Q: My Schnauzer cross, Snuffy, has flakes all over his body, and he starts to smell just a few days after he takes a shower. I have tried many different kinds of shampoo for sensitive skin on him, and changed his kibble many times in order to find a suitable one for him but the problem still persists. What could it be due to and what other measures can I take? Is it a grooming problem or is it genetic? Please help me! I want him to get back his rich and shiny coat that he had as a pup! Thanks!

A: Snuffy’s skin condition sounds all too familiar to many people who own dogs in Singapore. These flakes or scales or dandruff coupled with a musky, strong doggy odour are most likely caused by yeast called Malassezia pachydermatis or Malassezia in short. Malassezia pachydermatis is an oval or pear shaped yeast normally found on the dog’s skin and is not contagious to other animals or humans. Although it is a normal inhabitant of the interdigital areas of paws, ear canals, anal sacs, vagina, and rectum in dogs and cats, it may cause superficial dermatitis in susceptible animals. Other less common possibilities for flaky skin in dogs include ichthyosis, sebaceous adenitis or primary seborrhoea sicca – all of which are primary keratinisation defects of the skin.

Malassezia dermatitis is common in dogs of any age, breed, or sex. There can be many underlying reasons for why Scruffy has this skin problem. Some causes include genetics (breed predilections – eg. Schnauzers, Shih Tzus, Basset hounds, Cocker Spaniels and King Charles Spaniels), food allergies, environmental allergies (atopy), keratinisation defects of the skin, recurrent bacterial skin infections, demodicosis, hypothyroidism, increase in humidity, immune suppression and chronic steroid administration. Most dogs also have a concurrent ear infection.

Rather than going through further trial and error in diet and shampoo choices, a vet consultation is needed in order to diagnose Snuffy’s skin disease and to look for potential underlying causes for his skin problem. After which appropriate treatment can then be instituted. A simple cellophane tape test or sticky tape test can be done during the consultation to look for the yeast and/or bacteria causing his flakiness. A good look into his environment, diet history as well as past treatment history will help us identify and manage his skin disease better. Certain blood tests and skin scraping may also be done to look for underlying causes.

Treatment is targeted at killing the yeast, managing its reoccurrence and also to treat the underlying disease (that is if we manage to identify it!). This usually consists of a combination of oral medications (antifungals +/- antibiotics) and medicated shampoos containing antifungals and conditioning rinses. Skin supplements such as flaxseed oil or omega fatty acids may also be beneficial in Scruffy’s case.

In a few cases, after appropriate treatment, the skin problem may not reoccur again. But often a cure for such skin disease is unlikely and it is not uncommon to have them relapsing as quickly as a few months after treatment ends. In cases of chronic recurrent skin infections, the key to management is with weekly (to twice weekly) medicated shampoo and rinses, spot treatment of localised infections, and/or even long term pulse therapy on oral medications. An understanding of your dog’s skin disease is also important in the success of long term management and therefore reducing your frustration with him. Your vet will be able to advise you on the proper management of Scruffy’s skin condition.