Dandruff affects one out of five people on the planet. If we haven’t experienced the flaking, itchy scalp ourselves, we likely know someone who has. Dandruff isn’t a condition exclusive to humans, however. Our feline friends are prone to dandruff as well and it’s not just restricted to their scalp; cats get dandruff all over their bodies.
With causes that can range from a dry environment to chronic illnesses, feline dandruff shouldn’t raise any major alarms, but it shouldn’t be dismissed either. Let’s delve into how to manage this frustrating feline condition.
Dander vs Dandruff
While both dander and dandruff have more in common than similar sounding names, they are very different conditions. Shedding skin cells, typically referred to as having dander, is a normal and healthy part of being a cat. In fact, it’s a normal and healthy part of being a cat, a dog, a bird, or a human. Although most people are under the impression that the dander produced by cats triggers an allergic response in humans, in most cases the allergy is actually triggered by a protein found in the saliva of cats, which is then transferred to the cat’s fur and skin during grooming.
We all shed microscopic skin cells that are dead or decaying so that they can be replaced by new, healthy skin cells. Those normally shed skin cells are what dander is made up of. The visible flakes of skin characteristic of feline dandruff are not the normal, healthy skin cells dander is composed of, however, but larger flakes of skin that can be either dry or greasy.
Dandruff, unlike dander, is sometimes accompanied by additional symptoms of irritation like red, irritated patches of skin, thick, scaly patches, or even bald spots.
When to Visit your Veterinarian
If your cat shows any of the following symptoms in conjunction with their dandruff, or if their dandruff is sudden and severe, it’s best to contact a veterinarian as soon as possible to rule out any serious disorders such as allergies, mange, or diabetes.
- Appetite changes
- Excessive itching or grooming
- Excessive thirst
- Litter box issues
- Skin lesions
- Visible parasites
Causes of Feline Dandruff
There are a wide variety of things that can cause your cat’s skin to become itchy, dry, or flaky. Here are a few of the many factors that can lead to dandruff in cats.
Arthritis—Limited mobility may interfere with your cat’s ability to clean themselves, leading them to shed larger flakes of dry or oily skin.
Cancer—Diseases like cancer weaken the immune system, which can lead to skin conditions like dandruff.
Dehydration—Domestic cats, especially those fed on kibble diets, are often dehydrated due to a lack of moisture in their food. This can lead to dry, flaky skin.
Diabetes—Uncontrolled diabetes and other metabolic diseases can result in feline dandruff.
Diet—Food allergies, sensitivities, or deficiencies can all lead to dry, itchy, inflamed skin that can flake off like dandruff when scratched.
Dry Indoor Air—Dry air indoors can lead to issues with dry skin for both you and your cat.
Excess Oil—An oily skin and coat can lead to a build-up of skin cells that eventually flake off as dandruff.
Infections—Either bacterial or viral infections can lead to dandruff.
Obesity—Obese cats have difficulty cleaning certain spots which can lead to dry skin and dandruff in and around those areas.
Parasites—Parasitic organisms such as fleas, ticks, and mites can lead to dandruff and flaky skin. Ringworm, mange, and fleas are all dandruff producing skin diseases caused by parasites.
Seasonal Allergies—Do your cat’s flakes seem to come and go with the seasons? You might be dealing with a seasonal allergy like hay fever. Seasonal allergies are more likely to flare up during the spring and summer seasons, although cats that are allergic to molds or mildews may experience more flare-ups in the autumn than in the spring.
Seborrhea—When either dogs or cats produce too much sebum from the sebaceous glands it can result in a distinct odor that is accompanied by oily flakes of dandruff.
Sunburn—Sunburn can cause the skin to peel and flake off.
A Note about Flea Eggs
Flea eggs, like dandruff, appear as tiny white flakes in your cat’s coat. While dandruff tends to stick to and accumulate on the cat’s fur, flea eggs tend to drop off after just a few hours. Flea eggs can also be distinguished from dandruff by their smooth, oval-shaped appearance, compared to the more irregular shapes made by dandruff.
Cat Dandruff Solutions
In most cases, the best way to manage feline dandruff is either to adjust the environment or to manage the underlying condition. Solving your cat’s dandruff problem will also depend somewhat on what is causing the dandruff to form in the first place. Cats that are reacting to a food-related allergy will typically find that their symptoms are alleviated when their food is changed, while antibiotics or antifungal supplements may be needed to clear up skin infections.
There are quite a few things that can be done at home to help alleviate your cat’s itchy skin. Once underlying conditions have been ruled out or addressed with your veterinarian, making adjustments in the following areas may help to improve the health of your cat’s coat.
While many cats manage the majority of their own grooming, even the most fastidious cat benefits from regular brushing. The ASPCA recommends brushing your cat one to two times a week, especially as your cat gets older. Brushing not only helps to better distribute natural oils to the coat, making it supple and shiny, but the brushing motion also stimulates your cat’s circulatory system, improving the health of the skin as well as the fur.
If your cat has developed dandruff, it may be time to step up their grooming routine by introducing bathing, adding in a few extra brushings, or providing additional self-grooming cat products to their environment. If you choose to bathe your cat, make sure you use a shampoo formulated for cats, as shampoos formulated for people can be dangerous to our feline family members. Wipes and waterless shampoos can sometimes be problematic as a cat grooming solution as well. They frequently leave residues that your cat later licks off their fur and some can exacerbate sensitive skin issues leading to more dandruff rather than less.
Adjusting environmental conditions in the home can often help to alleviate dandruff for your cat. Adding a humidifier into the home can help ensure that the air isn’t too dry for your cat’s skin, and air purifiers frequently filter allergens that may be irritating your cat’s condition.
Does your cat’s environment need to be just so while you’re away? Comforted Kitty understands! Contact us today for a consultation.
Diet and Hydration
Diet and hydration play a large role in keeping your cat’s skin and coat shiny and healthy. Ensuring that there are enough skin-healthy vitamins and minerals in your cat’s food, such as vitamin A, zinc, and copper, will help prevent skin problems like dandruff from developing, and choosing a high moisture content soft food can help to improve your cat’s overall hydration and health. High moisture content in food is especially important for cats who resist drinking water from a water bowl or fountain. Supplementing your cat’s daily diet with healthy omega-3 fatty acids is also extremely beneficial for improving their skin health.
While some cat dander is expected and perfectly normal for our cats, dandruff is not. Dandruff can leave your cat’s skin itchy, inflamed, and prone to infections. In addition, dandruff can sometimes sound the alert on underlying conditions that should be treated by a veterinary professional. This guide should give you the basic information you need to address your flaking feline.