Severe kitty dandruff not only is an unsightly problem for your feline, but also can indicate a medical issue. Those flakes of dry skin could be the result of parasites or a skin infection. Causes vary, so consult with your veterinarian to get to the bottom of your furbaby's dandruff.
Sometimes what looks like heavy dandruff on your cat isn't actually dandruff at all. A condition known as cheyletiellosis, commonly referred to as walking dandruff, is caused by a type of mite. Cheyletiellosis is caused by an infestation of cheyletiella mites, which feed on your cat's skin, leading to itchy, scaly skin and hair loss. Cheyletiella mites crawl under the skin scales they cause, making it appear as if the dandruff flakes are moving or "walking." This condition can be spread to other animals and humans, so take care in handling your cat. A veterinarian can diagnose this condition properly. Treatment usually involves the application of a topical flea medication, such as selamectin or fipronil, which kills the mites and protects your cat from future infestations, according to PetPlace.
Ringworm is a type of fungal infection of the skin that affects cats, and causes hair loss, itchy, red skin and dandruff, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The fungus is highly contagious and can spread to humans. The infection is acquired through contact with other infected animals or with bedding used by an infected animal; shed hair also can carry the fungus. To treat this condition, your veterinarian will examine your cat and take skin scrapings or hair samples. You may have to bathe your cat in medicated shampoo or administer oral medications to kill the fungus. Ringworm also can lead to secondary bacterial infections, so have your cat checked regularly during and after the treatment. Cats with cheyletiellosis are more likely to catch ringworm, according to the Feline Advisory Bureau. This could account for severe amounts of dandruff in a cat who has contracted both conditions.
Underlying Medical Conditions
Several underlying medical conditions can lead to a secondary skin condition called seborrhea, resulting in very dry, flaky skin for your cat. Hypothyroidism slows down your kitty's metabolism, leading to slower skin cell growth, which results in dandruff, according to VetInfo. Diabetes causes weakness and lethargy, which leads to reduced grooming and skin flakes building up on the coat. Heart disease also may lead to dandruff, as the poor blood circulation it causes leads to skin cells dying, which show up as dandruff flakes on the coat. All of these issues can be diagnosed properly by your veterinarian. Once the underlying cause is treated, the dandruff problem should resolve.
In some cases, a lack of proper nutrients in your cat's diet can lead to the development of skin issues. Purchase commercially available food that meets the nutrient profiles developed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials to ensure that it meets your cat's nutritional needs, recommends the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In addition, you may need to supplement your little one's diet with some fish oil that contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Fatty acids help with skin cell production and prevent dry, flaky skin, according to VetInfo. Before supplementing your cat's diet with fatty acids, speak to your vet. While these fatty acids, and some additional vitamin-E, can help your kitty's skin, proper dosage is required. Too much supplementation actually can cause additional skin problems, according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Like people, cats can suffer from environmental causes of dry, flaky skin. If your home is very dry, it can cause your cat to have dry skin and dandruff. Running a humidifier near your kitty's favorite sleeping spot can help. Cats who sunbathe also may develop a sun burn. When her sunburned skin flakes off, it will appear as dandruff in her coat. Some kitties may even have contact, environmental or food allergies that are contributing to dry skin. Obese cats have trouble grooming themselves, especially around their lower back, which can lead to dandruff. A low-calorie diet may be in order for her. Bacterial infections of the skin also can cause excessive dandruff. Speak with your veterinarian about options to determine what could be causing your cat's dandruff, such as an allergic reaction, if other health problems have been ruled out.
Excess dandruff can irritate the allergies of those allergic to cats, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. To prevent issues in your home and help your cat look her best, brush her daily to remove as much of the dandruff from her coat as possible. This also stimulates her circulation, and spreads her natural skin oils throughout her coat and skin, which can reduce the dandruff in some cases. Pre-moistened pet wipes, sold in pet supply stores, or a damp washcloth also can be used to wipe her down gently, removing the dandruff from her fur without having to bathe her.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- Veterinary Partner: Diet and the Skin
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Ringworm
- PetPlace: Cheyletiellosis in Cats (Walking Dandruff Mite)
- VetInfo: Cat Dandruff Treatment
- Cat Channel: Cat Dandruff
- VetInfo: Causes of Dry Skin on Cats
- PetPlace: Cat Dandruff
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: Pet Allergies
- PetPlace: Seborrhea in Cats
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.