So, you’ve noticed that your cat has dandruff — now what?
If it were yourself, you might head out to the store and pick up some anti-dandruff shampoo and be done with it. Luckily, it’s something similarly simple and treatable for your cat.
What Is Cat Dandruff?
Just like human dandruff, the cat variety presents as white specks trapped in the hair. They’re flakes of dead skin, which cats (and people) naturally shed in a much less conspicuous way. Also, like people, your cat may shed dandruff onto clothes or furniture — but since it’s cat dander, it can definitely trigger allergies and irritate respiratory sensitivities.
In mild cases, cat dandruff is simply dry skin that’s sloughing off in excess. In more severe instances, dandruff might be a symptom of something else, especially paired with inflamed or broken skin, a rash, or hair loss.
Common Causes of Dandruff or Dry Skin on Cats
Once you realize, “OK, my cat has dandruff,” your next thought is probably, “Why does my cat have dandruff?”
As mentioned above, it’s usually associated with dry skin, which can have many causes. But if it seems a little more concerning, you may need to look beyond your cat’s moisturization routine.
Causes of a Cat’s Dry Skin
- Cats are way more prone to dry skin than we might realize. Many cats habitually under-hydrate, since in “the wild,” they would get moisture from their food. The majority of house cats, on the other hand, eat dry kibble.
- Sometimes cats aren’t getting enough nutrition in the skin and hair department specifically — or aren’t getting a well-balanced, supportive diet overall. There are many nutrients cats need to live that they can’t produce enough of internally, for example. It’s critical to provide high-quality food that addresses this.
- Like us, cats are sensitive to weather and air quality. Low humidity/dry, hot air can sap the moisture out of their skin. While smoke, fragrances, and airborne cleaners can act as irritants.
- Finally, it might be a grooming issue. Is there a spot that your cat has difficulty cleaning, like their back or the base of their tail? This isn’t uncommon in older or chunkier cats. Dander can accumulate in these areas, and the buildup will manifest as dandruff. Overbathing is another cause of dry skin, as frequent baths (more often than every two months) will strip away natural healthy oils.
Causes of Dandruff Aside from Dry Skin
Dandruff as a result of seborrhea (seborrheic dermatitis) is due to an overproduction of oil. It is literally dandruff — seriously, human dandruff is called seborrheic dermatitis as well. But this is a bit more involved than just a little dry skin.
- You can usually identify it by oiliness, a slight odor, or inflammation.
- Allergens, infections, or irritants may bring on this skin disorder.
- It can strike in any instance that mild dandruff is possible, but in most cases, your cat won’t start experiencing full-blown seborrhea because you turned on a space heater for a couple of hours.
Speaking of infections and irritants: dandruff may also be caused by fleas, fungal ringworm, or other parasites. Sometimes mild seborrhea can encourage a fungal infection instead of the other way around, but it would still cause worsening dandruff and inflammation.
Finally, Cheyletiella skin mites are a pest that gets mistaken for dandruff. They live at the keratin level and are known as “walking dandruff,” although they cause actual dandruff along with other severe skin and coat issues.
How to Get Rid of Cat Dandruff (or Prevent It!)
If your cat has dry skin, the solutions are simple. Let’s go through them first before we tackle the more challenging possibilities.
- If your cat’s skin lacks moisture, add servings of wet food to their diet. Another option is to supplement their dry food with things like broth or lactose-free milk. To encourage them to drink more water, you can try a new “bowl” (plenty of cats will drink out of their own cup or may be enticed by a circulating water dispenser).
- If you suspect a nutritional deficit, make sure you’re using a quality cat food full of proteins with natural, whole-part ingredients. You shouldn’t try to supplement vitamins or minerals without veterinarian advice (too-high levels are toxic), but additional omega-3 fatty acids are good for skin and coat health. You can find them in the form of fish oils, treats, or specially-formulated food.
- To keep air quality tip-top, consider a humidifier for dry-heat summers or crank-the-heat-up winters. Try to keep the cat out of rooms that are smokey or with chemicals or air fresheners in the air, or at least make sure there’s ample ventilation.
- For grooming issues, just help a kitty out. Get in the habit of brushing regularly. They will probably enjoy it, and it can become quality bonding time. In lieu of traditional baths to help treat dandruff or plain old dirtiness, try waterless formulas that come in sprays, foams, and even wipes.
- For a common pest like fleas, the solution is as easy as treating fleas using your repellant of choice. Topical applications will usually work for several months.
- Finally, if you suspect a more serious issue due to the state of your cat’s skin, bring them to the vet. The veterinarian will investigate any underlying cause and guide you on treatment options, including antifungals or antibiotics, topical relief, or diet and supplement suggestions.
If your cat has dry skin and dandruff, it certainly isn’t the end of the world. It’s barely even a significant problem most of the time. But it’s important to take it seriously. It doesn’t take long for a cat with irritation to start wreaking havoc on their fur and skin.
Even if the dry skin-induced dandruff isn’t a big deal in itself, itchiness and discomfort can lead to excessive licking, scratching, and nibbling. That, in turn, can lead to unnecessary inflammation, even hair loss, or broken skin if your cat is extreme. Fortunately, you should be able to tell if your cat is having an issue or not over just a few days.
So, skip the dandruff drama. Now you’ll know what to look for in terms of worsening symptoms — and better yet, how to stop them in their tracks.