Dandruff in Dogs

by Janice Jones     |Last Updated 06-10-2021

You wouldn’t think dandruff in dogs to be a problem, but it can be common in the Shih Tzu breed and many others as well. 

Known formally as seborrhea sicca, it is often the first symptom we see in dogs with dry skin. 

Dead skin cells flake off in large quantities causing dandruff and creating those white specks in the hair that is easy to observe. 

The human eye cannot see one dead skin cell, but when large amounts are shed at the same time, they will clump together producing the noticeable flakes. 

Dandruff is, of course, more noticeable on black or dark colored Shih Tzu and sometimes nearly impossible to see on white Shih Tzu dogs.

Dog Dandruff often causes much itching and misery in Shih Tzu dogs.Dandruff in Dogs, Not Always a Cosmetic Issue

Everyone sheds microscopic skin cells, but dandruff occurs when more dead skin cells are shed than the usual.

Causes of Dandruff in Dogs

There are a variety of conditions that can cause dandruff.

Dry Skin

The most common reason, however, it tends to have that “chicken versus egg” effect.  Dry skin might not cause dandruff, but if the dog has dandruff, dry skin can develop or worsen.  Dry skin can make the dog very itchy. 

Excessive scratching can lead to redness and even bleeding.  When there is a break in the skin, bacteria can invade causing more inflammation and more itchiness. 

Cold Weather

Cold Weather:  If dandruff seems to be a seasonal problem, it is likely due to cold temperatures and dry air. 

Home heating can cause everyone’s skin to dry out.  A humidifier can help with this in the winter.

Dry Climate

Arid climates where there is little humidity in the air tend to create the right conditions for dry skin and dandruff.


Allergies and intolerance to different types of food can trigger dry skin which leads to dandruff.


There is likely a genetic component although this has not been adequately studied.

 Inadequate Grooming

You may be brushing your Shih Tzu daily, but if you are not getting down to the skin, dead skin cells may be trapped along with small mats.  Using a metal comb after brushing may help some.

Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal Imbalances such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism may be an underlying cause of the problem.

Dandruff in Dogs Symptoms

The most prominent sign is the flakes you see on your dog’s hair coat, but other problems may also be present.

Scratching and Chewing

Some dogs will scratch or chew on their coat.  Some will rub their body against a surface or roll on the carpet or ground.  They are trying to relieve the itchy sensation they are feeling.  This can be confusing because our first inclination when the dog scratches to suspect fleas.  There may be no other noticeable skin irritations at least initially.

Redness and Inflammation of the Skin

If the dog continues to scratch or irritate areas on his body, you may notice redness.

Coat thinning:

Repeated scratching may cause the coat to thin.  In severe cases, small bald patches may develop

Body Odor

A Shih Tzu dog normally has no odor unless you use a strong shampoo or other hair care product.  Some dandruff may be the result of oily skin.  When the body produces too much oil and sheds more skin cells, the combination can produce a rather unpleasant body odor.

Treatment for Dandruff in Dogs

Often a few treatments are enough to completely rid the dog of dandruff.  Some dogs, however, seem to have a chronic problem where excessive dead skin cells are continually being produced and shedding. 

Topical Treatments

The first recommendation is to find a high-quality canine dandruff shampoo.  Do not use human shampoo as human products are likely to make the problem worse. 

Shampoos that treat dandruff are either going to contain natural ingredients or will have ingredients such as miconazole nitrate or chlorhexidine gluconate. 

A good shampoo will remove the dandruff flakes, soothe the itch, and add some moisture.  Some will contain a degreaser that will eliminate some of the excess oil.  Following the shampoo, a good quality conditioner should be used.  Each time you brush, spray the coat with a leave-in conditioner.

Bathing no more than once per week is recommended, and it is always a good idea to take your time and provide a good body massage while the shampoo is left on to do its thing.

Recommended Shampoos: Dandruff in Dogs

All Natural Shampoo and Conditioner

Earthbath All Natural Tea Tree and Aloe Shampoo

Earthbath All Natural Oatmeal and Aloe Conditioner

Furrever Medicated Shampoo. Contains botanical extracts of natural chamomile and aloe Vera

Pet MD - Benzoyl Peroxide Medicated Shampoo for Dogs and Cats

Stronger and helpful if other conditions are present

Diet Considerations

A high-quality food is recommended that does not contain artificial colors, preservatives, or other chemical additives.  Look at what you are also using as treats because sometimes the ingredients in the treats can also be the problem. 

If the diet is suspected, you may need to switch to a different food.  Sometimes a food that contains a novel protein might be the answer.

For example, if your dog has eaten foods containing many different protein sources, switching to one with only one source may help. 

Alternately, switching to food that the dog has never eaten before may also help.   An elimination diet is difficult but may be necessary, if you have ruled out other options.

Adding additional Omega-3 Fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid) to the dogs daily food can also help. 

This essential fatty acid can be found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines.  Supplements are also available and may also help.  Fish oil has been promoted as a great addition to people’s diets as well.

Wild Alaskan Salmon is a popular and highly effective way of giving your dog the additional Omega fatty acids he needs to make his coat shine and relieve the dry, itchy skin that accompanies dandruff.

Adding a little coconut oil to your dog’s food may also help combat dry skin.

Read about Coconut Oil For Shih Tzu Dogs:  Uses and Precautions 


Adequate hydration is important not only to you but to your dog also. If your dog does not drink enough water, he can be slightly dehydrated. 

You are likely to waste your time trying to encourage your Shih Tzu to drink more water.  An alternative is to add water to your dog’s food. 

Some treats can also add some water to the dog’s body.  Try apples (remove core), carrots or watermelon (no seeds).

When Dandruff in Dogs is not Dandruff at All

Walking Dandruff is not Dandruff in Dogs, but what is it?

You might hear this term thrown around, but it doesn’t mean dandruff at all.  Rather, it refers to a skin parasite or mite (Cheyletiella mite). 

These can often be observed if you are patient.  You may need a magnifying glass, but with a little time, you may actually see these tiny mites move. You may also be observing mites that are covered with the skin flakes.   

If the flaky skin you notice and assume to be dandruff moves around, you are dealing with a mite problem also known as Cheyletiellosis.

This type of mite can affect any age dog, but it is more common in puppies.  These mites are not considered to be host specific, meaning that they can live on a variety of animals including cats, rabbits, wild animals and even humans. 

The entire life cycle of the mite can occur on the dog.  Once off of the dog, a mite can live life up to 10 days in the environment. 

This presents a problem for you because if mites are found on the dog, they are also likely on you and any other pet you own.    If you suspect a problem, a visit to your vet is in order.

At the vet clinic, a small skin scraping is taken and observed under a microscope.  If mites are present, a different type of shampoo or dip will be needed.

Dips or shampoos that include Pyrethrin, lime sulfur, Ivermectin or Selamectin may be prescribed.  In this case, it is better to use the medication recommended by your vet. 

Fipronil or Selamectin solution may be suggested and will need to be applied every 2 weeks for up to four times.  Lime Sulfur dips are often the best choice for puppies.

All pets in the house will need to be treated. Additionally, since the mites can jump to other surfaces, everything will need to be addressed (carpeting, bedding, clothing, etc.) in the same way that one would treat for fleas. Once a mite has left its host, it can live for up to 10 days.

Hopefully, though, the problem is not mites and you will be able to treat the dandruff using the over-the-counter medications mentioned above.

If your dog does not see any noticeable relief from dandruff and dry skin after you have treated him, it would be time to consult with your vet. 

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About Janice

Janice is the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu. Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, she served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu.

When not writing, reading, or researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, her husband, and her family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Small Dog Place and Smart-Knit-Crocheting.