Cat dandruff is one of a number of skin conditions that cats can suffer from. It causes unsightly flakes to form in your cat’s fur and be deposited on your furniture.
In Why Does My Cat Have Dandruff, we’ll be looking at the symptoms and causes of flaky skin in cats and most importantly at how you can help to restore your cat’s coat to shiny good health.
Let’s just briefly mention dander here first, because when it comes to cats, dander and dandruff are two terms that often get confused.
- What’s the difference between dandruff and dander?
- Does my cat have dandruff?
- What causes flaky skin in cats?
- Does my cat have mites?
- Does my cat have an allergy?
- Flaky and oily skin
Dander Vs Dandruff
Just like us, all cats are continually shedding skin cells. Dander consists of microscopic fragments of these skin cells and is pretty much invisible to the human eye. Because cats wash themselves constantly, dander tends to be coated in saliva, which contains a protein that some people are allergic to.
It’s this invisible dander, floating around our homes, that causes wheezing and sneezing in people with a cat allergy.
The production of dander is completely natural and normal, all cats shed some skin cells, and it is not something you will notice lying around on your furniture or in your cat’s fur. If your cat has dandruff on the other hand, you’ll know about it.
Cat dandruff, consists of dry, flaky scales big enough for you to see with the naked eye. It is not uncommon but it isn’t normal. It is a visible symptom of a form of dermatitis or skin irritation in your cat.
Just like dander, these large flaking skin cells contains the proteins that can cause cat allergies in sensitive people. But they also present a visible problem that many people find unsightly or upsetting. And it is an indication that your cat’s skin is not as healthy as it could be.
How to tell if my cat has dandruff – signs and symptoms
You’ll usually be able to see flakes on the surface of your cat’s fur, although, with long-furred pets, owners may need to part their cat’s coat to see them.
The flakes are white or brown in colour, and should also be looked out for on carpets, furniture, clothing, or any other places your cat may have been. You may notice that your cat is licking, scratching, or grooming themselves more than usual.
Changes in your cat’s fur can also indicate a problem. Your cat may experience an increase in shedding of hair for example, or alternatively may develop oily, matted fur. Especially along their back.
What causes cat dandruff?
There are a range of different causes of skin problems in cats. Sometimes its an environmental problem, something the cat is touching, eating or has become infected by. And sometimes the culprit is an underlying health problem that needs treatment.
For example, flaking skin can be caused by the presence of mites or other parasites. It can also be caused by seborrhoea (the overproduction of oils produced by the cat’s skin). Allergies, poor diet and a range of diseases can also play a part.
Damage to your pet’s skin, such as through sunburn, or overexposure to heat (for example, sleeping close to fireplaces in the winter) may occasionally be implicated.
Sometimes, no cause at all can be found. This is what veterinarians call ‘idiopathic’ dandruff, which simply means that they don’t know why it’s happening. If this happens to your cat, your treatment will be aimed at controlling the symptoms. We’ll look at that below. In most other cases, the treatment will focus on removing the cause of the problem
How to get rid of cat dandruff
The best treatment for flaking skin may vary from cat to cat. This is because the right treatment depends on the specific cause.
Discovering what that cause might be, is a job for your veterinary surgeon.
So your first step should be to make an appointment to have your cat examined. Let’s look at some of the treatments that might be recommended for your pet.
Treating cat dandruff caused by mites
The cat mite that can cause this problem is a large one, and mites can sometimes be seen with the naked eye. The thought of mites crawling around your cat is pretty unpleasant, but happily the problem is treatable. The mites can infect other pets too so its important to get your cat down to your veterinarian’s office and get some treatment underway.
If your cat’s flaking skin is caused by mites or other parasites, your veterinarian will most likely give you products to apply to your pet’s skin. Or possibly a ‘spot on’ topical treatment to kill these tiny invaders.
Once the mites are removed, your vet may advise bathing your cat to help clear away the scales.
In addition, it’s a good idea to wash your cat’s bedding, to ensure the mites do not return. Once the mites are gone, your cat’s coat should gradually return to its former glory
Treating cat dandruff caused by allergies
If your vet suspects that your cat’s skin problem is being caused by an allergy, you’ll need to put your heads together to figure out what your cat has reacted to.
Your vet will want to know about any recent changes you have made in the way you care for, or manage, your cat.
Potential triggers might include new food, or items your cat comes into contact with such as new toys, and so on. The cause could also be new household objects.
Your veterinarian may suggest changes to the products you use around your home, and will be able to recommend the safest products to use for your pet.
Treating cat dandruff caused by skin damage
Sunburn is unusual in cats, but it does happen. If your cat has suffered skin damage, from the sun or any other source, then that problem needs to be addressed first.
Burns of any kind should be treated by your veterinarian, and the treatment will vary depending on the severity of the burn. Your cat may be need a course of antibiotics to prevent secondary infections in the damaged skin.
Oily skin and matted fur
Your cat’s skin produces a natural oil called sebum. This is what helps to make your cat weatherproof and gives its fur a nice shine. However, sometimes, that oil production gets out of control. If your cat makes too much sebum this will cause a build up of oil in their fur. This condition is call Seborrhoea and because it is often accompanied by flaking skin, it looks very much like dandruff.
If your cat’s flaky skin is caused by seborrhoea, or the overproduction of oils, you may need to bathe your cat in a medicated shampoo. Your vet will be able to recommend an appropriate product.
He or she may also recommend changes to your cat’s diet or a supplement as seborrhoea can sometimes be associated with a nutrient deficiency such as insufficient omega-3 fatty acids.
Seborrhea and the skin flaking it can cause, may also be a sign of an underlying illness, especially in older cats. This is another reason why prolonged skin troubles should always be discussed with your veterinarian.
Cat dandruff shampoos
Bathing your cat with a keratoplastic or keratolytic shampoo can help control flaking skin.
Keratoplastic ingredients slow the production of new skin cells, reducing the amount of scales that will appear on your cat.
Keratolytic ingredients help soften and dissolve the outer layer of skin cells on your cat, making it easier to remove existing scales while bathing your pet.
Have a chat with your vet about whether one of these products would be appropriate for your cat.
Can I use my dandruff shampoo on my cat?
Don’t be tempted to share your own shampoo with your cat. It isn’t worth the risk.
Human shampoos can be harmful to pets, so always check with your veterinarian before using these. Ingredients like tar for example, can be unsafe for animals.
Veterinary consultations are expensive and it’s very tempting to dive in first with a home remedy. Unfortunately it isn’t always possible to know which kind of dandruff your pet is suffering from.
Some home remedies simply don’t work, and using them will delay the start of an effective course of treatment. Others may be quite effective for one kind of flaking skin and no use at all for another. And while it is appealing to try to save money, you could actually end up spending more in the long run in your search for an effective treatment.
And because Seborrhoea can mimic dandruff, and be a sign of other health issues, this really does need to be ruled out by a qualified veterinarian
Do tell your vet what you have tried at home or are planning on trying. Many vets these days are very supportive of the trend towards using natural ingredients where possible, and will be able to tell you what might or might not help your cat.
He or she also needs to know what else you are putting on your cat’s skin in case it clashes with what they wants to prescribe.
How to stop your cat getting dandruff again
Treatment is usually very effective, and it’s a great relief to see the back of this unpleasant problem. Once you have successfully got your cat’s skin problem under control, you’ll want to know how to stop it coming back.
Prevention of cat dandruff requires care in several areas. Including the treatment of any underlying illness that your cat may be suffering from.
- Provide your cat with a good quality diet with adequate fatty acids. Some experts recommend that only allowing access to food at meal times can help.
- Always provide water to keep your cat hydrated, and avoid long exposure in the sun, especially in the hottest months of summer.
Cats are very hygienic animals which clean themselves, so regular bathing is not required unless your cat is unable to clean a stain or if it has soiled itself, or unless otherwise advised by your veterinarian.
Remember, if you think your cat has dandruff it is important to seek veterinary help early on to prevent the condition from worsening and to establish the underlying cause.
Have your vet examine your cat and follow their instructions for resolving the problem. This should clear up the condition and enable you to deal with any future recurrence swiftly
- ‘Ear Mites in Cats: Symptoms and Treatments’, Healthy Pets, Pets.webmd.com. Accessed: 06/02/2017
- Ernest Ward, DVM: “Seborrhea In Cats VCA Hospitals
- Karen L. Campbell, The Pet Lover’s Guide to Cat and Dog Skin Diseases (Missouri, 2006)
- Current trends in the treatment of Sarcoptes, Cheyletiella and Otodectes mite infestations in dogs and cats C F Curtis, Veterinary Dermatology 2004
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