Before discussing how to treat seborrhea in dogs, it’s important to know what seborrheic dermatitis or seborrhea in dogs is. Then we will discuss the best way to treat this condition.
What is seborrheic dermatitis in dogs?
It is a skin disorder involving hyperproliferation of the epidermis, hair follicle infundibulum, and sebaceous glands. Dog breeds like Basset Hounds, Dachshunds English Springer Spaniels, American Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and West Highland White terriers are more prone to primary seborrhea.
The disease usually begins before the age of two years and remains for its rest of the lifetime. There are two types of seborrhea, and they are dry seborrhea or seborrhea sicca and oily seborrhea or seborrhea oleosa. The same dog can have seborrhea sicca in one area of the skin and seborrhea oleosa in another area. Seborrhea is not a contagious disease.
What are the clinical signs of seborrhea in dogs?
- Primary seborrhea is commonly characterized by hyperkeratosis and it results some areas of the skin to be scaly and itchy, and in some cases, red. The red color is caused by inflammation of the skin. Seborrhea sicca produces dry exfoliative scales, while seborrhea oleosa produces greasy adherent scales. Affected areas of the skin are usually in the back, face, flanks and in areas of skin folds such as feet, neck, lips, or armpits.
- Excessive hair loss.
- The dogs with seborrhea produce a characteristic smell due to the lesions. The odor gets strong if the seborrhea is complicated to secondary bacterial or fungal infection. This smell is somewhat similar to the smell of grease.
- Secondary seborrhea shows signs such as pyoderma with papules, crusts, follicular boils, hair loss, and scales.
- Darkened areas of the skin due to chronic skin irritations such as chronic infections.
- Thickened areas of the skin caused by chronic itching
What are the causes of seborrhea in dogs?
Primary seborrhea can be hereditary, and some breeds are more prone to this disease than others. But any dog can be affected by primary seborrhea. This is a congenital genetic disease condition that starts at a young age. The condition worsens as he gets old.
Secondary seborrhea is more common than primary seborrhea. Secondary seborrhea can be caused by disease conditions in internal organs and other health issues. We call it idiopathic seborrhea when it is difficult to identify the exact cause out of the following possible causes. Some of the causes for this condition are,
- Allergies for parasites as fleas, some food components, and even environmental conditions are some of the main causes for seborrhea.
- Endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism which causes increased levels of thyroxine.
- Cushing’s disease leads to a high level of cortisol in the blood due to overstimulation of the adrenal gland
- Ectoparasitism caused by parasites such as lice and ticks
- Fungal infection usually caused by yeasts such as Malassezia pachydermatis
- Dietary deficiencies specially caused by diets with not enough omega 3 fatty acids
- Vitamin deficiencies such as zinc-responsive dermatosis and vitamin A responsive dermatosis
- Diabetes mellitus
- Autoimmune diseases like pemphigus foliaceus, sebaceous adenitis, and lupus erythematosus
- Skin cancers called cutaneous epitheliotropic lymphoma
- Internal disease conditions
- Musculoskeletal diseases can indirectly cause seborrhea since these diseases make your doggy groom himself.
- Changes in environmental factors such as temperature and humidity can also be a cause
How to diagnose seborrhea in dogs?
If the onset of the disease is observed before the age of 5 years, most likely, the cause will be an allergic condition. One of the methods we can suspect if our pet has seborrhea due to allergy is observing if he is scratching the affected area of the skin very often and vigorously.
If the disease onset is in his older days, the cause can probably be an endocrine disease. A hormonal test can be performed to check for any hormonal imbalance.
To diagnose the underlying disease condition, your pet will be recommended to go through a physical examination, including the internal organs and the skin. Skin examinations are particularly important to understand any change of texture of the skin and fur coat.
If the skin has increased keratinization, it is a very friendly environment for bacteria and fungi to grow on it. So skin samples will be collected from the affected areas of the skin for further microscopic examinations to see what type of micro-organisms are present in the lesion.
Identifying the type of bacteria or fungus present in the lesion is very important to prescribe an antibiotic or an antifungal medication. A skin cytology test or a skin biopsy are some tests to see if there is an increased amount of inflammatory cells such as neutrophils, bacteria, and yeast.
Your veterinarian may also recommend additional tests according to the severity of the disease and the clinical signs.
Blood tests such as Complete blood cell count (CBC), serum chemistries, and electrolytes test can be performed to check for any electrolyte imbalance or a subclinical condition.
Since hair loss is also a clinical sign of dermatophytosis or ringworm infection, a skin culture can be done to identify whether there are dermatophytes, any other fungus, or bacteria.
Microscopic examination of skin scrapings and plucked hair is a method to look for parasitic infections, primarily caused by ectoparasites such as mites.
Parasitic infections caused by mites can lead to a dog shaking his head non-stop or constantly sneezing.
How to treat seborrhea in dogs?
Treating seborrhea directly
Treatment of Seborrheic dermatitis can be roughly divided into two phases. It’s true that secondary seborrhea will not be fully cured until the underlying disease is eliminated from the body. The problem is the identification of the exact cause may take some time.
Meanwhile, we have to go for a treatment that mainly aims to provide your pet relief from skin irritation and ensure comfort under your veterinarian’s advice. You can continue using shampoo even alongside antibacterial or antifungal medications. This shampoo helps a quick recovery in returning skin to the normal state by reducing the excessive oiliness, removing scales, and minimizing the amount of bacteria or fungi present on the lesions.
These shampoos contain a combination of keratolytic products, keratoplastic products, and antibacterial or antifungal agents. At first, during the first two weeks of medicated shampoo, you will see he is losing many scales even higher than he did before. This is because the chemicals in the shampoo help loosen the scales adhered to the fur coat. After using the shampoo for few weeks, you will observe your pet doesn’t lay whitish scales anymore.
The most effective medicated shampoo may vary based on your pet’s skin condition (skin scaling, oiliness). Therefore seek your veterinarian’s advice to choose the best product for your seborrheic pet.
Seborrheic skin undergoes hyperkeratinization. Keratoplastic products help to minimalize keratinization and reduce scale formation.
Some of the keratoplastic agents are tar, sulfur, salicylic acid, and selenium sulfide. They also includes propylene glycol, benzoyl peroxide, and fatty acids.
Keratoplastic products help to speed up the shedding of superficial epithelial cell layers.
Give frequent baths with the anti-seborrheic shampoo, preferably once every 2 days in the first 2 weeks. As your dog’s skin condition improves, you can reduce the frequency to once every week or two weeks.
Anti-seborrheic sprays as also available, which you can spray on the infected areas. In addition to these, you may also use a medicated ear cleaner to clean your pet’s ears every 2 to 3 days. If he has lesions in the ears, the veterinarian may prescribe specific ear medications.
In case the lesions create inflammation, prednisone can be administered to minimize inflammation and debris build-up. It is mandatory to plan regular checkups with your veterinarian to monitor your dog’s response to the treatment.
These treatments will help manage the seborrheic condition. But sadly, even with medications, seborrhea can persist. As a result, you will have to keep the treatment with medicated shampoo and ear cleanser to reduce the excessive keratin production. With continued care, your dog will be able to have a happy life like any other doggy.
If you observe the development of new lesions or excessive itchiness (scratching frequently), immediately consult your veterinarian.
How To Treat Seborrhea in Dogs: Look at The Underlying Causes
It’s important to diagnose the underlying causes of seborrheic dermatitis in dogs. Some of these underlying diseases are very dangerous, and seborrhea is only one clinical sign of a disease. Let’s look into treatment measures of some of the common underlying causes of seborrhea.
- If your dog is suffering from food allergy, he will be recommended to go through a hypoallergic food trial test
- Seborrhea associated with hormonal imbalance has two main causes. One is hypothyroidism. If he is diagnosed with hypothyroidism, your dog will be treated with oral administration of levothyroxine for the rest of his life. The second cause is Cushing’s disease. For this, he will have to be treated with Vetoryl on a continuous basis in order to regulate blood cortisol levels. Vetoryl is a medicine containing trilostane that reduces cortisol production from the adrenal gland.
- If your dog is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes mellitus, he will require daily insulin injections
- If the skin biopsy results lead to cancer or an autoimmune disease, you will have to start medications for that or even undergo surgery.
- If lice or mites were found in the skin scrapings, your vet will prescribe anti-parasitic drugs.
- If your canine friend is suspected of vitamin A deficiency or zinc deficiency, he will have to be put on a vitamin supplement regime along with his meals.