What to Know About Cat Dandruff
Cat fur is usually something to envy. Their thick, lustrous coats are a beautiful sight to see. But some things can cause a cat’s coat to lose some of its appeal – and one of them is dandruff.
Dandruff in cats is often slow to develop and so it can be harder to notice. You might spot a few extra flakes in your cat’s coat, or your veterinarian might spot something at their annual wellness check. Regardless, your cat’s dandruff can sometimes signal a health issue that’s more than just skin deep.
What Is Cat Dandruff?
Dandruff is a scalp condition causing small flakes of dead skin that are naturally shed over time. A small amount of dandruff is normal in cats, as the skin is constantly regenerating and must shed its old layers to make room for new ones. In a normal cat, you might be able to see the occasional white flake if you part your cat’s fur and look down around the roots.
However, some health conditions can cause a cat’s skin to shed much more quickly than normal. When this happens, larger amounts of dandruff will be present and you may be able to easily see many small flakes of skin without needing to part the fur. You may also notice them shedding small flakes onto the bedding or on your furnishings
Cat dandruff is easiest to see on black cats and hardest on light or white fur. If you are unsure whether your cat has dandruff, try stroking them while standing on a dark surface, or combing through their fur with a fine comb. A few fine flakes on the comb or floor is normal, but if you are seeing lots then it’s likely that your cat has an issue.
Why Does My Cat Have Dandruff?
A small amount of dandruff can be normal in some cats. However, certain health conditions can cause cats to have excessive amounts of dandruff. Some of the more common ones include:
Flea bites irritate the skin, leading to itchiness and shedding of the skin. If your cat has fleas, you may see an increase in the amount of dandruff that they have. You may also see some darker flecks of “dirt” in the fur – these are the fleas’ droppings.
If you are unsure whether your cat has fleas, gently run a fine comb through their fur, and then tip the fur and dirt onto a damp piece of white paper or kitchen towel. If there are flea droppings present then they will dissolve slightly and develop a red-brown “halo” on the paper.
Several different species of mites can live on cats, including Cheyetiella (walking dandruff), Sarcoptis (scabies), and Demodex. Some mites live on the skin, while others will burrow underneath. In either case, they can cause itchiness and shedding of the skin, which will lead to dandruff.
Some mites are quite obvious, but others can be tricky to diagnose even for veterinarians.
Skin allergies are common in cats, and can cause a range of different symptoms. Unlike dogs and humans, many cats with allergies do not have large areas of red skin. Instead, you may see bald patches appear where cats have been over-grooming themselves, and an increased amount of dandruff. In more severe allergies, red plaques (“eosinophilic granulomas”) may appear on the skin.
All cats naturally have glands present in the skin which produce oils (sebum) to keep the skin soft and comfortable. However, in some situations, these glands can start overproducing sebum. This can lead to red, itchy, inflamed skin, and an increased amount of dandruff. Infections are also common with seborrhea, which can increase the amount of dandruff further.
Seborrhea may be a genetic condition (especially in Persian cats) or may be caused by other health conditions such as hyperthyroidism, obesity, or a poor diet, as well as some of the conditions we have previously discussed (fleas, mites, and allergies).
How To Get Rid Of Cat Dandruff
To get rid of cat dandruff, you usually need to treat the health condition that is causing it. However, some treatments can be helpful for most cats with dandruff.
Treating the Cause of the Dandruff
The treatment for dandruff will depend on the condition that is causing it.
Fleas and Mites should be treated with anti-parasite medication. Over-the-counter treatments are not as effective as those you can get from a veterinarian, so it may be best to choose one of these products, especially if you have already tried the non-prescription options.
Allergies can be complex to treat and may need a referral to a veterinary dermatologist. Some cats can be managed with changes you can make at home, but others will need life-long medication.
Seborrhoea can be treated with supplements, special shampoos, anti-inflammatory medication, and sometimes antibiotics to treat infections.
Essential Fatty Acid Supplements
Many cats with dandruff may benefit from supplements with Essential Fatty Acids, regardless of what is causing their issue. These supplements contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which may strengthen the skin and reduce inflammation.
It is very important not to use human supplements to treat cats, as these may contain toxic levels of fat-soluble vitamins. Choose a brand that has been designed specifically for cats instead.
Dandruff is a common issue in cats and can be caused by many different health conditions. It is important to see a veterinarian to work out why your can has dandruff so that it can be treated effectively.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can cats give dandruff to humans?
Most of the causes of dandruff in cats cannot be passed to humans. Fleas will bite humans, and some mites, including Sarcoptes (scabies), can infect both humans and cats. However, neither of these commonly causes dandruff in humans.
Is dandruff in cats serious?
Cat dandruff is usually caused by a skin condition, which may be uncomfortable but is unlikely to be life-threatening. However, in some cases, it can be a sign of an underlying illness. If your cat has dandruff then you should speak to a veterinarian for advice.