White, flaky skin can be caused by a number of disorders and problems ranging from benign to serious. Sometimes dogs just appear to have flaking skin while other times the problem presents with other issues such as scratching or a change in behavior. Obtaining an accurate diagnosis on white, flaking skin in canines at home is nearly impossible because there are too many factors to consider and too many possible causes.
Infectious diseases including distemper, bacterial infections and fungal infections such as ringworm can cause the appearance of white flakes that resemble skin to appear on a dog's coat. Some parasitic infestations, including demodectic mange and fleas, also lead to the appearance of white flakes. Dry skin, food allergies, seasonal allergies, nutritional deficiencies and hormonal imbalances sometimes cause the appearance of white, flaky skin in dogs. Immune disorders, hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease and some forms of lymphoma can also present with white, flaking skin. Some dogs are genetically predisposed to flaky skin.
Speak to your veterinarian to obtain a diagnosis. Canine dermatologic disorders are diagnosed with a physical exam, skin scrapings and blood tests. The veterinarian first visually examines the dog to obtain an overall picture of the dog's health and habits. Be prepared to answer questions about the dog's diet, grooming schedule, activities and other day-to-day events. A skin scraping involves taking a sample of the dog's flakes and examining them under a microscope. A skin scrape test allows veterinary professionals to tell the origin and composition of the flakes. Blood tests confirm or rule out allergies, immune disorders, diseases and infections. Your veterinarian may perform all of these tests or individual tests to determine the cause of your dog's white flakes.
Prevention and Solution
Feed your dog a quality food that is nutritionally complete according to the American Association of Feed Control Officials' (AAFCO) standards. Avoid switching foods frequently to prevent potential allergen exposure and to help your veterinarian rule out a food-related issue. If you switch foods regularly, it becomes harder to pinpoint the cause of a problem. Brush your dog on a regular basis to distribute oils evenly throughout the fur and to slough off dead skin. Wash your dog only as needed to prevent dry skin and dandruff. Make sure your dog is adequately hydrated and that the dog's environment is sufficiently humidified. Vaccinate your dog and treat for parasites as needed to prevent the spread of disease and mitigate any parasitic reactions. The treatment for canine skin disorders is dependent on the cause. The root cause of the flaky skin must be treated to ensure long-term health. In some cases, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe a medicated cream, shampoo or other aid to mitigate the symptoms.
Some canine disorders with the symptom of white, flaking skin are caused by zoonotic diseases, such as ringworm. Zoonotic diseases can spread between species, including from dogs to humans. Obtaining an accurate diagnosis and following treatment orders from your veterinarian are essential to halting the spread of disease and ensuring your dog's well-being.
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- "5-Minute Veterinary Consult: Canine and Feline"; Lawrence P. Tilley, Francis W. K. Smith; 2006
- "Clinical Pathology for the Veterinary Team"; Andrew J. Rosenfeld, Sharon M. Dial; 2010
- "Veterinary Technician's Daily Reference Guide: Canine and Feline"; Candyce M. Jack, Patricia M. Watson, Mark S. Donovan; 2003
- "Pathology and Parasitology for Veterinary Technicians"; Leland S. Shapiro, Patricia Mandel; 2009
- "Merck Veterinary Manual"; Clarence M. Fraser; 2005
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Elizabeth Tumbarello has been writing since 2006, with her work appearing on various websites. She is an animal lover who volunteers with her local Humane Society. Tumbarello attended Hocking College and is pursuing her Associate of Applied Science in veterinary technology from San Juan College.