Seborrhea in Dogs

Seborrhea is a condition in which flakes of dead skin are shed from the epidermis and hair follicles. These flakes may be dry and dandrufflike, or oily and greasy. Oily seborrhea is due to excessive production of sebum by the sebaceous glands. Sebum is responsible for the rancid doggy odor that accompanies oily seborrhea.

Primary and secondary seborrhea are two different diseases.

Primary Seborrhea

This common disease is seen most often in American Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, West Highland White Terriers, Basset Hounds, Irish Setters, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Chinese Shar-Pei, and other breeds. Affected dogs may have dry flaky skin, greasy scaly skin, or a combination of both. The flakes of dry seborrhea are easy to lift off the skin. The scales of oily seborrhea stick to the hair. In oily seborrhea the hair follicles can become plugged and infected, resulting in the development of folliculitis (see page 158).

The elbows, hocks, front of the neck down to the chest, and hair along the borders of the ears are commonly involved. With oily seborrhea, wax may accumulate in the ear canals, producing a condition called ceruminous otitis.

Treatment: Primary seborrhea is incurable but treatable. Therapy is directed toward controlling scale formation using shampoos and rinses. A number of commercial antiseborrheic products are available. The choice of shampoos and rinses and frequency of application vary with the specific problem, and should be determined by your veterinarian.

For mild dry flaking, moisturizing hypoallergenic shampoos and rinses that contain no dyes, fragrances, or other added ingredients can help rehydrate the skin. These products can be used frequently without causing harm.

For severe dry flaking, shampoos containing sulfur and salicylic acid are recommended to remove scales. For oily seborrhea, shampoos containing coal tar are effective and retard further scale production. Benzoyl peroxide shampoos have excellent hair-pore flushing activity and aid in removing greasy scales that adhere to hair shafts.

Therapeutic shampooing may be more effective when preceded by a warm water shampoo. Rinse thoroughly and follow with the medicated shampoo. Leave on for 15 minutes or as directed, then rinse thoroughly.

Systemic antibiotics are used to treat folliculitis and other skin infections. A short course of oral corticosteroids may be prescribed during periods of severe itching. Dietary supplements containing omega-3 essential fatty acids derived from fish oil are said to be beneficial for seborrhea and certainly can do no harm.