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Seborrhea in Dogs

By: Dr. Rosanna Marsalla

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Seborrhea or scaly skin is common in dogs and and is more a symptom than a disease. Seborrhea can be dry (seborrhea secca) or oily (seborrhea oleosa). Different dog shampoos are used according to the type of seborrhea present.

In most cases, the scales are secondary to another skin disease. In these cases, the scaling was not usually evident at a young age and occurred as a consequence of itching or other skin problems. Identification of the underlying cause is important to control the excessive scaling.

In some cases as in cocker spaniels, the scaling is primary and animals are born with a defect of keratinization. In these cases, the problem is evident at a young age, usually less than one year of age, and the ears are frequently affected as much as the rest of the body. Topical and systemic therapy (retinoids) may be used to normalize the turnover of the epithelial cells.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The identification of the underlying disease responsible for seborrhea is of crucial importance. In order to do this, it is important for your veterinarian to:

  • Take a complete history that includes age of onset of the skin disease, the appearance of the first sign of skin disease. Were the scales the first thing that you noted or did your animal have bumps first and then start breaking with scales? Also, was itching the first thing you noted, or did the itching come after all the skin lesions.

  • Perform a complete physical examination. If a primary disease is responsible for the seborrhea, ear disease is also present.

  • Do skin cytology. Swab or tape impression of the skin may provide useful information regarding the type of skin infection present. Skin infections significantly contribute to the level of itching.

  • Take skin biopsies. In order to identify the underlying cause of seborrhea or to confirm a primary disease, a biopsy may be necessary.


    An excessive amount of oil on the skin facilitates the growth of bacteria and yeast. Most animals with seborrhea have concurrent skin infections (bacteria and yeast) and will require treatment. Your dog may need to take antibiotics or antifungal medications for several weeks to eliminate the infection.

    Topical therapy is also important to remove the excessive amount of scales. Various shampoos and conditioner may be necessary.

    Home Care

    Clipping is usually necessary in animals with long and thick hair coats. This facilitates bathing and decreases the amount of shampoo required.

    Bathing is necessary at least once a week. Some dogs may need a bath with a medicated shampoo twice or three times a week. Different shampoos and conditioners are used according to the infection present and the type of seborrhea. Some are good for dry skin (Allergroom®), while others are good for greasy skin (LyTar®). Some shampoos are antibacterial (OxyDex®), while others are antifungal (Selsun Blue® animals).

    A contact time of 10 to 15 minutes is crucial for the success of shampoo therapy. Leave-on conditioners may be used after the shampoo to have a prolonged effect. Products available on the market are antibacterial (Resi-Chlor®), anti-itchy (Resi-Cort®) and antifungal (Resi-zole®).

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