Most often you will notice white flakes just above the base of your cat’s tail. In this case, your cat probably doesn’t act differently or seem to notice its dandruff.
Other times, irritation is the cause of dandruff. You may see your cat scratching excessively or have inflamed looking skin.
Dandruff is a sign that there is something wrong with your cat. Cats constantly groom themselves, so if they are unable to keep up with their dandruff, there is likely a larger issue going on. There are quite a variety of reasons for cat dandruff, but luckily most are easily curable or manageable.
What is Dandruff?
In both humans and cats, large amounts of skin cells are constantly dying and being replaced. This dead skin is called dander and is nearly invisible. Dander is not the same as dandruff.
Dandruff occurs when large clumps of skin cells flake off at once. It appears as white flakes that are easily visible.
Dandruff happens when the sebaceous glands in the hair follicle produce too much oil (sebum). When this occurs significantly, it is called seborrheic dermatitis.
What Causes Dandruff? How Do I Fix It?
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 proper nutrition not only to have good, dandruff-free skin but also for its overall good health.
An important part of nutrition for cats is essential fatty acids. Cheap cat food or a poorly formulated home-made cat food can cause deficiencies in these fats; namely EPA, DHA, and ARA.
Sebum, the oil produced by the skin, will vary significantly depending on the fatty acids available to make it. Making sure that your cat is consuming food high in Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio will help.
Omega-3 oils are essential fats that promote healthy skin. A poor diet that lacks these oils can lead to dry, flaky skin.
Canned food typically has a higher Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio than dry food. The added moisture can also help with dandruff.
Additionally, you can add a fish oil supplement to your cat’s food. Salmon oil is a popular choice that most cats enjoy.
Be careful with supplements, though. Too much fish oil or fatty acid supplements can also cause skin issues. If you are unsure about supplements, ask your veterinarian.
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 or any foreign object that may disagree with your cat’s skin. Even environmental allergies such as pollen or allergies to external parasites (usually fleas) can cause dandruff.
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.
Sebaceous glands produce the oily layer on top of the skin in order to keep it protected. When an allergen reacts with the skin, inflammation occurs and the sebaceous glands go into overdrive. The skin quickly becomes flaky as a result of the allergy.
You might notice that dandruff caused by allergies can either be seasonally or year-round, depending on the allergen. Severe allergies may require medications such as antihistamines or steroids to manage.
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 – Fleas and Mites
All sorts of external parasites can cause dandruff in cats. Fleas themselves don’t cause dandruff but most cats will have an allergic reaction to fleas.
This will cause dandruff as the skin becomes inflamed and the sebaceous glands become overactive. You will likely see your cat itch even to the point of hair loss.
If the dandruff is excessive and is accompanied by hair loss and skin redness, it may be caused by a more serious condition called Cheyletiellosis – a highly contagious disease caused by cheyletiella mites.
These mites are too small to easily see, but in large numbers, dandruff can be seen to move. Thus, they are commonly called “walking dandruff”.
Another possible inflammatory skin disease is Demodicosis. It is more common in dogs but can rarely affect cats especially those that are immunocompromised or malnourished.
Demodicosis is mostly associated with severe itching and crusting and scaly-looking patches of skin.
Flea combing and skin scrapings at the veterinarian can determine if any critters are living in your cat’s fur. Luckily, both fleas and mites can be prevented with regular flea and tick preventative medication.
Once infested, fleas clear up quickly with the use of medication. But mites can be more tricky to get rid of. It may take more time for your cat to recover from a cheyletiella mite infestation.
- Fungal Infections
Fungal infections of the skin, most commonly ringworms that also cause flaking skin 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 and the infected skin flakes off as dandruff.
Ringworm usually only occurs in kittens or immunocompromised cats. It is more common in warm, humid environments.
Be very careful if you suspect that your cat has ringworm as it can easily spread to humans. It can be difficult to see the red “rings” under your cat’s fur if the infection is only mild.
Hair and skin scrapings will allow your veterinarian to diagnose fungal infections. They may also be able to see them under a special ultraviolet lamp.
Mild cases of fungal infections can be treated with a topical antifungal alone, but more severe cases require an oral antifungal medication to be given as well. Treatment is a long process – lasting at least 6 weeks.
- Hormone Problems
Various endocrine (hormone) issues can cause dandruff in cats. Although there are many types of hormonal imbalance, hyperthyroid is by far the most common in cats.
It is a 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.
The most significant symptom of hyperthyroidism is the inability to keep weight despite a strong appetite. However, dandruff is a symptom too.
If your veterinarian suspects hyperthyroidism, they will check the levels of thyroid hormone in the blood. Medication will be prescribed to block the extra thyroid hormone.
This can be tricky to dose correctly at first. However, once the right level is found, hyperthyroidism is easily treatable with daily medication.
Feline Diabetes is also 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.
- 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 or 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.
Certain purebred cats such as Persians simply have overactive sebaceous glands. In this case, your cat may always have some signs of dandruff. It would be extremely rare for this to occur in a non-purebred cat but it can happen.
There is no treatment for dandruff caused by genetics. Dandruff can help be alleviated by regular brushing, omega-3 fish oil supplements, and even baths with anti-dandruff shampoo.
Just like with people, the weather can cause dry and flaky skin on cats. Cold and dry winter air can cause dandruff to increase in your cat.
Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can also dry the skin and cause dandruff. For some cats, it may be normal to notice mild seasonal dandruff.
Limit your cat’s exposure to the elements if dandruff is occurring. White cats are especially sensitive to sunburn and their time outside may need to be limited. If dry winter air is the issue, try adding a humidifier in your cat’s favorite room of the house.
You can also look into cat-safe sunscreen and moisturizers. Just remember, because of grooming, anything you place on your cat’s skin will be ingested. Things that are safe for dogs or people may not be safe for cats for this reason.
- Not Grooming
A small amount of dandruff is sometimes unavoidable. Normal, healthy cats are obsessive about keeping clean and would never let anyone see this dandruff. The most common reason why you would notice dandruff in cats is because your cat has stopped effectively grooming itself.
Cats with injuries, those with arthritis or obese cats typically do not groom themselves as much as they would like to. The area just above the base of the tail is one spot that is notoriously hard to reach. It is very common to see dandruff in this area on an older or obese cat.
Illness may also cause your cat to stop grooming, but typically, a cat has to be very sick before this happens. In this case, dandruff is not usually the main concern.
If your cat is having trouble grooming itself, you can help with regular brushing and a warm washcloth to wipe away dandruff. Baths may be necessary in cases where your cat has completely stopped grooming.
The most important thing to remember is that dandruff is almost always a symptom of another issue. Itchy, flaky and inflamed skin is not fun for your cat. The underlying cause of dandruff should be treated whenever possible.
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 your cat’s 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, the general treatments for cat dandruff are provided above.
Finally, if all else fails or if your cat cannot groom itself, you can do it yourself by brushing your cat’s coat regularly.