Dandruff is unsightly on humans and there is an entire industry dedicated to getting rid of this aesthetic blight. Our mammalian friends in the feline family can also be affected by dandruff and likewise there are pet products aimed to reduce, if not eradicate, the little white flakes. While dandruff is indeed unpleasant in appearance, it can also be the symptom of something more serious.
The Difference Between Dander and Dandruff
Dander is perfectly natural – a result of normal skin-shedding. Likewise, people also shed countless skin cells every day. A small part of household dust contains human skin cells and pet dander. Dander is white but it is much smaller and finer than dandruff. Dander also has a more regular appearance, like sprinkles of powder.
Dandruff, although common, is not entirely normal – it is a symptom that usually indicates deeper issues. Flakes of dandruff are large and coarse, irregular in shape and size. Being large pieces of dry skin, the flakes may appear scaly. Perhaps blood may be present; too much scratching can result in dandruff.
What Are the Causes of Dandruff?
Dehydration and Dry Skin
Unfortunately, it is difficult to pin down the cause of dandruff directly to one source. There may even be several reasons why your cat has flaky skin. The most prevalent reason is dryness. Your cat may not be drinking enough water (which is quite common in felines) and she may not be consuming enough Omega-3. Luckily, many reputable companies produce food, treats, and supplements to provide your kitty with enough essential fatty acids daily.
Additionally, there are plenty of products and methods to entice her to drink more water. Try the running water fountain – a machine that perpetually generates moving water! Cats are attracted to flowing water! Your cat may need to be on a wet-food diet for the rest of her life. You can also supplement the wet food with extra water in the form of low-sodium chicken or beef broth.
Skin and food allergies may cause dandruff – usually because of chronically itchy skin which leads to excessive scratching. The allergen can be hard to pin down, requiring a lot of trial and error. Expensive vet tests can also rule out or pinpoint an allergen. Switching to a high-quality food free of the most common allergens may prove to be a successful starting point.
Fleas, mites, and worms are some of the critters responsible for skin irritation. Itchiness leads to scratching which in turn leads to crusty, scabby skin. Worms can lead to nutritional deficiencies, leaching the vitamins and fatty acids necessary for clear, healthy skin and fur. It goes without saying that parasites need to be taken care of immediately – and dandruff is one of the less disturbing symptoms. Parasites, if left untreated, can also cause organ failure in addition to malnutrition.
Contrary to popular belief, your cat should probably be bathed. Short-haired cats can get away with cleaning themselves with their tongues, but many cats – especially those with long hair and skin issues – will need a regular bath. How we get cats into a bath is a topic for a different article.
Just be aware that skin issues such as dandruff may require your cat to have a weekly, if not a daily, washin water and healing shampoo. Dandruff is exacerbated by dirty skin. Oil and skin flakes combine to make large particles that are very difficult to get rid of. Additionally, bacteria thrive on the oil and shedding cells produced by skin. An unpleasant odor and matted looking fur are indicators that there is too much oil and dirt and that bacteria are producing waste!
Lastly, if your cat goes outdoors, a bath is required. An outdoor cat is more susceptible to a fungal infection such as ringworm. Your cat’s tongue is not coarse enough to get into the undercoat and she shouldn’t be ingesting dirt from outside either.
Dandruff has been cited as a symptom of diabetes. The disease is known to cause poor circulation due to damaged vessels and nerves. As a result, the skin may not be getting enough nourishing sustenance from bodily fluids. A urine test will determine if your cat is suffering from diabetes.
Finding the Cause
Because dandruff is not a disease but merely a symptom, the underlying cause will be hard to diagnose. If you successfully find the cause, then you’ll be on track to finding the correct treatment to eliminate the unappealing white flakes. Keep in mind that dandruff is not necessarily something that needs to be cured. If your cat is otherwise healthy, there’s no reason to put her through a battery of tests to get rid of something that might only be a cosmetic flaw. After ruling out diabetes, infections, malnutrition, and dehydration, it might be best to leave well enough alone!
By Gabrielle Allemeier
About the Author
Gabrielle Allemeier volunteers her free time as an animal rescuer and foster pet parent. As an animal lover, she enjoys sharing the knowledge she has gained from her experience with a variety of animals. Along with being an animal lover, Gabrielle is a globetrotter. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her terrier, Thisbe.