Dandruff is not just an aesthetic issue with cats—cat dandruff can be symptomatic of a bigger health concern, and your cat’s scratching can lead to skin damage. A healthy cat will have smooth, soft skin without dandruff flakes or visible sores or irritation.
Causes of Cat Dandruff
Dandruff in cats usually is from one of four causes: nutrition, hydration, parasites, health problems, or allergies.
Diet: A poor diet can cause nutritional deficits that lead to skin problems. A deficit of Omega-3 oils can lead to dry, flaky skin and a dull coat in your cat. High quality foods contain a balanced amount of Omega oils, so be sure to carefully select your cat’s brand.
Hydration: Lack of proper hydration can cause dandruff in cats. If your cat isn’t getting enough water, their skin can reflect that dryness. The dehydration could also be environmental – dry air and weather can affect a cat’s skin and coat. Sunburn can also affect outdoor cats, particularly if they have a lighter-colored, thinner coat.
Parasites: Common causes of dandruff or dermatologic reactions in cats are parasites like fleas, worms, or mites. Bites from fleas and mites can trigger allergic reactions on your cat’s skin, which can lead to dandruff and excessive itching. These kinds of external parasites can also cause other serious health problems if left untreated.
Health: In some cases, dandruff can be one of the symptoms of feline diabetes. You should contact your veterinarian if you’re seeing flaky skin in conjunction with other diabetes symptoms.
Allergies: Dandruff can also be the result of an allergic reaction. Food and environmental allergies and stressors can affect a cat’s skin and coat. It could be something as simple as a new routine or change in your home that’s upset your cat’s immune system. It could also be the introduction of a new food. Your veterinarian will be able to help you narrow down possible allergens if you’ve ruled out other factors.
Symptoms of Dandruff in Cats
The white flakes of dandruff are visible to the naked eye and not to be confused with dander, which is much smaller and part of the natural skin shedding process. Dandruff symptoms also include scaly, dry-looking skin. If your cat has thicker fur, you might need to part their fur to see the flakes on their skin. A cat comb or brush can also help you diagnose dandruff, if you’re seeing flakes there after a grooming session.
You may also notice your pet engaging in excessive itching or licking at dandruff sites. If overgrooming has occurred as a result of the dandruff itchiness, your cat may have red, inflamed skin patches.
Treatments for Cat Dandruff
If you suspect your cat might be dehydrated, consider using a pet fountain which aerates the water and makes drinking more appealing. Switching to wet food is another way to up your cat’s water intake. If the air is dry, using a humidifier in your home can help add moisture your cat’s skin and fur.
For a suspected nutritional deficit, carefully read your pet food’s label and make sure it’s properly balanced for your cat’s life stage and habits. Adding Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil supplements can help. For a food allergy, you’ll want to consider finding a healthy alternative to the culprit. If you and your vet have determined that an environmental allergy is seriously affecting your cat, your vet might prescribe an antihistamine or steroid.
Great Options: Clemastine, Chlorpheniramine
If you believe your cat is upset by environmental stressors, try to avoid making any sudden changes in routine or the home. Keeping your cat calm and reassured could help clear up the problem. If it continues or is severe, your veterinarian may recommend a medical-based calming treatment.
Great Options: Sentry Calming Collar, Composure Bite-Sized Chews
And, finally, regularly groom your cat! In addition to being a great bonding time, regular brushing or combing stimulates your cat’s skin cells and promotes good circulation. It also helps spread their natural oils evenly throughout your cat’s skin and coat.
Great Options: Zoom Groom Fexible Cat Brush, Safari Cat Bristle Brush
More on Cat Skin and Coat Care
Skin and Coat Care: A Pet Parent's Guide
What to Do When Your Cat's Not Grooming
The Cat Brush Buying Guide