Cat dander is an allergy sufferer's kryptonite, sending the hapless victim sneezing and wheezing in great reactionary fits. Every cat produces some amount of microscopic dander. Those great flakes on the coat aren't dander; they're dandruff, which can signal other problems.
Dander vs. Dandruff
Dander and dandruff are both shed skin cells, but they're not the same. The skin cells naturally shed as dander are pretty tiny and mostly unseen. The only reason they set off your allergies is because they hitch a ride on shed hair, which becomes airborne and floats about the house. Dandruff, on the other hand, is larger, more easily seen shed skin that can sometimes indicate an underlying health issue.
Dandruff is essentially loose flakes of skin, and various external factors can cause your kitty's skin to change from healthy to dry. Weather can play a big role; the heat of summer and dryness of winter can both play havoc with your cat's coat. His skin may dry to the point of flaking off when he scratches, causing those unsightly white flakes. A skin mite of the Cheyletiella genus causes a condition called walking dandruff that produces plenty of skin flakes.
A healthy coat indicates a healthy cat; if your cat suddenly starts looking like the "Before" image in a dandruff shampoo commercial, make time for a vet visit. Overweight kitties tend to develop skin problems and sport some dandruff flakes around their tails simply because they can't reach that far back to groom properly. Cats with low-fat diets, meanwhile, can have overly dry skin, as they can't produce enough of the natural oils necessary to keep their skin healthy.
Find the cause of the dandruff to learn the proper treatment. Mite-caused dandruff requires medications to kill all the freeloaders, and the dry skin usually resolves once the little buggers are gone. Keep a humidifier running in the winter, and plenty of water and cool air for your kitty in the summer, to encourage proper skin health. Ask your vet for food or dandruff-control recommendations, and watch for signs that your cat is obsessively grooming or scratching the dry areas. If no underlying issue exists and your cat doesn't seem particularly bothered by the dandruff, brush him or wipe him down with a wet washcloth to remove the flakes and don't worry about them.
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