You reach down to pet your pooch and pull back a hand covered in greasy hair. Thor is scratching feverishly, whimpering in discomfort. What's caused your once happy and healthy pet to scratch like a dog possessed and turn his coat from thick and clean to thin and oily?
Rest assured, your pooch has not decided to run with an ill-reputed gang of greaser dogs. What he has developed is a condition called seborrhea, which causes his sebaceous glands to go into overdrive and produce too much sebum. Under normal circumstances, sebum acts as a lubricant to keep his skin and coat waterproofed. Seborrhea causes an increase in production of this compound, which creates a kind of greasy dandruff that irritates your pup's skin and causes him to scratch. The more he scratches, the more likely he is to suffer hair loss in his urge to stem the irritation.
Insult to Injury
Beware the secondary infections. As if the greasy, thinning coat and constant scratching aren't enough, seborrhea can lead to other skin problems if left untreated. Buildup of the oily flakes can clog hair follicles or ear canals, leading to infection. Skin folds are perfect places for other microbial nasties to take up residence and cause infections, such as yeast and bacteria, especially if the skin is already irritated by the seborrhea. Excessive scratching can cause skin lesions, which can also become infected. Basically you're looking at an infection on top of another infection caused by the seborrhea.
So you have a term to attach to your dog's frantic scratching and oily, thinning hair. Finding the trigger for this sudden coat change may not be as easy. Primary seborrhea appears spontaneously and for no apparent reason, while secondary seborrhea occurs from another underlying medical condition. Allergies, hormone imbalances and parasites such as fleas and mites can all trigger the explosion in sebum production.
Diagnosis and Treatment
You may think that your pooch's greasy, flaky coat is enough to diagnose seborrhea, and you're partially right. But your vet wants to know what's behind that excess sebum production. He'll conduct blood and hormone tests and take some skin samples to perform cultures and seek any sign of an underlying condition. Medicated shampoos and omega-3 supplements counter the overproduction, but treating any underlying cause controls the reaction at the source.
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