What Causes Dogs to Have Oily Hair?

Oily hair in dogs is often caused by seborrhea, which is a skin disorder. This condition is also frequently called "seborrheic dermatitis." If your pooch has this common ailment, his skin's sebaceous glands are manufacturing inordinate levels of sebum. Some dog breeds are particularly susceptible to the inherited form of seborrhea.

Dog in shower
Close-up of a dog being bathed.
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Dry and Oily

Seborrhea exists in two forms: seborrhea sicca and seborrhea oleosa. The first is dry seborrhea and the second is oily seborrhea. If a dog has dry seborrhea, he'll experience symptoms such as skin flaking and dry, dehydrated patches. If a dog has oily seborrhea, on the other hand, he'll experience immoderate greasiness of the coat. Dogs who have seborrhea typically possess elements of both kinds of the disorder, however. Seborrhea in most cases is a symptom of a medical condition rather than an ailment in and of itself.

Primary and Secondary

Seborrhea is divided into two categories based on causal factors. These are primary seborrhea and secondary seborrhea. Primary seborrhea is inherited and is prevalent in cocker spaniels, West Highland white terriers, Shar-Peis, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, Dobermans, German shepherds, basset hounds, dachshunds and English springer spaniels. Secondary seborrhea is triggered by skin trauma that's an effect of nutritional ailments, external parasites, allergies, yeast infections, bacterial infections, musculoskeletal diseases, obesity, immune system disorders and hormonal conditions including hypothyroidism and Cushing's disease. Primary seborrhea is markedly more uncommon than secondary seborrhea.

Common Symptoms

When canines have seborrhea, the condition typically impacts parts of the skin that are heavy in sebaceous glands. The skin located on the back is a good example. These parts of the skin typically come off in flakes that show up wherever dogs spend significant amounts of time, such as their beds. The flakes look like pale scales.

If your pet has seborrhea, you might notice him emitting an oily, fatty substance that lumps together below his stomach, inside of his ears, by his ankles and below his elbows and armpits.

You also might notice inflammation and redness of his skin. Ear inflammation is a possibility. Your dog might develop lesions that are especially greasy or dry in feel. Unpleasant smells are common in dogs with seborrhea. These smells generally are enhanced in dogs who possess secondary yeast or bacterial infections.

Frequent licking and scratching sometimes indicate that a dog might have this condition. The scratching sometimes leads to loss of hair, crusting, bleeding and even secondary infections.

Veterinary Management

If you're worried that your dog might have seborrhea, take him to the veterinarian immediately. Vets typically diagnose these skin conditions by conducting physical examinations, stool examinations, hormone tests, skin biopsies, skin culture assessments, skin scrapings and complete blood cell counts. Blood tests can evaluate whether dogs have conditions such as Cushing's disease and hypothyroidism. Once the veterinarian determines what caused the seborrhea, she can proceed with treating the source. If there doesn't appear to be a source condition, she'll diagnose your pet as having primary seborrhea. Since primary seborrhea lacks a cure, vets usually focus on minimizing the symptoms in affected dogs.

Some examples of common seborrhea treatments are medicated anti-seborrheic shampoos, hypoallergenic diet plans, omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, retinoids, moisturizers and oral cyclosporine. Vets also sometimes prescribe anti-fungal or antibiotic drugs for secondary bacterial infection treatment. If your vet suggests medicated shampoo treatment for your pooch, you might have to shave or clip his fur, especially if it's long. Doing this can make it much easier for medicated shampoos to get to his skin. Shampoos that are used to treat seborrhea in dogs often contain components such as coal tar, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and sulfur.