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What Can You Do About Cat Dandruff?

Cat dander is an inescapable fact of cat biology. Excessive amounts of cat dandruff could be symptomatic of a more serious condition.

Melvin Pena  |  Oct 28th 2014


It is said that every seven years, all of the cells in our bodies are replaced by others. Where do those cells go? The simple answer is that they are shed, typically in a microscopic form. In our feline pets, this is called cat dander. Along with saliva, cat dander is one of the leading causes of allergic reactions to cats in humans. Let’s outline the distinctions between dander and dandruff, see what other problems it might signify, and what, if anything, can be done to treat it!

What is cat dander?

All cats have or, rather, produce dander. It is an inescapable fact of cat biology. In cats, dander is the normal shedding of dead skin cells, and the name we give those cells. Cat dander is microscopic, but with indoor cats, it can prove inescapable and problematic as it accumulates in carpets, furniture, or other surfaces around the home.

Cat dander is shed more frequently and voluminously as cats grow older. Therefore, kittens produce the least dander and senior cats the most. Hair or coat length is not a factor in the production of dander, since dander is composed of dead skin cells. Unfortunately, then, people with cat allergies who are in search of a hypoallergenic cat on the basis of coat length are looking in the wrong place.

What is cat dandruff? What causes it?

Essentially, cat dandruff is our colloquial term for those dead, cast-off flakes of skin that are visible to the naked eye. A normal by-product of a cat’s self-grooming, these flakes of skin are going to be more prominent when the cat in question has a darker coat color. The causes of normal cat dandruff include lack of moisture in the air, allergies, and deficiencies in dietary nutrients. Let’s take a brief look at each, and ways they can be addressed.

Why does your cat have dandruff?

For cats who spend the majority of their time indoors, winter is a prime time for regular cat dander to become severe dandruff. Just as our skin tends to dry out when we’re running the heater around the clock, so too, is a cat’s skin prone to drying. Dry skin leads to flaking, which we recognize as cat dandruff.

Allergies in your cat may also cause cat dandruff. Your cat may be allergic to a new brand of food, or perhaps the presence of a skin irritant. The irritant may be artificial, like accidental exposure to a household cleaning product, or denote the presence of a parasitic infestation. This may be anything from irritation caused by fleas or ticks, to an imbalance in a cat’s natural skin mite population.

Dietary problems may be causing your cat’s dandruff problem. Proteins and fatty acids contribute to a cat’s overall health and wellness, particularly its skin health. Over long periods of time, deficiencies in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids can cause cat dandruff.

Cats that are overweight or obese also tend to develop severe dandruff. The heavier and more unwieldy a cat is, the less able it is to perform normal self-grooming. An inability to redistribute its natural skin oils leads to excessive cat dandruff in areas that have become difficult to reach, including the lower back and the base of the tail.

When cat dandruff is a symptom

If your cat is not a senior cat and is dealing with severe dandruff that’s not related to dry air or dietary issues, it may be a symptom of a more serious health issue. If cat dandruff actually has you concerned, scheduling a veterinary appointment can help you pinpoint and address the underlying problems.

If severe dandruff in cats is accompanied by reddened skin or localized hair loss, it may signal a parasitic infestation caused by mite overpopulation or a fungal condition. Conditions such as demodetic mange occur when demodex mites reproduce at a rate that’s higher than the cat’s immune system can keep in check. Small, reddish, circular lesions, sometimes accompanied by hair loss, are a sign of the ringworm fungus.

Can you get rid of cat dandruff?

As Catster’s resident veterinarian has written, cat dander is inevitable, and what we refer to as cat dandruff only increases as a cat ages. It is not possible to get rid of cat dander, nor to eliminate cat dandruff completely, but you can take steps to reduce its presence and mitigate its effects on your allergies. Things as simple as regular house cleaning, cat grooming, and limiting your cat’s access to bedrooms can substantially lessen the impact that dander has upon you, your family, and houseguests.

Given time and opportunity, cat dander or cat dandruff will accumulate on any surface or item your cat has regular contact with. This means that carpets, floors, furniture, and the dishes your cats use for food and water should be regularly vacuumed, mopped, or otherwise disinfected.

Grooming is another way you can lessen the impact of cat dandruff. Cats groom themselves every day, but if cat dandruff continues to bother you and it’s not related to a more serious issue, one way to help is to give your cat a bath on a regular basis. Even a daily brushing can help distribute a cat’s skin oils and prevent areas of dry skin from becoming problematic. If you go with brushing, try, when possible, to do it outdoors!

How do you deal with cat dandruff?

Finally, if cat dandruff persists, make sure that your cat stays out of areas of the home where you, your family, or your guests sleep. Keeping cats out of bedrooms means that cat dandruff has less of a chance to passively enter human sinus cavities and instigate allergic reactions. How do you deal with cat dandruff? What habits and practices do you find most effective?