You may be familiar with the itchy, flaky annoyance better known as dandruff. No matter what you do, relief can feel out of reach. Unfortunately for our four-legged friends, dandruff can also be a real issue. Cat dandruff affects more felines than you may imagine. In fact, pet dandruff is so common that there are countless companies who produce anti-dandruff shampoos and products. Yet many pet parents find themselves wondering what causes dandruff in the first place? Is there a way to prevent the itchy irritation? Could it possibly be a sign of something more serious than merely dry skin?
In this article, we will cover all there is to know about cat dandruff. While it may simply be a case of an itchy annoyance, it may also be a telltale sign that your feline is suffering from a dietary allergy or intestinal parasites. In order to cure dandruff, we must first uncover what is causing it. Let's get to it!
What is Dandruff
So what exactly is dandruff? Dandruff is a condition in which dry, dead skin cells develop and then flake from the cat's fur. More often than not, cat dandruff is accompanied by constant itching and skin irritation.
There tends to be a bit of a stigma when it comes to dandruff. Many humans with dandruff often feel insecure and yearn for any sort of relief for the flaky skin. However, cats don't seem to mind the flaky patches, unless of course, the dandruff is causing additional irritation. When cat dandruff causes your feline to scratch uncontrollably, skin damage becomes a real concern.
Furthermore, when it comes to dandruff we urge our readers not to panic. A bit of dandruff every now and then is likely nothing to worry about. However, it is important to figure out what is causing it, particularly if the dandruff is persistent and occurs in large amounts.
What is Dander
We want to note that cat dandruff is not to be confused with cat dander. The two terms represent very different things. Dander occurs from the normal, healthy dead skin that your cat sheds. Cat dander is what people associate with allergies and should not cause the cat to be itchy or uncomfortable. Conversely, dandruff is an abnormal shedding off dead skin cells which, unlike dander, is accompanied by either extremely dry, irritated skin or, at times, very oily and itchy skin.
What is Seborrhea
The terms dandruff and seborrhea dermatitis are also often used interchangeably, although they are not entirely the same thing. Seborrhea is actually a cause of dandruff.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin disorder founds in both cats and dogs. The disorder arises when the skin's sebaceous glands produce an excessive amount of sebum, therefore resulting in dandruff, among other clinical signs. Seborrhea often causes a distinct odor which worsens if a secondary bacterial infection or a yeast infection develops.
Cat Dandruff Symptoms
In order to accurately identify cat dandruff, it is important that pet owners know the leading clinical signs of the condition. As you will see, the symptoms of cat dandruff are highly comparable to the clinical signs of dandruff in people.
The most common and noticeable symptom of cat dandruff is dry, flaky skin. If your cat has dark fur the flaky skin will be even more apparent. If your cat has thick fur, you may have to part their fur in order to see the flaking skin.
Red, Irritated Patches
Additionally, if dandruff is more severe, causing your cat to have irritated skin, you may find red, inflamed patches due to the constant itching and licking. Pet owners should be aware that the excessive itching can cause the delicate skin to break open and can quickly lead to the development of infection.
Cat Losing Hair
Additionally, constant itching and licking can lead to bald patches and hair loss. In these cases, getting to the bottom of what is causing your cat's dandruff is imperative as it can lead to serious skin damage as well as infection.
Thick, Scaly Patches
Finally, cat owners may find thickened, hard, scaly patches of dry skin accompanied by an excessive amount of flaky skin.
What Causes Dandruff
Typically, cat dandruff is caused by one of five issues: allergies, dehydration, diet, health, or parasites. In this section, we will cover these five main causes as well as additional possibilities to rule out.
We cannot stress the importance of diet enough. It is paramount in ensuring your cat's health and wellbeing and their ability to fight off ailments. Skin conditions, including dandruff, are often a telltale sign that your cat is not receiving the necessary nutrients in their food. Often times, dandruff is a sign of a lack of Omega 3 oils. Ensuring that your cat's diet is the best it can be will not only help prevent dandruff, but also prevent a slew of other health conditions.
Dandruff in cats is also a telling sign of dehydration. If your cat isn't receiving the necessary amounts of water, the result can often show up as dry skin and, therefore, dandruff.
Weather also affects dandruff in cats. If you live in a desert climate that is particularly dry, such as California or Arizona, dehydration can occur quicker than you may imagine. When it comes to improper hydration, dandruff will likely be the least of your concerns unless the issue is rectified in a timely manner.
If your cat has dandruff, it may be a result of a food allergy. Consider whether you have changed food sources recently. Does the start of your cat's dandruff line up with such a change? Furthermore, cats are known to develop food allergies when they are given the same food over and over. Therefore, switching their food up may be all you need to do to clear up their dandruff.
Additionally, environmental allergies may be at the root of your cat's dandruff. Just like humans, cats can suffer from allergic reactions from different plants as well as fertilizers and even laundry detergents. If you have an outdoor cat, consider whether they may have gotten into something that is causing the skin irritation. If your cat stays indoors, consider whether you have recently made a change in the laundry detergent you use to wash their bedding or if you have made a change in any cleaning supplies used around the house.
Dandruff in cats can also be triggered by both external and internal parasites. External parasites such as fleas, lice, and mites will bite the cat's skin, resulting in an allergic reaction and therefore, dandruff. One form type of mites, Cheyletiella mites, are known to cause even more damage. (More on that in a moment)
Internal parasites, such as ringworm and Malassezia, are also culprits of cat dandruff. Ringworm, which is technically a yeast infection, will also result in hair loss.
Diabetes & Hyperthyroidism
Metabolic diseases such as diabetes and hyperthyroidism are known to cause feline dandruff, as well as a number of other symptoms. These diseases are more prone to cats who are middle-aged and older. Additionally, overweight cats and cats who have preexisting health conditons are also at a higher risk of metabolic disease.
Dandruff in cats can also be a symptom of more serious conditions such as feline lymphoma, the most commonly diagnosed cancer in cats. There are varying types of feline lymphoma, but they all involve cancer of the immune system. When the immune system is weakened, skin conditions (such as dandruff) are likely to develop.
Just like people, cats are prone to sunburns, particularly on delicate parts of their bodies like the nose, ears, mouth, and eyelids. Additionally, cats who have light fur or thin fur are at a higher risk of sunburn. When the sunburn damages the top layer of the cat's skin, it will dry up and flake off causing dandruff.
Additionally, anxiety provoked by environmental changes can also cause the development of cat dandruff. We likely don't have to tell you that many cats are highly sensitive. Even small lifestyle changes such as moving furniture around or bigger changes like a new addition to the family can cause your cat to experience high levels of anxiety.
If anxiety is the reason for your cat's dandruff, it likely won't be the only sign. Anxious cats, even the most well-behaved, are known to shred curtains or have accidents outside of their litter box. If your cat is feeling anxious, make sure to give them some extra TLC. More often than not, their anxiety will subside with a little love and attention.
Cats who struggle with weight issues are also more prone to dandruff. We know how adorable chubby cats can be. However, overweight cats are not at their optimal health level. Additionally, overweight cats are unable to fully groom themselves, which will lead to skin issues. Finally, obesity often leads to diabetes, which is another contributor to cat dandruff.
Lastly, old age is also a culprit of cat dandruff. As the cat ages, the skin begins to lose its elasticity and becomes dry. Dry skin, accompanied by a reduced blood flow and occasional chaffing all result in older cats being more prone to flakiness and dandruff.
Severe Dandruff: What Else It Could Mean
Finally, it is imperative that cat owners recognize that severe dandruff can be a sign of a serious condition known as "walking dandruff." Walking dandruff is a form of mange caused by the Cheyletiella mite. The condition should be treated by a vet straight away.
How to Get Rid of Cat Dandruff
It is important to do all that you can to understand what is causing your cat's dandruff in order to accurately treat it. If dandruff is caused by a food allergy, an anti-dandruff shampoo clearly won't fix the problem.
In terms of treating dandruff associated with fungal infections, your vet will likely recommend a medicated cat shampoo. When it comes to mites and fleas, it is also imperative that cat owners wash all of their cat's bedding with hot water. Cat owners will also need to treat all other pets in the house with a flea preventative.
If your cat's dandruff is due to a sunburn, your vet may prescribe an oral or topical steroid.
If your cat's dandruff is associated with allergies, both food-related and environmental, your vet will likely suggest switching up their diet. Your vet may also recommend antihistamines or steroids to reduce the irritation while the cat's body adjusts.
Preventing Cat Dandruff
Now, once you have your cat's dandruff under control, you'll want to ensure that you are preventing it from recurring. Again, it is important to figure out what was initially causing dandruff in order to effectively prevent it. However, if the underlying cause remains unknown, there are still several things that pet parents can make sure to do.
Grooming & Regular Brushing
One of the best ways to help keep your feline's fur dandruff-free is by scheduling regular grooming and to be sure to brush your cat on a consistent basis. Brushing will help to stimulate the production of natural oils in your cat’s coat and prevent the skin from becoming dry and flaky.
Additionally, taking your cat to the groomers will allow for a lime sulfur dip to be done if needed.
Bathing Your Feline
We know that this preventative measure may be a cat owner's worst nightmare. There aren't many cats who tolerate, let alone enjoy, bathtime. However, with some cats, regular bathing is necessary. (Don't panic! Bathing will likely only be necessary every few months) Cat owners may opt to purchase a natural, anti-dandruff shampoo if they know that their feline is prone to dandruff between baths.
Over Bathing: A Word of Caution
It is important to note that over-bathing can have the exact opposite effect than you hope for. Be careful not to over-bath your cat as it can cause the skin to become even drier and lead to even more dandruff.
Hydration! Hydration! Hydration!
Another easy and effective way to prevent cat dandruff is to make sure that your feline is always hydrated. Ensure that your cat always has a fresh, clean water source. Whenever possible, keep them indoors or in the shade during peak hours of the day where the sun can be particularly damaging and cause dehydration. Also, adding wet food to your cat's diet is a great way to help with hydration.
Additionally, an incredibly effective way to prevent skin issues is by making sure that your feline is being fed a well-balanced diet. Again, diet is so important for overall health and wellbeing. Ask your vet which cat food is best and most appropriate for your cat's individual needs.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
As we previously mentioned, dry and flaky skin is often a telltale sign that your cat's diet is lacking omega 3 fatty acids. In these cases, cat parents can add an essential acid supplement to their feline's meal.
Coconut Oil & Olive Oil
Furthermore, adding coconut oil or olive oil to your cat's food are additional ways to ensure that they are receiving healthy fatty acids that will boost skin health. However, with coconut and olive oil, there can be too much of a good thing. Both are concentrated with high volumes of fat. It is important to talk to your vet about the appropriate dosage of each oil.
Purchase a Humidifier
Your cat's environment can greatly affect their skin. If you live in a desert climate or if you notice that the dry air is also affecting your own skin, you may want to consider purchasing a humidifier. Humidifiers help to add water content to the air and can be a gamechanger for both you and your cat.
Next, whenever possible, avoid any additional stressors for your cat's life. Of course, we know that this is easier said than done. However, try to do your best to keep everything in your cat's home life as consistent as possible. If a major change is planned for the future, try to slowly introduce the change.
Additionally, pay close attention to your cat's overall health. Are they overweight? Are they getting plenty of mental and physical stimulation? Have you noticed any other clinical signs of disease or distress that need to be addressed? Cat dandruff can easily be overlooked and brushed off as no big deal. However, pet owners should not disregard the fact that it can be a telling sign that their cat's overall health is not where it should be.
Moisturize Your Cat
Cat owners may want to consider purchasing pet-formulated oils and lotions that help moisturize the skin and combat dryness and irritation.
CBD Oil for Cats
There are also additional supplements that cat parents can implement in their feline's life. Our favorite? CBD oil.
Cat Dandruff vs. Dog Dandruff
Pet owners who have both cats and dogs know that it is typically easier to get rid of dog dandruff. This is solely due to the bath component. Dogs typically don't loathe bathtime as most cats do. In fact, some dogs love the bath. However, it is important to note that if you do have a cat and a dog and only one is experiencing dandruff, several causes can be ruled out as the environment, weather, and anxiety (among others) will likely affect both animals.
Cat Dandruff: The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, we know that you want the very best for your four-legged companion. While cat dandruff can be a bit of a nuisance, it is rarely a cause for absolute panic. With that being said, it is possible for the white flakes to be a warning sign that we encourage our readers to take seriously. The good news is that your cat does not need to suffer from dry, itchy skin. There are plenty of safe and effective ways to treat and prevent cat dandruff and get your feline feeling like their best selves in no time!
Chelsea Rivera is a holistic pet wellness expert and writer. She manages written content for Honest Paws - a company that specializes in CBD oil for dogs and cats.
Additionally, she is the founder and lead writer for SimpleWag, which focuses on holistic wellness and natural alternatives for dogs. She spends her days creating content, catching up on emails, and being bossed around by her 5 lb. Maltipoo, Baby Rose.