Seborrhea is a skin disorder in which the outer layer of skin (epidermis), the sebaceous
(oil) glands, and some part of the hair follicles are
over-productive. This over-production causes an excess of dry
(scale) and sebum (a fatty, lubricating substance).
The trunk, back, and ears of the dog are most commonly affected. American Cocker Spaniels tend to develop the greasy form of seborrhea
known as "Seborrhea Oleosa". Symptoms of this disease
chronic waxy ear infections and greasy skin. There is also a
dryer form of the disease known as "Seborrhea Sicca". Some dogs
may have a combination of both forms of this disease.
Dogs with both
types of Seborrhea are prone to secondary skin infections (seborrheic
dermatitis). These secondary infections can be due to bacteria
or yeast and may cause the dog to develop additional skin sores, ear
infections and other symptoms associated with these conditions. The
increased irritation/itching/scratching of the secondary infection, when
combined with the existing Seborrhea condition, leads to
even more severe skin lesions and further spread of the secondary infection.
Seborrhea, your vet must decide if your dog's condition is Primary Seborrhea or Secondary Seborrhea. Primary Seborrhea, also
known as idiopathic seborrhea (of unknown cause), is a genetic disease
most often seen in young animals 1o weeks to 18 months old.
The mode of inheritance is not known, but is probably autosomal
recessive (meaning that both parents must carry the gene).
with Primary Seborrhea generally have dull coat, scaly/flaky/hairless
skin sores, waxy ear infections, greasy appearance/feel, thickening of
foot pads, dry/brittle claws and can have the skin may have an offensive
(especially in breeds with skin folds). Other breeds
suspected of having a genetic predisposition for Primary Seborrhea are the English Cocker Spaniel, English Springer Spaniel,
Dachshund, West Highland White Terrier, Labrador Retriever, Basset
Hound, Irish Setter, German Shepherd & Doberman Pinscher.
is a reaction of the skin to another disease, rather than a defect of
the skin itself. Secondary Seborrhea is typically seen in adult dogs.
The symptoms are the same as for Primary
Seborrhea. Some conditions which may lead to Secondary Seborrhea
include: endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism or hypoadrenocorticism, food
or drug hypersensitivity, nutritional disorders/deficiency, ectoparasites,
demodicosis, cheyletiellosis, dermatophytosisand and epidermal dysplasia.
In cases of
seborrhea that are difficult to control or diagnose, your vet may
recommend your dog be seen by a
dermatologist. These specialists can sometimes be more helpful in
identifying underlying issues and in helping to control on-going severe
If secondary infections are present when seborrhea is diagnosed, these conditions must be
Symptoms associated with primary (inherited) and secondary (response to
another condition) seborrhea are the same. Your veterinarian will take
into consideration your dog's physical condition and age (primary seborrhea
is seen in young dogs), and submit a skin biopsy to a veterinary
pathologist. (This is a simple procedure, done with local anesthetic, in
which your veterinarian removes a small sample of your dog's skin.)
The pathologist will look for changes in the skin which indicate primary
seborrhea and which can rule-out other conditions that cause similar
If your dog is diagnosed with primary seborrhea, his condition will require life-long management. There is no cure
for this disease and management of the condition will vary with each dog. Dry, scaly seborrhea
easier to control than the greasy form. You and your
veterinarian will have to work together to determine the best treatment
your dog. You will have to learn to recognize when changes in
your dog's skin and ears require additional veterinary care.
Anti-seborrheic shampoos and moisturizers are common methods of
treatment. Initially, you will probably need to bathe your dog 2
to 3 times a week, following the bath with the recommended moisturizer.
As the condition is brought under control, the number of baths will gradually
be reduced to a "maintenance"
level. If your dog has a secondary
bacterial or yeast infection (as is common), you will need to treat this
appropriate medication (antibiotics/antifungals) at the same time that anti-seborrheic therapy is
To be effective,
the medicated shampoo you use on your dog will need to remain in contact
with the skin for 10 to 15 minutes after lathering.
There are a number of different anti-seborrheic shampoos available. Your
veterinarian will likely prescribe one of the milder shampoos to start
with and if this fails to control your dog's condition, he may then
to a stronger product. Stronger shampoos are many times
necessary to control dogs with greasy skin, but once the condition is
under control, a milder
shampoo can generally be used for maintenance. Long hair can make
it difficult to effectively clean the skin, so it's usually best to keep
your dog's coat cut short. Be sure to rinse
thoroughly to removes debris (scales, grease) and all of the shampoo.
Monitor your dog's condition and be sure that you don't over-bathe him
as this can worsen seborrhea.
may also recommend additional treatments which could include systemic
and/or topical corticosteroids, ointments containing tar, salicylic acid
and sulfur, antibiotics, and retinoids (vitamin A derivatives) such as
isotretinoin. Your dog's treatment plan will depend largely
on the severity of his condition and how well he responds to initial
It's common to see ear infections in seborrheic dogs and these
conditions must be treated promptly. The best way to avoid major
problems is to check your dog's ears frequently. Your veterinarian
can show you how to flush your dog's ears and/or you can read my
CARE page for information on caring for Cocker ears.
Signs of ear infection can include head shaking, rubbing the head on
carpet or furniture, unusual scratching of the ears, waxy build-up in
the ear which requires more frequent cleaning and/or an unpleasant odor.
Ear infections usually require
treatment for 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the type of infection and
severity of the condition.
It's vitally important that you monitor your seborrheic dog's
environment and over-all health for conditions or changes that can cause seborrhea
to worsen. Secondary skin infections are common and
can quickly spread and become severe. This in turn can cause
seborrhea to suddenly worsen. Changes in food, nutritional
deficiencies, external parasites (fleas and ticks) or certain illnesses
can all trigger the need for additional care to control seborrhea.
Treating these issues quickly and correctly can minimize the length of
time and severity of the problem.