Dry, Flaky Skin in Dogs

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP
By Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on May 22, 2023
golden retriever puppy itching with his hind leg

It is time for the Sunday afternoon bath—and as you lather the shampoo, you notice your dog has flakes throughout his coat, as well as multiple small scabs on his skin. Alarm bells may go off in your mind. However, there are many underlying reasons your dog may have scabs so it’s important to know what to look for and when it’s time to call the veterinarian.

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What Causes Dry, Flaky Skin in Dogs?

There are quite a few causes of skin changes in dogs—so if you are noticing something different in Fido’s coat, call your veterinarian to help sort out the problem. Some of these changes are more serious and concerning than others.

All dogs are different—so the symptoms that go along with skin disease can also vary from dog to dog. Many dogs have multiple symptoms, and it can be difficult to sort through the variables. Some of the more common signs of skin problems in dogs include:

  • Hair loss (also known as alopecia)

  • Redness of the skin

  • Itchiness

  • Dandruff/flaky skin

  • Pimples

  • Odor

  • Greasy feel to the coat

  • Scabs

  • Scaliness

  • Cracked skin

These signs may be present in only one area—such as on the paws or at the base of the tail—or affect multiple areas.

As a rule, changes in the skin do indicate a problem that needs to be addressed— but many of them have simple fixes once properly diagnosed. Skin changes can also be seen in puppies.

The causes of these skin changes vary widely, from allergies to parasites. Perhaps the most common causes include fleas (which could be present even if you aren’t seeing them) and diet. Dogs that aren’t eating a high-quality food, or a diet that is not well-matched to their needs, will often develop a dull, dry, flaky coat.

Other issues include internal conditions such as Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism. A skin infection will also present with similar signs. Some environmental issues—such as extremely dry air conditions or overly frequent bathing—can damage the skin and coat. Additionally, dogs that are not able to groom properly due to obesity or arthritis can develop skin disease.

What To Do if Your Dog Has Dry Skin

Due to the many underlying causes that can lead to skin disease, call your veterinarian as soon as you notice a change in skin or coat. Although in almost all cases this will not be considered an emergency, book an appointment as soon as possible.

If your dog is particularly uncomfortable or is experiencing significant itching or redness/bleeding, let your veterinarian know. They may have different recommendations as to how soon your pet needs to be seen, or may even suggest you visit the emergency clinic. You can also bathe your dog in an oatmeal shampoo to help relieve the itching temporarily.

In the meantime, you can try to relieve some of the discomfort your pet is experiencing.

How Vets Find the Cause of Dry, Flaky Skin in Dogs

In all cases of skin disease, your veterinarian will likely have several questions—including when the problem started and how the symptoms have changed over time. If you have photos of the condition, these may also be helpful for your veterinarian to see.

Your veterinarian will likely do a full physical examination, looking for other subtle changes that may be related, such as redness between the toes or in the ears. Most dogs will also need testing, including a skin scrap, to look for microscopic parasites, yeast, bacteria, and fungi. The veterinarian may also want to flea-comb your pet. More serious cases may require bloodwork or a skin biopsy to get to the bottom of the problem.

How to Treat Dry, Flaky Skin in Dogs

While your veterinarian will look for a formal diagnosis, it’s also important to share home life information so they know bathing schedules, what your dog eats, and where they spend most of their time.

Routine Baths

Do an inventory check on how often you’ve been bathing your dog. A good goal is to bathe once every two to four weeks, using something like a mild oatmeal shampoo. Your veterinarian might recommend something medicated at a different frequency, but for most dogs, a maintenance bath is probably all they need.


Does your dog spend a lot of time in a dry environment, or sleep near a heat source? The dry air might be part of the problem. Adding a humidifier to the area where they spend time might help.


Everyone chooses food for their dog with different thought processes: Perhaps cost is a huge factor, or your dog is a picky eater. Work with your vet to determine if a diet change is needed. They might be able to help you choose an over-the-counter food or they may recommend a prescription diet, depending on what your pup needs.


Your veterinarian may recommend a supplement to add to your dog’s diet. Many dogs seem to need more fatty acids than are present in commercial dog foods, and will see dramatic improvements in their skin and coats when given a fatty acid supplement. But start these cautiously, as they can cause gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting, diarrhea, and pancreatitis.

Flea and Tick Prevention

Perhaps most importantly, use flea and tick prevention every month, year-round, no matter where you live. These products often address more parasites than just fleas and ticks, and go a long way toward keeping your pet healthy. Ask your veterinarian which products they recommend for your dog.

Your vet may recommend additional treatments based on your pet’s diagnosis. These may include antibiotics; anti-parasitical medications; anti-fungal/yeast treatments; anti-inflammatories; and prescription topical products or foods.

How to Keep Your Dog’s Skin Healthy

Feed your dog a high-quality food that he digests and tolerates well. Many readily available foods from major manufacturers are affordable and good-quality. Every dog is different, and the trick is to find out what works for your dog—not what the guy down the street or the person on Facebook swears by.

Use veterinarian-recommended flea and tick products year-round. Some of these products also prevent diseases that can be contagious to people, so using them helps keep your entire family healthy.

Brush loose fur off your dog several times a week, trim their nails weekly, and bathe them in a mild shampoo every two to four weeks. Doing these things will help condition the skin; keep the skin and coat healthy; and help you notice potential problems at their onset.

Skin problems are no fun for dogs or their parents. Fortunately, when found early and diagnosed properly, most are quick and straightforward to treat.

Featured Image: Adobe/photo-vista.de

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...

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