, yeast

Looking to learn more?

We also offer free, instant access to over 1,500 related articles on your pet's health including preventive medicine, common and not so common diseases, and even informative case studies. We encourage you to read any of these popular articles below or search our extensive pet health library.

Most Popular Articles

About our approach to exceptional pet health care

At VCA Animal Hospitals, our veterinarians take you and your pet's health seriously. With over 600 hospitals and 1,800 fully qualified, dedicated and compassionate veterinarians, we strive to give your pet the very best in medical care. We understand your pet is an extension of you, and appreciate the opportunity to share in providing exceptional pet care and quality of life.

* Free initial health exam for new clients only. Not to be combined with any other offer. Not good toward boarding, grooming, prescription and non-prescription medication, and retail items. Not good toward emergency and/or specialty veterinary services. Coupon good for up to two pets (dogs or cats only) per household. Redeemable only at a general practice VCA Animal Hospital. For pet owners who are aged 18 and older.

If you are a new client, you can get a free first exam* on your first visit.

Free First Exam

Get to know us by visiting one of our neighborhood hospitals.

Locate a Hospital
CLOSE CLOSE