- Dandruff is a sign of bigger problems — While cat dander is normal, dandruff can be a sign of greater problems for your cat, including infections and dietary issues.
- Dandruff is fairly easy to manage — Once the causes of dandruff are identified, you can easily and affordably make life better for your cat.
- Dandruff affects indoor and outdoor cats — While the causes may vary, cats both in the home and in the yard can experience dandruff, so don’t assume that your cat is dandruff-free.
Causes of cat dandruff
In short, cat dandruff is an excess of dry, flaky skin that may signal underlying health conditions, and it shouldn’t be confused with dander, the normal shedding of dead skin cells. We’ll go into more detail about the exact symptoms in a moment, but first, you should know some of the main causes of dandruff to better understand exactly what it is.
If you’ve ever gotten dry, flaky skin in the winter months when the air is typically much more arid and cold, you and your cat might have more in common than you realize. Cats, too, can struggle when the environment is excessively dry. If you and your cat are experiencing skin irritation, consider investing in a humidifier to see if that helps clear things up.
Your cat might also be suffering from allergic reactions. From food allergies triggered by switching to a new brand or even reactions to grass and other plants, dandruff can have many causes.
While dandruff is often dry skin that flakes off, the opposite is true as well. With too much oil in your cat’s skin and fur, dead skin cells can clump up and flake off. Since cats are typically hygienic and attentive groomers, issues with their ability to groom may be to blame. For one, if your cat has packed on a few extra pounds, they may not be able to reach all the spots they need to when it’s time to clean themselves. Older cats with arthritis might also struggle to get to those hard-to-reach places, and dandruff is a likely result.
Your cat is likely obsessed with food, and for good reason. All cats need a healthy, balanced diet, and feline dandruff may be a sign that something isn’t quite right with their food. They simply may not be drinking enough water to stay properly hydrated, which can lead to dry skin. Make sure your cat has a constant source of fresh, clean water — consider fountain-style water bowls to encourage your cat to drink plenty of liquids. Dandruff may also signal nutrient deficiencies, so make sure that you are providing the best quality cat food your budget can allow.
Ringworm and other infections and pests
Ringworm , despite its name, is actually a fungal skin infection, and it can cause all sorts of problems for your cat, including dandruff. In addition to flaky skin, watch out for circular patches of hair loss, skin inflammation, stubby hairs, crusty skin, and excessive grooming. While ringworm can go away on its own, if the infection persists, a vet may prescribe antifungal ointment and other treatments after ruling out other potential causes of the irritation.
Fleas are a significant pest, and as they bite and claw their way through your cat’s fur, they leave droppings and shedding of their own to further irritate the skin in their wake. Flea dirt is often darker than dandruff, but with all the damage fleas do to the skin, you will likely see flaky skin, too.
You may think that napping and eating all day makes for a pretty calm kitty, but cats can have plenty of reasons to be stressed out. New additions to a home, like a new baby, pet, or even new furniture, can give pets anxiety as can understimulation and too little exercise. Dandruff may occur as part of a slew of other stress-related symptoms. Dry, flaky skin paired with changes to eating habits, problems using the litter box, and excessive meowing might mean your feline friend is stressed out.
Ironically enough, if you try to make your cat too clean, they are likely to develop dandruff. Cats are consistent groomers and tend to keep themselves quite clean all on their own. This means you seldom need to bathe your cat at all. However, if you do regularly bathe your cat, you may be stripping away important oils from your cat’s coat and skin. Doing so dries them out and can lead to dandruff and other skin issues.
Symptoms of cat dandruff
While you may be familiar with the basic symptoms of dandruff, you should still be on the lookout for other symptoms that often pair with dandruff, indicating potential health concerns for your cat.
- Dry, flaky skin. The most obvious symptom associated with dandruff is the small, white flakes of dead skin you might find in your cat’s coat. These flakes will often gather on the cat’s back or the base of the tail. You can also check the cat’s bedding for traces of the skin that has flaked off.
- Itching. If you notice your cat regularly scratching itself, you might be dealing with skin irritation often associated with dandruff. Cats groom mainly by licking their paws or fur, so scratching their back legs or chewing and biting affected areas are signs of something amiss. This behavior can break the skin and make your cat prone to additional infections, so the root cause should be addressed quickly.
- Skin irritation. Redness or irregular marks like bumpy circles or rashes indicate that your cat might have an infection. This may come from chemical contaminants like air freshener oils or cleaning products. Food allergies may also cause skin irritation, so if you recently switched cat food brands, you may need to switch back. Lastly, infections like ringworm can cause blemishes, crusty patches, and dandruff.
- Hot spots. Red, furless patches paired with oozing sores signal significant irritation for your cat due to excessive heat, infection, or persistent moisture. These spots should be addressed quickly, as they may indicate more serious infections or external parasites.
🚨 If these symptoms persist over several days and interfere with your cat’s daily activity, consult your veterinarian.
Treating cat dandruff
Treatment depends on the underlying cause and varies dramatically in time and cost. Some will be a topical application for a few days, while others may persist throughout your cat’s life. The chart below goes over some starting costs of common treatments, but prices may vary depending on your cat’s specific needs.
🚨 The prices above do not include vet consultation costs — you should discuss the best options with your vet before treating your cat’s dandruff.
Ongoing prevention of cat dandruff
For some cats, dandruff is easily addressed with fresh water and high-quality cat food to repair dehydration or a poor diet, while others may be in for a lifelong battle. Here are some things you can do to give your furry friend a fighting chance.
- Regular grooming. Cats do not need baths too often, but they can certainly use some grooming. When they are shedding, a good brushing can help reduce skin cell buildup, and a gentle washing every few weeks with cat shampoo specially formulated to combat dandruff can work wonders.
- Balanced diet. Cats have particular dietary needs, and cheaper cat foods cut costs by substituting lower-quality ingredients that may lack the vitamins and minerals felines need. Invest in quality cat food and consider a diet of both dry and wet food for extra hydration.
- Humidity control. The dry, bitter air of the winter months can damage the skin of humans and pets alike, so consider investing in a humidifier to help keep your home comfortable and everyone’s skin nice and hydrated.
- Essential fatty acid supplements. Supplements with omega-3s like salmon oil help fortify your pet’s skin and help keep them healthy and happy. Follow dosing directions carefully, and note that your cat’s relatively low body weight means that supplement supply tends to last a while.
- Allergy medications. If your cat is dealing with allergies, medication may be necessary to help them cope. You may also work on eliminating the source of the allergic reaction if possible.
- All-natural remedies. Many brands of antifungal oils and other products already incorporate many of these natural products, but you can apply these directly: coconut oil, olive oil, oatmeal baths, and aloe vera. Be wary of aloe, though, as it is toxic if consumed by your pet. If applied topically, watch for licking, which may lead to illness. Other substances like coconut oil and olive oil are generally safer.
If your cat is experiencing dandruff, it is important to have them evaluated so they can be treated effectively. Sometimes treatment may be as simple as treating for fleas or more involved such as long term treatment for skin allergies.
Cat dandruff is fairly common and easily treatable, but it should not be ignored as it points to underlying health issues. Stay attentive to your cat’s needs and look out for additional symptoms like skin irritation, behavioral changes, and hair loss. If cat dandruff does not clear up on its own or improve with hydration and proper diet, make sure to discuss possible solutions with your vet.
Frequently asked questions
How do I get rid of dandruff on my cat?
Make sure your cat is drinking plenty of water and eating a balanced diet. After that, check for other symptoms that may indicate a skin infection like redness, crusty skin, and hair loss.
Why does my indoor cat have dandruff?
If your home is too dry or if your cat suffers from obesity and cannot groom properly, dandruff is a likely result.
Why is my cat’s dandruff so bad?
You may not have noticed earlier signs of the problems that led to the dandruff like dietary problems or stress. Remember that with advice from your vet and action now, dandruff can be cleared up or managed.
Is it fleas or dandruff on my cat?
Dandruff is white and flaky, while fleas and flea eggs are darker and rounder. Note that some mites can also resemble dandruff flakes, so check for movement when inspecting your cat.
Does brushing a car help with dandruff?
Yes, it does! In addition to removing excess skin cells, brushing can help spread natural oils which hydrate the skin and prevent further dandruff buildup.