Cats, generally speaking, are total divas. Most cats strive to keep their coats meticulously clean, and they love to play that whole “look-but-don’t-touch” game with their human minions. They may pretend to be all nonchalant about most things, but it’s pretty obvious that cats take great pride in looking their best. My cat Abby usually plays up the diva role, but lately she’s been dealing with embarrassing problem on her normally lustrous coat: dandruff.
Just like their human counterparts, cats can develop dandruff that won’t go away through regular grooming. Dandruff is a common problem for cats, with some veterinarians estimating that up to 50 percent of all cats will develop it at some point in their lives. The white, flaky patches of dandruff found on your cat’s fur are most often the result of excessively dry skin or, in the case of overweight cats who cannot get to those “hard-to-reach places,” inadequate grooming. In some cases, dandruff can be a sign of a bacterial infection or parasites like mites or fleas. If your cat doesn’t appear to suffer from any other ailments or discomfort, a trip to the vet is probably unnecessary. However, dandruff usually indicates a need for some simple changes to your cat’s diet and environment.
Thinking about bathing your cat in Head & Shoulders?
Well, think again. Anti-dandruff shampoos designed for humans or dogs should not be used on cats because they contain chemicals that can increase dryness in cats’ skin and actually make their dandruff worse.
Simple Ways to Treat Cat Dandruff
Identify the cause of your cat’s dandruff. In order to determine the best treatment, you should first try to figure out what is causing your cat’s dandruff. Run a fine-toothed comb or brush through your cat’s coat to look for fleas, mites or other parasites that could be causing an allergic reaction on his skin. If dry skin is the culprit, your cat might show additional symptoms such as increased itching and thirst. If your cat goes outside, his dandruff might be caused by sunburn. In that instance, look for redness and dry, scaly skin in the areas where the fur is thinner, such as around his ears. Other possible causes include poor hygiene (usually related to obesity), diabetes (again, related to obesity) or allergies to items or products in the home.
Since dry skin is the most common cause of dandruff, improve your cat’s health by adding more omega-3 fatty acids into his diet. Just like in humans, cat dandruff often indicates a nutritional deficiency. Omega-3 fatty acids—which are found in many foods cats love, like salmon and tuna—are great for your cat’s skin and coat. Look for omega-3s listed on the label when you purchase cat food, and consider adding fish oil or omega-3 supplements to your cat’s diet. Most supplements come in a paste, oil or spray that can be easily mixed with your cat’s food, and cats love the rich, fishy flavor! Look for products such as Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil or Tomlyn Omega Power in the cat section at your local pet store or online.
Increase moisture by feeding wet food and encouraging your cat to drink more water. Most cats can get enough nutrients and minerals from dry food alone. However, if they are suffering from dry skin and dandruff, they might not be getting enough water. Wet food increases your cat’s water intake, especially if you mix in a few added spoonfuls of water. You don’t have to completely switch from dry to wet food (unless that’s what your vet recommends), but a few bowls of wet food each week will add more water to Fluffy’s diet. Also be sure to have fresh water available for your cat at all times. Encourage your cat to drink more water by placing several water bowls of different shapes and sizes around the house. Adding a little bit of the juices from a tuna can to the water can also entice your cat to drink more.
Get an air humidifier. Indoor cats are prone to dry skin, especially in the winter months. If the air is dry inside your home, you’ll likely notice dryness on your own skin and hair, and may even have dandruff yourself. Indoor cats are stuck in that dry air 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Purchase a humidifier to add moisture to the air. It will help decrease dryness in both you and your cat. An added benefit is that a humidifier can also help relieve allergies (both in humans and pets) and other respiratory problems.
Give your cat a hand in grooming. Although they like to roll around in dirt and occasionally sleep in the litter box, cats are generally very clean animals. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t need a little help in the grooming department. If your cat is suffering from dandruff, you should brush him every day to remove dandruff flakes and release the skin’s natural oils into the fur. Overweight and obese cats often struggle to properly groom themselves and may need extra help to avoid dandruff. You should also bathe your cat regularly to keep its coat clean and beautiful; however, bathing too often can increase dryness. If your cat hates water, there are numerous waterless shampoos available (such as Synergy Waterless Bath Foam and Miracle Coat Foaming Waterless Shampoo) that may make bath time a little easier.
If the dandruff appears to be caused by an allergy to parasites, start an over-the-counter treatment immediately. Cats may suffer from allergic dermatitis (or a skin allergy) that can result in dandruff. Allergic dermatitis can be caused by a number of things, but parasites such as fleas, mites or ticks are common culprits. Luckily, these parasites are easily treatable through over-the-counter medications such as Bayer Advantage or Frontline. The dandruff should begin to go away soon after the parasites do. As always, be sure to buy a product that is specially made for cats, and closely follow the instructions on the label.
Does Cat Dandruff Require a Visit to the Vet?
In most instances, no. Cat dandruff can usually be treated and prevented at home through the simple methods mentioned above. However, if your cat demonstrates additional health symptoms along with dandruff (such as extreme fatigue, difficult or frequent urination, lack of appetite, etc.), a trip to the vet is needed to rule out any potentially serious infections, illnesses or internal problems.
What is ‘walking dandruff’?
Cheyletiellosis (also known as Cheyletiella dermatis or “walking dandruff”) is a mild form of dermatitis caused by Cheyletiella mites, which live on the surface of the skin of cats, dogs, rabbits and even humans. When the mites scoot around, it can appear as if the dandruff atop the skin is moving.
Cheyletiellosis is not serious, but it can cause skin irritation and itchiness. It is also highly contagious. If your cat has Cheyletiellosis, you should treat her with an over-the-counter flea medication. However, make sure the medication is for cats only, as treatments for other animals or humans may be hazardous to cats.
Natural Ways to Keep Your Cat’s Coat Healthy
Fish oil. Giving your cat one teaspoon of fish oil every other day will help reduce inflammation and dryness in the skin.
Brushing. Daily brushing removes dead hair and skin cells and promotes the circulation of natural oils found in your cat’s skin and fur.
Tuna. Like fish oil, giving your cat a few spoonfuls of tuna will help relieve dry skin and provide your cat with essential nutrients.