Cat Dandruff Know The Signs and Symptoms

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Cat Dandruff: Know The Signs and Symptoms

Veterinarians.org Team

By

Medically reviewed by

Ivana Crnec,DVM

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Is Dandruff on Cats Normal?

Yes, cat dandruff can be normal. According to Vet Med, cat dandruff is a minor condition and is often described as a “cosmetic inconvenience.“

However, cat dandruff can also be a symptom of a more serious health condition. There are a number of issues that dandruff may be a symptom of.

Usually, the difference between cat dandruff being normal and being an issue is the amount – a small amount of dandruff is normal, while excess dandruff is a sign of poor grooming and skin issues.

We should note that cat dandruff is not the same as cat dander. Simply put, the term dander is used when describing normal skin shedding, while dandruff is used for excessive flaking of the cat’s skin.

What does Dandruff Look Like on Cats?

Dandruff is the fancy medical term for dead skin cells that normally flake from the cat’s skin. According to Royal Canin, dandruff on a cat will look like white flakes.

More often than not, dandruff is accompanied by excessive itchiness and even hair loss. It is also possible for the white flakes to spread to pet owners’ clothes or bedding.

Regular dandruff should be differentiated from the so-called “walking dandruff, “ which are, in fact, parasitic Cheyletiella mites (they look like dandruff but move quickly and are larger than regular mites).

What Causes Cat Dandruff?

What Causes Dandruff

Cat dandruff can be caused by various issues – from something as simple as reluctance to groom to something as severe as skin disease. Let’s take a closer look at the causes of cat dandruff.

Poor Grooming. Cats are notorious for their grooming skills. So, if a cat stops grooming, it is because grooming is painful. This is particularly true for cats with arthritis (taking the proper grooming positions is uncomfortable). Poor grooming is also common in overweight cats as obesity prevents cats from being flexible and reaching different body parts.

Low-Quality Diet. A good diet is vital for overall health. Cats eating low-quality foods lacking adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids may develop dry skin. Dry skin is often accompanied by dandruff. In addition to causing skin conditions, low-quality foods have a negative impact on the cat’s health in general.

Dehydration. Cat dandruff can be a sign of dehydration. If a cat isn’t receiving the necessary amounts of water, the results can be dry skin and dandruff. The weather can also affect cat dander. For example, if a cat lives in an arid climate that is particularly dry, such as California or Arizona, dehydration can occur more quickly.

Food Allergies. Allergic reactions to food are a common cause of dandruff in cats. Allergies are a common issue and, sadly, challenging to diagnose and manage. In addition to dandruff, a cat with food allergies will have itchy and dry skin. It can also show signs of stomach upset (vomiting, gassiness, and diarrhea).

External Parasites. There are many different external parasites causing dandruff in felines. Common ectoparasites are fleas, lice, and mites. These pesky tiny parasites are a nuisance and can trigger an array of health problems. Luckily, they are easily preventable through the use of prevention products (spot-on and collars).

Skin Infections. Skin infections also result in excess skin dryness, flaking, and dandruff. Skin infections in cats can be classified as bacterial, yeast, and fungal infections. One of the most common fungal infections is ringworm. It causes circular and bald patches that are very itchy and usually surrounded by dandruff.

Feline Seborrhea. Seborrhea is a specific skin condition in which the cat’s sebaceous glands produce excess amounts of natural and protective skin oils. The presence of excess skin oils cause increased cell shedding and, consequently dandruff. A cat with seborrhea will have a repelling smell.

Hyperthyroidism. Feline dandruff can be caused by hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is a hormonal imbalance in which the cat’s thyroid gland produces too many thyroid hormones. Other signs of hyperthyroidism in cats include increased appetite, weight loss, increased thirst, frequent urination, urination outside of the litter box, vomiting, diarrhea, and hyperactivity.

Old Age. Old age is also a potential cause of cat dandruff. As the cat ages, the skin begins to lose its elasticity and becomes dehydrated. The dry skin together with decreased blood flow and occasional chafing can all result in flakiness and dandruff. Plus, senior cats are less likely to groom on a regular basis.

What are the Signs of Cat Dandruff?

Cat Dandruff Symptoms

Flaking, irritated patches of skin, and hair loss are the main signs of dandruff in cats. Let’s take a look at these signs in more detail:

  • Flaking Skin. The most common and noticeable sign of cat dandruff is dry, flaky skin. If a cat has dark fur the flaky skin will be more apparent. If your cat has thick fur, you need to part its fur in order to see the flaking skin.
  • Red and Irritated Patches. A cat with dandruff-covered fur is likely to have patches of red and irritated skin. The skin irritation can be due to dandruff’s underlying cause or the cat licking and scratching herself excessively.
  • Hair Loss. Constant skin irritation, itching, and licking can lead to bald patches and hair loss. More often than not, the bald patches are a temporary problem and will resolve as soon as the underlying problem is addressed.

Should I Worry About My Cat’s Dandruff?

According to Germantown Vet, a little dandruff is harmless and is no cause for concern. Even so, a small amount of dandruff can still cause irritation and can be a nuisance for the cat.

Basically, a pet owner should be worried about cat dandruff if it is present in excess amounts or accompanied by other troublesome signs and symptoms.

Should I Take My Cat to the Vet for Dandruff?

Yes, you should take your cat to the vet for dandruff. This is especially true if dandruff seems to be excessive or if the cat is exhibiting other illness signs (general or skin-related).

Sometimes, dandruff is caused by systemic, potentially life-threatening issues. Therefore, it is better to err on the side of caution and have your cat checked by a vet.

How do You Get Rid of Cat Dandruff?

How to Get Rid of Cat Dandruff

Getting rid of your cat’s dandruff can be challenging and requires a multimodal approach. In the long term, managing the underlying cause is imperative.

However, if wondering how to treat cat dandruff momentarily, here are some useful tips:

  • Regular Brushing. As explained, cat dandruff is, in fact, dead skin cells. Therefore, giving your cat a simple brush will help remove them.
    • Vetnique Labs Furbliss Pet Brush. This multipurpose brush for long-haired cats is perfect for deshedding, grooming, massaging, and bathing. Plus, it removes allergy-causing dander and sebum from coats and furniture.
    • Safari Self-Cleaning Brush. This brush has retractable pins making it easy on the cat’s coat and skin. It can be used on both long and short-haired cats and is perfect for trapping fine hairs.
  • Dandruff Cat Shampoo. Additionally, you can use special dandruff shampoos that are formulated for cats with skin issues.
  • Skin Moisturizer. The best way of managing dry skin is by adding extra moisture. The pet market offers a variety of moisturizers for cats.
    • Anicura Natural Cat Gel Ointment. This gel is designed to soothe and calm dry and irritated skin. It is perfect for deep moisturizing and easy to use – gently massage or dab it onto the affected area 3-4 times per day.
  • Omega Supplements. Since dandruff can be caused by a lack of fatty acids in the food, it is a good idea to get a high-quality omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
    • American Journey Salmon Oil Supplement. A squeeze of this supplement into a cat or dog’s food will help boost their skin and coat health. It specifically helps to nourish dry, sensitive skin. Available in a drip-free and mess-free squeeze bottle.
  • Diet Change. If a cat’s dandruff is associated with allergies, switching up the diet is the best option. The vet may also recommend antihistamines or steroids in the short run to reduce the irritation while the cat’s body adjusts.

How do I Prevent Cat Dandruff?

Preventing Cat Dandruff

Since there is no single cause of dandruff, prevention requires several approaches. Here are some things pet parents can do to prevent feline dandruff.

  • Regular Grooming. Despite the fact that cats groom themselves, occasional sessions at the groomer’s are advisable. Between sessions, you can regularly brush your cat. This helps on several levels – from massaging to improved oil distribution.
  • High-Quality Diet. It is critical that you provide your cat with a high-quality diet – balanced and rich in different nutrients. The modern pet market is loaded with cat foods. If you are not sure which is best, talk to your trusted DVM.
  • Skin Supplements. Ensuring your cat’s fur and skin are healthy requires supplements like omega-3 fatty acids. The best way of adding omegas to your cat’s diet is by using fish oil (from wild-caught, cold-water fish like salmon).
  • Proper Hydration. Hydration is vital for skin health. You need to make sure your cat has access to clean and fresh water. Since cats are poor drinkers, it would be a good idea to give canned wet foods from time to time.
  • Get a Humidifier. A cat’s environment can greatly affect its skin health. If they live in an arid climate, a humidifier may be helpful. Humidifiers help to add water content to the air and make for moist and healthy skin.
  • Avoid Stressors. Whenever possible, avoid stressor exposure. Try to keep everything in a cat’s home life consistent. The buildup of stress is detrimental and can wreak havoc on the cat’s overall health.
  • Vet Checkups. Practice regular vet checkups. Since veterinary care can be expensive, we suggest getting pet insurance. OneVet gives 24/7 access to online vets, $3.000 in emergency funds, and coverage for pre-existing issues for $19.99 per month.

Cat dandruff can easily be overlooked and brushed off as no big deal. However, pet owners should not disregard the fact that it can be a telling sign that their cat’s overall health is not where it should be.