Causes of Dry or Flaky Skin in Dogs

When you have a canine companion it is your responsibility to keep them in the best health you can and to provide them with everything they need in their diet and the best care you can find. If your dog suffers from scaly or dry skin, then this will leave your dog uncomfortable and scratching itself and it may be a sign of a range of other problems. It will also mean that you don’t get much piece and quiet as you have to constantly stop your dog from dig through its own skin, and as it leaves a trail of dead skin around your home.

As the owner then, you need to find out what is causing the dry skin and you need to do what you can to treat the problem. This is such a common symptom in dogs that it’s no mean feat, but by following the advice below and trying a couple of different things it’s possible to get to the bottom of the problem. Of course if the itching and scratching persists then you should take your pup to a vet for a professional opinion.


Your dog might have dry and flaking skin as a result of its diet and that will be down to you. Like humans, dogs require a vast range of vitamins and minerals, of amino acids and of oils to keep their skin supple and to prevent it from drying out. Think about what you give your dog to eat and whether or not it meets the full dietary requirements of your furry friend. It should tell you the ingredients on the back of the tin, but as a rule it’s a good idea to make sure your dog gets some of the wet meat food as well as the dry biscuits. Ask your vet if you’re unsure of a good brand to feed your dog. You can also supplement your dog’s diet and many people find that supplementing with fatty acids or with cod liver oil is very effective.


An infection or impetigo can affect any dog but is most common in those under one year in age. Most commonly this will be a ‘staph’ infection from the staphylococcus bacteria – yes the same bacteria that causes the MRSA ‘super bug’ in humans. This means you need to treat the problem quickly before it spreads, and also to prevent it affecting the humans in your household. Should the staph infection come into contact with broken skin or even the hair follicles of a human then this can cause tissue damage and infection. The symptoms in your dog will be hair loss, scaling, ulcers often on the nose and ears, lethargy and flu-like symptoms. Treatment is relatively easy and will consist of a course of antibiotics from the doctor or a topically applied hydrogen peroxide. Other infections include things like Sarcoptic Mange which is an infection of the Sarcoptes mite.


An infection of fungus such as ringworm can also cause skin symptoms including hair loss, scales, crusty skin, pustules, vesicles and itching. Worm your dog to prevent this from happening – again it can affect humans otherwise, and a vet will probably prescribe Miconazole or another medication to kill off the ring worm.


Dermatosis is a skin disease that affects dogs and that has many different causes. This can be a chronic or temporary condition depending on the cause and it essentially causes inflammation and itching skin. You might also notice rough patches, oozing areas and red patches. There are many different types and how they might be treated. A range of different forms of dermatosis can be treated with corticosteroids.

Solar Dermatosis

This is a reaction to the sunlight and is most common in unpigmented (white) dogs and breads such as Collies, Shelties etc. It will result in reddened skin, hair loss and crusts. Simple treatment is to avoid further sun exposure, and like humans dogs can also use sun block to protect their skin.


This is primarily inherited but can also be a result of some diseases and allergies. This causes scales, dry or oily skin, odor, hair loss and scratching. It can be diagnosed through blood tests and treatment involves identifying other causes and using antiseborrheic shampoo with fatty acid supplements.


Dogs can also suffer from deficiencies in vitamins and minerals which can cause skin problems. For instance ‘vitamin A responsive dermatosis’ is usually a result of a vitamin A deficiency. However the title can also refer to those cases of dermatosis not necessarily caused by vitamin A, but nevertheless responsive to it. This is common in Cocker Spaniels. Likewise dogs can also suffer from zinc responsive dermatosis and a range of other deficiencies causes dry and flaky skin.


Hormones can also cause dematosis, as is the case in ‘testosterone responsive dermatosis’. This is more common in neutered dogs as they reach older age as they produce less testosterone. It can be treated with hormone replacement therapy. Likewise your pup might suffer from ‘castration responsive dematosis’ which of course is responsive to castration due to the hormone changes this triggers.

Contact Dermatosis

This is dermatosis that can come from extended contact with something which dries out the skin in that area. For instance if your dog is wearing a flea collar for an extended period of time then this might eventually cause dry and flaky skin in the area. The solution is simply to remove the item causing the aggravation.


Just like humans dogs can get allergies which are an inappropriate immune response to some substance. In other words the body’s immune system reacts to the substance as though it were a toxin and this causes swelling and other problems. Allergies that cause skin problems are actually quite common in dogs and come under the title ‘canine atopy’. Most commonly this will be caused by grasses and plants. In some cases your dog may also be allergic to substances in its food. To identify this try changing your dog’s diet to see if the symptoms subside.

Cushing’s Disease

Caused by an excess of corticosteroids which is a danger when treating dermatosis. This results in hair loss, thinning of the skin, easy bruising, black heads, increased thirst and urination and other symptoms. Treatment involves simply gradually withdrawing the corticosteroids. In some other cases it may be caused by glandular tumors.


Dogs can suffer from hypothyroidism like humans. This is a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough of the hormones that normally speed up the metabolism. Thus the dog suffers from less catabolism (the burning of energy for food) and anabolism (the building of tissue using proteins and minerals). The latter can result in dry and flaky skin, while the dog might also suffer from weight gain and lethargy. They will also be more likely to suffer from other problems as the immune system will suffer – including yeast infections. The treatment is life-time thyroid medication.


Fleas can not only cause itching in dogs (which leads to flaking) but they can also dry out the skin. If your dog seems to be itching a lot, particularly behind the ears, and if you notice small fleas, then this will likely suggest your dog has a flea problem. A range of treatments can help to treat this both topical and oral. It’s also recommended that you wash out your dog’s sleeping things and get a carpet cleaner in to eradicate fleas and eggs in the carpet. In some cases a dog can suffer from ‘flea allergy dermatitis’ in which the dog suffers a more severe reaction to flea bites.


  1. Would be nice to have pictures!

  2. Thanks for your wide range of option for an itchy dog. I was finding it difficult to get a straight answer for the problem. Seems it could stem from a wide range of issues. I think my blue heeler's problem may be will diet of a more grain diet in Pedigree instead of a more meat based product. I'm giving him brewer's yeast now and will also try to supplement with the cod liver oil suggestion. Hopefully it helps. Problem drives everyone crazy. Thanks!

  3. Even without pictures, which were hard to make out on other sites by the way, this article was as clear in description & gave me a much better idea of the skin condition my dog might have.

    Thanks for publishing it!bb

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