When Fido's flaky skin is disrupting his day with itching and chewing, and yours with questions and concerns, it's time to plan a visit to your vet. In the meantime, narrowing the possibilities for the source of your pup's problems can help you find ways to relieve his dermatological misery.
Parasites are the No. 1 cause of flaky doggy skin. It's a bit more complicated than simply a reaction to infestation, though. Usually there's an additional issue in play.
Demodectic mange is a prime flake causer. Unlike the super scary sarcoptic mange, demodex mites are present on all dogs, all the time. Your pup's immune system usually keeps them under control. If your doggy's having demodectic mange symptoms, it means he has an underlying immune issue. Sometimes this is simply youth: flaky demodectic mange is often seen in puppies, and clears up as your junior doggy matures. If mites are the culprit in your older dog's itchy skin, oral anti-parasite medication and some lab work to seek out the underlying cause may be in order.
Fleas may be responsible for flaky skin in your allergic pooch. This allergy is more common in younger dogs, who often grow out of it. Don't be surprised if you never actually see a flea, yet your vet diagnoses this condition. Contact with even one of the troublesome little jumpers, or an item that touched them, can cause a serious case of the flakes in susceptible pups.
Minute troublemakers in your pup's coat may be causing fur full of flakes. Grass and pollen can trigger allergic skin sloughing. Then there's the "third floor" of skin conditions -- infections secondary to demodectic mange, which is secondary to an immune problem. Superficial bacterial folliculitis is a fancy way of saying your pet's hair follicles are infected with icky germs, usually staph. Yeast is another potential culprit, as is ringworm -- a fungus that usually forms characteristic rings, but can spread through the skin in general when your pup's defenses are down.
Room and Board
Lifestyle issues may make your friend's skin flake, including food and toiletry sensitivities.
Food sensitivities and allergies can take quite some time to ferret out. Your vet will help you plan an elimination diet for your pooch if she suspects them. Low dietary omega-3 fatty acid intake is a related skin flaker, so your vet or veterinary nutritionist may recommend specific oils and fats to add to your furry friend's diet.
Over-bathing and use of human shampoos can wreak havoc on your pet's skin and fur. Your dog's pH is very different from yours, as are his natural oils. Messing with these will quickly manifest in itchy, flaky skin.
Certain hormonal imbalances have flaky skin and hair loss as initial symptoms.
Cushing's disease, also called hypoadrenocorticism, is a fairly serious condition caused by a problem in your pup's pituitary gland or tumors in his adrenals. A doggy with Cushing's will progressively become extremely ill -- you'll notice much more going wrong than just a flaky coat. Your vet will discuss a range of tests and treatment options if she suspects Cushing's.
Hypothyroidism is less scary, very treatable, and more common in older dogs and certain breeds, particularly golden retrievers. Initial symptoms include hair loss, especially from the snout and bum, dry, flaky skin, lethargy and weight gain. Daily medication clears these right up and allows your pet to get back to his old self, but ignoring the issue can be life-threatening, so schedule a vet appointment if you suspect this imbalance.
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.