Cat Dandruff – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Cat dandruff is a common condition characterized by flakes of dry, dead skin cells and is commonly associated with dry, itchy, flaky skin. 

Aside from the horrible sight of your cat covered in not-so-snowy flakes, the condition itself is not very threatening but can also be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition.

Causes

Determining the cause of your cat’s dandruff is not an easy task. Commonly, it is caused by allergic reactions to objects foreign to your cat. However, determining that foreign object can also be daunting, that’s why it is highly recommended to have it checked out by your veterinarian.

Dandruff can be a symptom of an underlying illness, so having your veterinarian determine the root and run some physical examinations on your cat is the best idea.

These are the general causes of cat dandruff:

  • Poor Diet

Your cat needs the proper nutrition not only to have a good, dandruff-free skin but also for its overall good health. Omega-3 oils are essential fats that promote healthy skin. A poor diet that lacks in Omega-3 oils can lead to dry, flaky skin.

  • Allergies

Dandruff can also be caused by allergic reactions from foreign objects coming into contact with the cat’s skin.

Most commonly, contact dermatitis is caused by something as simple as your cat’s new shampoo, soaps, solvents, chemicals, plants, or any foreign object that may disagree with your cat’s skin.

Moreover, food can also be the root of your cat’s allergy. If you have recently introduced a new diet, its body must have reacted poorly to the new food.

  • Dehydration

Skin dehydration can also be causing the unsightly flakes on your cat’s fur.

The most common reason is water dehydration. Like people, not drinking enough water may reflect dryness on the skin. Additionally, dry air and weather, commonly dry winter air, can make your cat’s skin dry due to the lack of moisture.

Also, the hot sunny weather can be at fault. Sunburn damages the top layer of your cat’s skin, making it dry and flaky; causing it to peel off.

  • Parasites

Parasites are also common causes of cat dandruff. Bites from fleas and mites can trigger an allergic reaction on your cat’s skin. The flea injects saliva into its skin which triggers the reaction.

If the dandruff is excessive and is accompanied by hair loss and skin redness, your cat’s dandruff may be caused by a more serious condition called Cheyletiellosis or “walking dandruff”, a highly contagious disease.

Another possible inflammatory skin disease is Demodicosis. It is more common in dogs but can rarely affect cats especially those who are immunocompromised or malnourished. Demodicosis is mostly associated with severe itching and crusting and scaly-looking patches of skin.

  • Fungal Infections

Ringworms and Malassezia are the most prevalent fungal infections in cats. Aside from dandruff, these infections are often associated by areas of hair loss and itching.

  • Underlying Diseases

Cat dandruff may be signs of more serious underlying diseases.

Feline Diabetes is a common metabolic disease where the cells build up a resistance to insulin – a hormone necessary for glucose to enter the cells. Diabetes can contribute to your cat’s dandruff and dull coat.

Additionally, feline hyperthyroidism may also be at fault. It is a common disease caused by a benign hormone-secreting tumor of the thyroid gland. It is most common in cats over ten years of age and can be responsible for your cat’s poor coat condition.

  • Seborrhea Dermatitis

Seborrhea is a feline skin disorder caused by the overproduction of sebum, which lubricates and protects the skin. There are two types of seborrhoea; seborrhea sicca meaning dry seborrhea and seborrhea oleosa or oily seborrhea.

The affected areas of the skin usually flake off in dandruff and may be red, inflamed, and itchy.

  • Old Age

Elderly cats have naturally drier skin due to a decline in sebaceous gland activity. Paired with reduced blood flow; skin dryness and flaking on elderly cats are completely understandable. Elderly cats are also prone to arthritis; limiting their mobility, thus, limiting their ability to groom themselves.

  • Obesity

Like the elderly cats, obese cats also have limited mobility and can have a hard time grooming themselves. As a result, their skin and fur are often neglected and can sustain unwanted skin conditions like skin flaking or dandruff.

Obesity also increases the risk of arthritis, further degrading their mobility.

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Symptoms

The most common symptoms of cat dandruff are itchy, dry, and scaly skin and can be most commonly found on the back of the cat, closer to the tail than the head. Sometimes, you may even see red, inflamed, scaly skin patches.

Likewise, your cat may engage in excessive itching or licking on areas affected by dandruff. In some cases, excessive dandruff can even result to greasy skin with a pungent odor.

On its own, nominal cat dandruff is harmless. Aside from the unpleasing trails of skin flakes, there are no other adverse effects on cats.

Most of the time, dandruff is not associated with any disease and is completely normal for a feline. However, an excessive amount of dandruff should yield a visit to the vet.

cat with a chronic itching

Treatment

As varying as the cause, treating cat dandruff differs per case.

The most basic treatment for cat dandruff is a good old-fashioned bath. Sometimes, dandruff with no underlying cause can be easily treated by just a splash in the water. This will help release the flakes and clean its skin.

Additionally, consider getting a special anti-dandruff shampoo designed for pets. If dandruff persists, it may be caused by something your veterinarian could determine.

After determining the cause of your cat’s dandruff, several treatments and medications can be applied to suppress the condition. Though, it is best to get advice from your veterinarian, these are the general treatments for dandruff:

  • Proper Diet and Hydration

Most of the time, nominal dandruff is caused by the deficit of proper nutrition in cats’ diet.

Look for good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. In particular, fish oil supplements can greatly improve your cat’s skin condition.

If your cat hasn’t been touching the water bowl lately, consider getting a pet fountain to make drinking water an enjoyable activity rather than a chore.

After an inquiry to the vet, you may also consider switching to wet food. There are considerable benefits of wet food over dry food on cats with dandruff.

First, wet food provides more hydration. According to Cat Health, “Wet food is about 75 percent water, which is roughly equal to the percentage of water in cats’ prey in the wild. Dry food is only about ten percent water.”.

If your cat is obese and/or diabetic, dry food is a no-no. Dry food’s higher carbohydrate content may lead to more body fats, may promote insulin imbalance, and ultimately, dandruff.

  • Medicated Shampoos

If the dandruff is caused by a skin condition, there are medicated shampoos that are specifically made to treat skin diseases like Seborrhea, Malassezia, and Demodicosis. Lime sulfur dips also come in handy as they are proven to treat such skin diseases.

For parasites such as ringworms, fleas, mites, particularly the highly-contagious Cheyletiella mites, medicated shampoos and lime sulfur dips can also be administered.

You may also consider switching your cat’s regular shampoo to an organic, moisturizing, and hypoallergenic one made specifically for cats. Also, make sure that you rinse your cat well every bath as excess shampoo can cause more dandruff.

  • Anti-Fungal Medication

Oral anti-fungal drugs, anti-fungal drops, and anti-fungal shampoos can also treat skin conditions such as ringworms, Seborrhea, and Malassezia. For more severe cases of Malassezia, oral Itraconazole or fluconazole may be prescribed by your veterinarian.

  • Anti-Allergy Medication

If your cat’s dandruff is caused by allergies, immediately avoid the source of allergies if possible; whether food or environmental related.

Antihistamines and steroids may be administered by your veterinarian to control the symptom.

  • Moisturizing

It is important to moisturize your cat’s skin to avoid problematic dandruff. Consider getting a humidifier to restore the water content into the air. If you live in a dry climate especially during winter, a humidifier is a necessity.

You can also get special oils, spray bottles, and moisturizing creams that can help soothe dry skin – preferably those that contain colloidal oatmeal.

  • Others

Hyperthyroidism – If your cat has been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, your vet may prescribe medications to control it such as Methimazole and Tapazole. A permanent cure may also be recommended such as radioactive iodine treatment and thyroidectomy or the removal of the enlarged thyroid lobes.

Arthritis – If arthritis has been limiting your cat’s ability to groom, a lifestyle change is advised. For overweight cats, careful weight loss and increased exercise will be necessary to reduce pressure on the joints.

Your veterinarian may also prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Metacam and disease-modifying osteoarthritis drugs such as Zydax to slow down the progression of arthritis.

Finally, if all else fails or if your cat cannot groom itself, you can do it yourself by brushing your cat’s coat regularly.

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