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Why Does My Cat Have Dandruff? 11 Vet Reviewed Causes & Treatment

Written by: Eleanor Glaum

Last Updated on June 21, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

siamese cat fur with dandruff

Why Does My Cat Have Dandruff? 11 Vet Reviewed Causes & Treatment

VET APPROVED

Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Perhaps you’ve noticed some white flaky bits on your cat’s skin or in their coat and you were wondering about it. Cats have the propensity to experience dandruff in much the same way that we do.

A little bit of dandruff is usually not bothersome to your kitty. In most cases, dandruff isn’t life-threatening, however it always warrants a trip to the veterinarian to ascertain its cause. If your kitty’s dandruff appears to be worsening, or if it’s accompanied by other signs, then you should get your cat to your vet promptly.

In this article, we’ll have a look at many of the possible reasons that your cat has dandruff.
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The 11 Possible Reasons My Cat Has Dandruff

As you can imagine, there are many reasons your cat may have dandruff. As we mentioned, some are of little cause for concern, while others may be indicative of a serious problem.

We’ll take a look at the various possible causes of your kitty’s dandruff in this order.

cat fur with dandruff
Image Credit: Nau Nau, Shutterstock

Mildly Concerning Causes   

These next few possible causes of your kitty’s dandruff are the most likely. They are mildly concerning and probably won’t cause your cat too much discomfort, if at all. There are simple solutions in most cases.

1. Dry or Greasy Skin

Either dry or greasy skin could result in dandruff. There are a couple of reasons for this condition.

First, the kitty could just naturally have either drier or oilier skin, just like people do. Cats with oily skin experience a build-up of skin cells, which consequently flake off. Cats with dry skin exhibit flakiness, which results from a lack of moisture in the skin.

Second, the cause could be situational based on the environment. Dry skin could be exacerbated by a dry climate. Conversely, greasy skin might be aggravated by high heat and humidity.

How to Treat It:

For a cat with dry and flaky skin, you could consider investing in a humidifier. This is sure to make your cat more comfortable and may even improve their dandruff. If your cat has greasy skin, or if you live in a hot and humid area, the best solution would be to keep your kitty indoors. Here, they can benefit from the cooling and drying properties of an air conditioner, provided there is one installed. Supplements provided by your veterinarian can help your kitty with their skin conditions.

Important

A humidifier adding moisture to the air in your house is not harmful for your cat. However, the appliance itself may be a hazard for your kitty. Never leave your cat alone with a humidifier or any other appliance, and ensure that it is placed away from your cat’s reach. An inquisitive cat may jump onto a humidifier and suffer burns or other injuries by venturing too close to the source of steam.

A greasy coat could mean they need a deeper clean by way of cat-specific shampoo geared to treat fur predisposed to extra oil production or musky smells.

While most cats are great at grooming, sometimes a deeper clean is required to help combat oily skin and diminish tough set-in odors that can cling to their fur. Hepper Deep Clean Pet Shampoo is a great option for lifting pesky cat smells and hydrating skin which also prevents the over-production of natural oils. Learn more about why this shampoo sets itself apart from traditional cat shampoos and if it's right for you here. 

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2. Build Up of Undercoat

Dandruff can also result from the build-up of a cat’s undercoat. Depending on their breed, cats have either a single, double, or triple-layer coat. Cats with a single-layer coat have an overcoat of coarse “guard” hairs. Such breeds are normally found in naturally warm environments. Breeds with no hair or sparse hair, such as the Sphynx, are also classified as possessing a single-layer coat.

Many breeds of cats have a double coat, which comprises of an undercoat of soft, dense fur and an overcoat of guard hairs. Breeds that have evolved in very cold climates, such as the Siberian, have a triple-layered coat. As the name suggests, this coat has additional fur beneath their undercoat which provides them with even more insulation and even renders their coat water resistant.

Kitties are usually very thorough when it comes to the business of grooming themselves. If, for whatever reason, your kitty is not up to the job, the undercoat may become dense and trap dirt, loose hairs, and dead skin cells. These can all aggravate the skin, which may cause dandruff.

How to Treat It:

It’s important to ascertain the reasons behind the kitty’s bad grooming job. There are many, and they will be discussed a bit later on, as well as tips on how to remedy the behavior, if possible.

In the interim, you will need to help your cat out by grooming them. Brush them with an appropriate brush or comb until you begin to see an improvement. Chat with your local veterinarian or grooming specialist for advice on the best brush for the job.

If you are looking for recommendations on the best cat brush, you should check out Hepper Cat Brush. You will hardly find different brush with so many pros - easy to clean, easy to use, durable and effective. Simply everything you need from a cat brush. Click here to order yours today.

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3. Age

Elderly cats can be more prone to skin conditions, and may also have greater levels of skin and hair shedding. Due to increasingly limited mobility resulting from arthritis, old cats also struggle to clean themselves as thoroughly as they used to, as they may also begin to lose interest in grooming themselves. This can all potentially result in them developing dandruff.

How to Treat It:

It’s time to step in and be there for your treasured senior feline. You will have to dedicate more time to grooming and bathing them when necessary. What better way to bond with your old cat in the last years you will enjoy together!

young woman holding cute siberian cat with green eyes
Image Credit: evrymmnt, Shutterstock

4. Diet

Sometimes, a kitty’s diet can be the culprit. All cats are different and a well-formulated food that works for one cat may not work for another. It could even be something else that a cat is snacking on, such as a beloved treat that disagrees with their skin. It may just be that your cat is sensitive to an otherwise harmless ingredient.

On the other hand, some commercially-formulated cat foods are simply below standard. This could result in a degree of malnutrition which may manifest as dandruff, amongst other things.

How to Treat It:

If you are concerned about the quality or make-up of your cat’s food or a potential food allergy, it’s a good idea to have a chat with your veterinarian who will assuage your concerns or help you pick out a more suitable food or perform appropriate allergy tests for your kitty.

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Feeding your cat a high-quality diet is important for keeping them healthy and happy. But it goes beyond the food you choose; the dishes they use also matter. The Hepper NomNom Cat Bowl is our favorite for its unique, five-star design that protects from whisker fatigue and promotes good posture which also aids in better digestion. As an added bonus, it’s beautifully crafted and offers a modern take on the traditional cat bowl that fits seamlessly with all home stylings. Learn more about the NomNom by clicking here.

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5. Malnourishment or Obesity

We have provisionally put this cause under the category of mildly concerning causes because there are varying degrees of malnourishment and obesity. These range from slightly underweight to severe malnourishment, or slightly plump to dangerously overweight. In truth, this cause wouldn’t be out of place in the next category. Both malnourishment and obesity can be dangerously compromising health conditions.

Cats that don’t receive enough nutrition often have skin issues and a poor quality coat. A sign of such a coat may be seen as dandruff. Likewise, overweight cats are not optimally healthy cats. This bad health might manifest as dandruff, amongst other things. Additionally, a severely obese cat will have a difficult time trying to contort themself into the positions necessary to adequately groom themself. They may do a bad job, or stop trying altogether.

A malnourished or obese kitty is a cause for concern.

How to Treat It:

Getting your cat to a healthy weight range is a long term process that involves dietary changes, a new diet plan, exercises (especially for obese cats), and long term modifications to how your kitty is managed. As this is a major change for both you and your cat, professional input from your veterinarian and a feline nutritionist is the best way to go about when it comes to managing your cat’s weight.

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Moderately Serious Causes  

The next few potential causes of a cat’s dandruff are slightly more worrisome. They require attention sooner rather than later. Fortunately, they are all treatable with a great prognosis.

6. Allergies

Dandruff can result from allergies. These can be either seasonal or a result of some environmental allergen. Perhaps something in their bedding, the garden, or the air is triggering an allergic reaction. If they do have allergies, you might be able to notice this by the presence of other signs. These might include a runny nose, sneezing, wheezing, or itchiness in combination with dandruff.

How to Treat It:

If you suspect allergies may be the root cause of your cat’s dandruff, then your best course of action is to make an appointment with your veterinary specialist as soon as possible. Your vet will likely want to perform several tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Cat with teary eye from conjunctivitis, feline herpes virus or allergy.
Image Credit: sophiecat, Shutterstock

7. Stress and Anxiety

As with people, stress and anxiety in cats can result in a plethora of unpleasant physical symptoms—dandruff included. There are a whole host of situations and environments that could be potentially stressful to a cat. Something that makes one cat anxious may be completely inconsequential to another.

The trigger could be something simple to identify, like a new pet or moving house. But cats can also experience anxiety due to more menacing causes, such as pain, illness, or disease.

How to Treat It:

It’s necessary to understand what is causing your kitty’s anxiety. This may not require any sleuthing at all; often the stressed out cat has let you know in no uncertain terms the cause of their troubles. It may not be very obvious though, especially if the cause is some kind of physical disease. The latter may require the assistance of your veterinarian.

If you can easily pinpoint the cause of the stress, then you can take steps to eliminate it. Hopefully, this will result in the alleviation of your cat’s dandruff.

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8. External Parasites

Parasites, such as ticks, fleas, lice, and mites can aggravate your cat’s skin and cause dandruff. They don’t even have to be present in excessive quantities. Some cats are just more sensitive and could have a bad reaction.

Particularly cringe-worthy is the Cheyletiella spp. mite. This mite is responsible for an uncommon but unpleasant and highly contagious condition known as Cheyletiellosis. It is also called “walking dandruff” and is contagious to humans, too. Fortunately, it is relatively uncommon and easily treatable.

How to Treat It:

External parasites, including Cheyletiella spp., respond well to topical insecticides. Good quality topically-applied pet insecticides are readily available from your veterinarian or specialist pet supplies outlet. Only use products or medication prescribed by your vet, and ensure you follow the treatment and prevention protocol your vet establishes for your cat.

sick cat lying on blanket
Image credit: one photo, Shutterstock

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Causes That Could Underlie a More Serious Health Condition

The following conditions, though it is extremely unlikely, might be the cause of your cat’s dandruff. Though the chances of one of these being responsible for your kitty’s dandruff is low, it’s worth knowing about them because they are very serious indeed.

9. Hormonal Condition

A hormonal condition, such as hyperthyroidism, could result in a greasy kind of dandruff. Hyperthyroidism is more prevalent in senior cats. It occurs when the thyroid gland at the base of the neck produces too much thyroid hormone.

Other signs will be evident that might point to this condition being present. Look out for excessive thirst, weight loss despite a healthy appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, abnormal behavior, weakness, and depression.

How to Treat It:

If you have the slightest suspicion that your cat may suffer from hyperthyroidism, then you need to visit your veterinarian immediately. They will advise on a course of action and treatment.


10. Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune skin conditions, such as Pemphigus, can result in dandruff-like symptoms. It may be difficult to determine a difference between normal dandruff and Pemphigus “dandruff” early on in your kitty’s affliction. In all likelihood, however, it will not be long until you will be able to deduce a difference. Having said this, Pemphigus is extremely rare indeed.

It is very unpleasant for the animal that suffers from it. Other symptoms can include blisters, scaling of the skin, and pustules. In more severe forms the cat can suffer from ulcers, anorexia, depression, severe pain, and fever.

How to Treat It:

If any of these symptoms appear, or preferably before they do, you should seek veterinary expertise immediately. Your vet will set up a short, medium, and long-term course of treatment. Treatment is not instant for this condition and your kitty will need to be closely monitored indefinitely.

tired sick cat lying on bed
Image Credit: Natata, Shutterstock

11. Cancer

It is almost impossibly likely, but still a possibility that your cat’s dandruff might be an early symptom of cancer, such as cutaneous lymphoma. Other symptoms for this form of lymphoma are very similar to those for Pemphigus. It is very unpleasant and painful for a cat to suffer from this cancer.

How to Treat It:

Unfortunately, a confirmed diagnosis from your veterinary surgeon has a grim outlook. While it is possible to treat it symptomatically to provide some momentary relief, this disease is fatal. Cats diagnosed with cutaneous lymphoma are expected to only live for 6 to 12 months beyond their diagnosis. The prognosis for other cancers depends on a number of factors, including the type of cancer, how early it is diagnosed, how far and extensively it has spread, and your cat’s response to treatment, surgery, chemotherapy, or medication.

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Should I Be Worried if My Cat Has Dandruff?

Dandruff might seem like a relatively non-threatening condition—in humans, it’s not something we would rush off to the doctor for. Ordinarily, the same is true in cats. However, as you can see after reading the above list, there can be some instances in which dandruff is symptomatic of something more sinister.

If you are satisfied that your cat’s dandruff is the result of an easily remedied cause, then you need only be mildly worried until it is resolved. On the other hand, if you have ruled out the more obvious and benign causes, then there is reason to be concerned. In this case, if you haven’t already, it is advisable to consult with your veterinary specialist.

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Conclusion

If your kitty has developed dandruff and you couldn’t figure out the cause, hopefully after reading this article you will have some greater insight.

In most cases, feline dandruff is not serious and can be easily resolved. Your kitty more than likely falls into this category. However, if you have some lingering concerns after reading this, consult with your veterinary surgeon. It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to our precious fur babies.


Featured Image Credit: Lemalisa, Shutterstock

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