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How to Treat Seborrea in Dogs

Seborrhea is typically used as a term for dry, flaky skin, or dandruff. In medical terminology, seborrhea is a chronic inflammatory disease of the skin characterized by the accumulation of flakes, scales, and/or yellow or gray crusty plaque on the skin.

It is accompanied by greasiness, itchiness, as well as infections.  Dogs are most commonly affected with Seborrhea, particularly the Cocker Spaniel, with a commonly predisposed form of seborrhea called seborrhea oleosa.

Canine skin secretes oil and sweat but should never be greasy or oily.  Normal dog skin can have flakiness and is common, but the exfoliated cells that cause this flakiness should be hard to find under a microscope and should seldom adhere to the skin or to the hair.

What Causes Seborrhea?

Seborrhea can be a primary or secondary disease. Primary seborrhea is inherited and occurs in breeds such as Cocker Spaniels, West Highland White Terriers, and Basset Hounds.

Secondary seborrhea is more common, however, the exact cause cannot always be determined. Secondary seborrhea is often related to an underlying medical problem, such as:

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  • hormonal imbalances (e.g., thyroid disease, Cushing’s disease)
  • 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

Types of Seborrhea?

With seborrhea, the skin produces too many superficial epidermal cells, renewing every week instead of three weeks.  The acceleration in cell production is caused by seborrhea.

Seborrhea Oleosa

Going back to the American Cocker Spaniel, seborrhea oleosa leads to oily, smelly, itchy, inflamed and infected skin.

Scroll down to the video below to see the after results through our treatment.

Seborrhea Sicca

All dogs can acquire seborrhea sicca, which causes scaly skin over their body and underarms. Usually, the skin is itchy, inflamed and infected.

All dogs can suffer seborrhea oleosa secondary to other skin conditions, including allergic skin disease, hypothyroidism, and Cushing’s disease. Collectively, any non-primary form of seborrhea is referred to as secondary seborrhea.

Secondary Skin Infections

Dogs affected by seborrhea can develop secondary skin infections. The main microbes involved with seborrhea include Staphylococcus and Malassezia on the skin and in the ear canal.  These can cause signs of itchiness and an unpleasant odor.

Symptoms and Identification

Seborrhea is characterized by the signs described above, oily, smelly, itchy, inflamed and infected skin.

It can be diagnosed via the following techniques:


Microscopic evaluation of the skin can be achieved by pressing a glass slide onto its surface, referred to as an impression smear.  Any loose cells, scales, microbes and hair shafts will adhere to the slide, thereby facilitating the diagnosis of seborrhea.


Diagnosis can be difficult to achieve in the case of primary seborrea common with American Cocker Spaniels.  This is because seborrhea is more commonly seen secondary to other causes, even in Cocker Spaniels.  For this reason, the best diagnostic tool is a skin biopsy.  A rapid anesthetic procedure is commonly required.  Biopsy looks for inflammatory cells, bacteria, yeast, fungus, and abnormal cells.


Complete blood cell count (CBC), serum chemistries and electrolytes. Looks for subclinical or hidden underlying conditions or imbalances.

Skin Culture

Skin Culture looks for bacterial and fungal infections, including ringworm.

Hormone Tests

Hormone tests look for hormonal imbalances (e.g., thyroid disease and Cushing’s disease testing).

Treatment of Seborrhea

Seborrhea is considered a highly treatable dermatological condition. Treating any underlying diseases is the standard approach for non-hereditary forms of the disease, however, immediate forms of relief are suggested.

Steroid or Antibiotic Injection

Treatment of the symptoms typically involves antibiotics for bacterial skin infection and anti-fungal medication for the yeast microbes.  A steroid or antibiotic injection is a common application.  Oral and topical medications may be required if skin infections are severe.

Topical Therapy

Topical therapy includes shampooing (usually every three days to five days). Soap-free shampoos that containing sulfur-based compounds and salicylic acid are recommended. In cases where oiliness is present, benzoyl peroxide or tar-based shampoos may be necessary. Moisturizing, dog skin-specific formulas are recommended.  Coconut oil as a conditioner has been found to be effective.

Grooming and Summer Cut

Keeping your dog groomed with a summer cut can help your dog’s skin breath and can help you give them baths more frequently.  This will also help you to apply any topical ointment and cleanup any dry skin or puss.

The two products below have worked well for us followed by conditioning with coconut oil.

The results speak for themselves:

Oral Therapy

Oral therapy is sometimes needed for severe cases. These may include oral fatty-acid supplements your veterinarian can recommend. Oral retinoic acid or high doses of Vitamin A may also be recommended. Accutane (isotretinoin), used for human acne, is a newer therapy that may be appropriate. Another acne medication, Soriatane (acitretin), may appropriate as well. In some cases, corticosteroids or cyclosporine may be recommended to help mitigate inflammation.


Care should be given and monitored in terms of diet.  Allergies may be part of your dog’s seborrhea reaction.  Eliminate all previous foods and try switching to an all salmon diet, including treats.  Omega 3 and CBD may help reduce inflammation and have been found to help reduce or eliminate seborrhea.

Below are some of our recommendations, all made with Salmon.

Lakse Kronch 100 Percent Fresh Baked Norwegian Salmon All Natural Dog Treats From Fresh Fish Processed Within 24 Hours of Being Caught No Fillers or Unnatural PreservativesBlue Ridge Naturals Alaskan Salmon Jerky Dog Treats, 1lb (Pack of 2)Taste of the Wild Grain Free Premium Dry Dog Food Pacific Stream Adult – Salmon

Veterinary Cost

The veterinary cost of seborrhea is largely relegated to the diagnostics and treatments listed above. These are not insubstantial. Diagnosis can cost up to $1,500 if a dermatologist is employed –– and even more in cases where several illnesses are potentially in play (such as allergic skin disease).

Treatment with topical shampoos and oral medications can add up, especially for larger dogs. Monthly treatments may reach the low hundreds particularly if generic medications are unavailable.


There are no known means of prevention for seborrhea except for careful breeding of dogs with a known genetic predisposition to primary seborrhea.

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