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This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

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Idiopathic seborrhoea is a chronic skin disease characterised by excessive scale production and greasiness. It particularly affects Cocker Spaniels , but also other breeds of dog.

e precise cause of idiopathic seborrhoea is unknown, but affected animals have accelerated basal cell turnover (keratinocytes).

Breed Occurrence
Idiopathic seborrhoea occurs in two types :


The typical signs occur usually at 1-3 years of age and include :

  • Increased scale production
  • Crusting
  • Dryness
  • Oiliness
  • Alopecia
  • Inflammation
  • Keratinaceous plaque formation
  • Comedones
  • Smelly coat - especially associated with increased greasiness
  • Pruritus - sometimes

Local dermatitis may occur particularly at the following sites as part of this disorder :

  • Labial folds
  • Nipples
  • External ear canal - otitis externa is very common in affected dogs
  • Skin folds of the neck
  • Interdigital skin
  • On the trunk

Secondary infection with Malassezia pachydermatis or other bacteria eg Staphylococcal spp is a common complication. 

Diagnosis is based upon the presenting history, clinical signs and ruling out other possible causes.

If the disease is secondary any primary skin problem should be treated eg parasites, endocrine disorders, liver disease, gastrointestinal disease or nutritional disorders..

There is no specific treatment for primary seborrrhoea, but the disease is controlled by topical therapy for the life of the animal, including the following :

Authors are split in their opinion about the use of some products , such as :

because these may dry the skin and coat too much, and so they should only be used in the most severe, greasy cases.

Initially, frequent bathing may be needed - as often as once every 48 hours in very greasy cases, but overbathing can make matters worse. 

If secondary infection is present:

  • Antibiotics
  • Ketoconazole (an antifungal) has been used in some cases

Other treatments which may prove useful in some cases include :

  • Retinoids - to slow down cell kinetics eg etretinate. 
  • Sunflower oil
  • Corticosteroids - avoid if possible due to immune-suppression. prednisolone at 1-2mg/kg body weight/day  has been used successfully
  • Cytotoxic drugs (methotrexate and azothioprine) have been used successfully in a few cases , but it is too early to know if these will offer a satisfactory method of treatment

In chronic cases no significant improvement may be seen for several months after treatment is started.

Good , but a complete cure is rarely achieved


Updated October 2013