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Why does my dog have flaky skin?

In general, dogs are clean animals who take pride in looking after their coat. Because of this, if you notice that your dog has dry flaky skin or dandruff, chances are there is an underlying problem that you should try and get to the root of. There are many different causes of flaky skin in dogs, but luckily most of them conditions are easily treatable.

Dry skin can be much more irritating for dogs compared to humans due to the amount of hair that they have, so you should act quickly to resolve the problem. In this blog, we will look at the possible causes of flaky skin in dogs, as well as what you should do if you notice that your dog has flaky skin.

Dermatology From Knutsford Vets

Dr Rachel Caines has Advanced Certification in Dermatology. Book an appointment to get to the bottom of your pet’s skin problems today.

What is flaky skin?

It is perfectly normal for your dog to shed dead skin cells, and usually your dog will groom these dead cells away before you even have a chance to notice them. However, sometimes something causes the skin to shed in larger quantities than normal, resulting in dry flaky skin patches on your dog’s coat which indicate there is a problem.

Potential Causes

As well as flaky skin, your dog may present other symptoms that will help your vet make a diagnosis, such as itchiness, hair loss, inflammation, crusting and an odor. Below are some of the possible causes of your dog’s flaky skin.

Skin Infection

One possible cause of flaky skin is skin infection caused by bacteria, yeast or fungus (such as ringworm). Dogs are susceptible to a wide range of bacterial and fungal infections when they spend a lot of time outside.

To identify what kind of infection your dog has, your vet will take various skin samples such as a skin scrape, hair plucks and acetate tape strip samples, these are checked under the microscope so that the correct treatment can be prescribed. Depending on the diagnosis, treatment may include antibacterial and antifungal shampoos, foams or ointments.

You should take care when handling your dog if you believe they could have a skin infection as some infections can be passed on to humans. You should also try to prevent your dog from having too much contact with other dogs, as some infections can also be passed from dog to dog.


A common cause of skin problems in dogs are parasites such as fleas, lice, ticks and mites. Some parasites, such as demodex mites and cheyletiellosis, may also cause your dog to have flaky skin. Sarcoptic mange, known as canine scabies, which is very itchy,spreads easily among dogs, so if you suspect that your dog might have mange you should prevent him from mixing with other dogs until treatment is received.

Every dog who is exposed to the outside world is vulnerable to parasites and it will be very difficult for you to identify exactly what parasite is causing your dog to have problems. In order to get a proper diagnosis, you should bring your dog to the surgery for an appointment. Your vet will conduct a physical examination and may also perform other tests such as skin scrapes, combings of the hair coat, blood and urine tests.

You may think that a parasite infection is only a minor problem for your dog, but you should still be sure to seek veterinary treatment as severe cases can result in more serious conditions. For example, severe flea infestations can cause blood loss and anemia, and even expose your dog to other dangerous parasites, like tapeworms.


Just like in humans, allergies can be a cause of skin conditions in dogs. Food allergies and environmental allergies can all cause a whole host of symptoms either seasonally or all year around when the allergen enters the immune system, with flaky skin being a commonly reported symptom. In fact, the most common symptom associated with allergies is itching of the skin, either localized (in one area) or generalized (all over the body), and this itching often leads to flaky skin.

Sometimes other symptoms might be present if your dog is suffering from an allergy including coughing, sneezing, wheezing and runny eyes or nose. A common allergy that causes skin problems is sensitivity to flea saliva, known as Flea Allergic Dermatitis. You can help prevent this condition by keeping your dog up-to-date with flea treatment.

It is important that you bring your dog to the surgery so that our vets can identify what your dog is allergic to through a series of tests. Allergies left untreated can result in a skin condition called atopic dermatitis, which causes inflammation and can lead to chronic skin infections which become harder to treat.

Environmental conditions

It is possible that something in your dog’s environment is causing them to have flaky skin. Just like you may have experienced yourself at some point, cold weather can irritate skin and cause it to become flaky. Similarly, excessive hot weather or high heating in the house in winter can quickly dry out your dog’s skin, causing it to become flaky, triggering reactions in the skin and interrupting oil production.

Excessive bathing or use of inappropriate, harsh shampoos is another common culprit in causing flaky skin.

Finally, your dog’s diet could be contributing to the problem – a diet that does not include all of the nutrients your dog needs or a health condition in your dog that stops them being able to absorb these nutrients, will stop him from having a healthy coat and skin. You should always choose high quality food for your dog to ensure he gets everything he needs.

Other indirect causes

There are a number of less obvious causes of flaky skin in dogs, which can be classed as indirect causes as a result of a more serious condition. Some examples of conditions that could be causing your dog to have flaky skin include:

Illness and disease

There are a number of illnesses that can cause flaky skin in dogs. Hormone problems such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease often affect the skin. Auto-immune system diseases such as pemphigus can cause scaly skin, and cancer is also a possible cause. This highlights how important it is that you get a diagnosis for your dog’s flaky skin so that these serious and potentially life threatening diseases can be ruled out.


Although it’s unlikely that flaky skin will be the first symptom of arthritis, it may occur if your dog spends less time grooming themself due to pain, stiffness or difficulty standing up. You should also spend extra time grooming your dog if you notice they are spending less time doing so themselves as a result of arthritis.

General pain

Just like when you feel ill or in pain, your dog is likely to be less motivated to groom himself when injured or ill or may have physical difficulty in doing so. This can lead to your dog having flaky skin as the coat and skin become unhealthy.

What to do if your dog has flaky skin

As we have demonstrated in this blog, flaky skin in dogs can be caused by a wide variety of conditions. Luckily, most of these conditions are able to be successfully treated, but only if a correct diagnosis is obtained. Therefore, if you notice that your dog has flaky skin, you should book an appointment at the surgery so that you can be seen by Dr Rachel Caines who has an Advanced Certificate in Dermatology.

Getting an early diagnosis will ensure that the problem does not develop into something more serious. It will also give your vet the chance to identify if your dog has another more serious illness that could be causing the flaky skin.

You can book an appointment online with us or call us if you have any questions prior to booking a consultation.

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