Canine Seborrheic Dermatitis

Primary seborrheic dermatitis often shows up early in your dog's life. Images

You thought your dog just had a bad case of dandruff and body odor. But, no matter how many times you gave him a bath, the smell just wouldn’t go away and he wouldn’t stop scratching. After you noticed red, irritated skin, a visit to the veterinarian confirmed seborrheic dermatitis. While the condition can be genetic, it's often the result of an underlying condition.

Types of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a condition caused by an overproduction of sebum in the sebaceous glands. It's broken down into four different classifications. The first two look at the type of flakes caused by the condition. In seborrhea sicca, the flakes are dry, while seborrhea oleosa causes oily flakes and buildup. In most cases of seborrheic dermatitis, a dog experiences a mixture of both. The other two classifications look at the cause. Seborrheic dermatitis can be a primary condition with no underlying cause -- idiopathic seborrhea -- or secondary seborrhea resulting from an underlying condition.


The most common symptom of seborrheic dermatitis is flaky skin, similar to dandruff. Other symptoms include scaly skin, a greasy coat, inflammation, brittle nails and, in cases of seborrhea oleosa, a foul smell and clumps of a greasy substance in the ears, armpits and around the ankles.


Primary seborrheic dermatitis is a genetic condition with no underlying cause. Secondary seborrheic dermatitis often occurs as the result of hormonal imbalances, parasites, fungal infections, allergies, diets low in omega-3 fatty acids, obesity and poor grooming.

Genetic Predisposition

While secondary seborrheic dermatitis can affect any breed, primary seborrheic dermatitis is most often found in certain breeds. It develops in the first few years of life, progressing as the dog gets older. The most common breeds affected include American cocker spaniels, basset hounds, dachshunds, Dobermans, English springer spaniels, golden retrievers, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, shar-peis and West Highland white terriers.

Typical Treatments

The treatment for seborrheic dermatitis depends on whether it's primary or secondary. In the case of secondary, treatment focuses on the underlying condition. Once the underlying condition is treated, the seborrheic dermatitis symptoms resolve. There is no specific treatment designed to cure primary cases, however; treatments focus on managing the condition. They include omega-3 fatty acid supplements, antiseborrheic shampoos and a variety of oral medications. In cases where secondary infections develop, antibiotics may be necessary.