Cat Dandruff? Here’s the Signs & Symptoms

Cat Dandruff? Here’s the Signs & Symptoms

  • Kirsten Thornhill - 27.04.2020

You may be familiar with the flaky, itchy, seems like a never ending annoyance better known as….you guessed it - dandruff. No matter what you do, it seems like relief isn’t near. Unfortunately, your four-legged friend with dandruff can be more than a real issue. Cat dandruff affects more felines than you can imagine. Furthermore, pet dandruff is so common that there are limitless companies that create anti-dandruff shampoos and products. Yet., many paw parents find themselves wondering what even causes the dandruff in the first place? Is there a way to prevent the constant itchy irritation? Could it be a possible sign of something more serious than simply dry skin? 

In today’s article, we’ll talk about all the important topics you need to know and understand about cat dandruff. It may be a simple case of an itchy annoyance, but it also may be more. It may be a telltale sign that your feline is suffering from a variety of things - could be dietary allergies or harmful intestinal parasites. In order to fully treat dandruff, we must first determine what is the source of it. 

Here we go!

Dandruff: What is it?


So what is it? Dandruff is a condition in which dead, dry skin cells develop and flake from your cat’s skin. More often than not, cat dandruff is accompanied by constant skin irritation and itching. 

There tends to be a stigma around dandruff. Many people with dandruff often feel insecure and want relief. However, cats don’t seem to mind the flakiness, unless of course, the dandruff is causing severe irritation. When cat dandruff causes your fur baby to scratch obsessively and uncontrollably, skin damage can become a serious concern. 

A little bit of dandruff every now and then is usually nothing to worry about. However, it is important to figure out what the source of the matter is, especially if the dandruff is persistent.

Dander vs Dandruff


We want to make it apparent that cat dandruff should not be confused with cat dander. The two terms represent two very different cat things. Dander occurs from the healthy and normal dead skin that your cat sheds. Cat dander is what people often associate with allergies and typically should not cause the cat to be itchy or cause discomfort. On the other hand, dandruff is an abnormal shedding of dead skin cells (unlike dander). It’s typically accompanied by extremely dry, irritated skin, or possibly very oily and itchy skin. 


Seborhea Who?

The terms ‘seborrheic dermatitis’ and ‘dandruff’ are often used interchangeably, although they are not entirely exactly the same thing. Actually, seborrhea is one cause of dandruff.

Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin disorder that may occur in cats and dogs alike. The disorder becomes apparent when the skin’s sebaceous glands produce excessive amounts of sebum, resulting in dandruff. Seborrhea causes a distinct odor most times, which worsens if a yeast infection or secondary bacterial infection develops. 

The Symptoms of Cat Dandruff


In order to accurately and effectively identify cat dandruff, it is imperative that paw parents know the leading clinical signs of the condition. As you will see, the signs and symptoms of cat dandruff are extremely similar to the clinical signs and symptoms of dandruff in people. 

Flaky Skin 


The most noticeable and common sign of cat dandruff is flaky, dry skin. If your cat has dark fur, the flaky skin will be even noticeable. If you act has thick fur, you may have to bring your hand through the fur in order to see flaky skin. 

Redness and Irritation


Furthermore, if dandruff is severe, causing your fur baby to have irritated skin, you may find inflamed, red patches due to the constant licking and itching. Paw parents should be aware that excessive itching can cause the skin to break open and can lead to a developmental infection.

Hair Loss 


Constant licking and scratching can lead to… guessed it…...bald patches and overall hair loss. In these cases, getting to the source of what is causing your cat’s dandruff is important, as it can lead to severe infections or skin damage. 

You may also find thick, hard, and scaly patches of dry skin - accompanied by an excessive amount of flaky skin. 

Dandruff: The Culprit Causes


Cat dandruff is often caused by one of five potential issues: dehydration, allergies, diet, parasites, or other health issues. In this section, we’ll touch on these five main causes as well as possibilities you can rule out. 


1. Dehydration


Dandruff can also indicate that your cat is dehydrated. If your cat isn’t receiving an adequate amount of water daily, the results can often show as dry skin - aka dandruff.  

The weather can also affect dandruff. If you live in an arid climate that is usually dry, like California or Arizona, dehydration can occur more frequently and quicker than you’d expect. When it comes to dehydration, dandruff will likely be the least of your worries, unless the issue is approached in a timely manner. 


2. Allergies


Have you changed your cat’s food lately? Does your cat’s dandruff line up with the food change? Cats can sometimes develop food allergies when they are given the same food time and time again. Switching up their food may be all you need to do to clear up that dandruff (woo).


3. Diet


 We can’t stress this enough - diet is key! It is essential to ensure that your cat’s health and wellbeing is strong enough to fight off potential aliments. Skin conditions, like dandruff, are often a noticeably easy sign that your cat may not be receiving necessary nutrients in their daily food. Oftentimes, dandruff is from a lack of omega-3s. Feeding your cat the best diet possible can help to prevent and keep dandruff away, as well as numerous other health conditions. 


4. Parasites


Dandruff can be triggered by internal as well as external parasites. External parasites may be more commonly referred to as lice, mites, or fleas. These will irritate the cat’s skin, leading to an allergic reaction and dandruff. For example, the Cheyletiella mites are known to cause severe damage to the skin,


5. Lymphoma


This is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in cats. There are numerous types of feline lymphoma, but they are all involved in immune system cancers. When the immune system is weakened, skin conditions are likely to follow. 


6. Sunburn


Just like us humans, cats are prone to getting sunburns, like the ears, mouth, eyelids, and nose. Cats will light-colored fur or very thin fur are at high risks for sunburn. When the top layer of skin gets damaged by the sun, it becomes dry and flakes off - causing dandruff. 


7. Anxiety


Small changes, like moving furniture around or adding new pillows to the couch, may cause your cat to experience anxiety. If anxiety is the reason for your cat’s dandruff, it probably isn’t the only thing. Anxious cats are shown to shred pillows or curtains or have accidents away from the litter box. If your cat is being anxious, make sure to give them extra love and care. More times than not, your cat’s anxiety will lessen with a little love, pets, and attention. 

How to Get Rid the of Cat Dandruff


It’s crucial to do all that you can to understand what is causing you cat to have dandruff in order to accurately treat it. If dandruff is caused by a food issue, an anti-dandruff shampoo clearly won’t make the problem go away.

In terms of treating fungal infections causing dandruff, your veterinarian will likely recommend a medical-grade cat shampoo. If it’s mites and fleas, don’t forget to wash all your cat’s bedding and cloth-like toys in hot water. Cat owners will need to treat any and all other pets in the house with a flea prevention medicine. 

If your cat’s dandruff is from a gnarly burn from the sun, your vet may prescribe a topical steroid. 


If your cat has allergies from dandruff, your vet will likely recommend switching up their diet. If the dandruff is really bad your vet may recommend an antihistamine or steroid to reduce the irritation and redness while your cat’s body adjusts to the diet change.  

How to Prevent Cat Dandruff

Now that that dandruff is under control, you’ll want to ensure that you prevent it from happening again. It’s important to figure out the initial cause of the dandruff in order to ensure it doesn’t occur time and time again. However, if the underlying cause remains a mystery, there are still multiple things that paw parents can do. 


  • Moisturize
  • Regular brushing & grooming
  • Bathing your cat
  • Balanced diet
  • Avoid stressors 
  • Hydrate
  • Omega -3 fatty acids
  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • CBD oil 

Canine vs Feline Dandruff


Paw parents that have both dogs and cats know that it’s easier to get rid of doggy dandruff. Dogs typically don’t hate bath time as much as most cats do. In most cases, dogs love to bathe! Do note - if you do own a cat and dog and only one is having dandruff, several causes can be deleted. Weather, anxiety, and environment will likely affect both animals. 



Cat Dandruff: Final Thoughts


When it’s all said and done, we know that you want only the best for your four-legged snuggle bug. While cat dandruff can be a bit of an all-over-the-place thing, it is rarely an immediate worry for you as a paw parent. It is possible that the white flakes are possible warning signs of other conditions we do encourage you to take very seriously. The good news? Your car doesn’t have to suffer from itchy, dry skin. There are countless, safe, and effective ways to treat and prevent cat dandruff. 

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