4 Common Causes of Dandruff in Cats

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4 Common Causes of Dandruff in Cats

Dandruff formation is a bothersome and unsightly problem common in humans. Though less common, this skin condition can also happen in cats. Most cases of dandruff in cats are not too serious but veterinary medical attention is still needed to control and manage the condition. Continue reading to learn about the common causes of dandruff in cats and what you can do to help your furry friend!

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Dandruff is characterized by dry and flaky skin which is often itchy and uncomfortable. It appears as numerous white specks on the cat’s skin and fur and falls off easily with movement or when the cat scratches.

How does dandruff happen in cats?

The skin is the largest organ in a cat’s body and plays an important function in protecting it against various environmental hazards, infections, parasites, and possible irritants. The skin then protects itself from severe damage by producing oil from its sebaceous glands. The oil nourishes the outer layer of the skin and offers a certain degree of protection from the external environment.

Constant exposure to external irritants can cause rapid cell death on the outer layers of the skin. Dead cells from exposure to environmental hazards are immediately replaced by newer skin cells from layers below. This process of continuous skin cell replacement is called keratinization. Dandruff occurs when there’s a defect in the keratinization process of the cat’s skin and an abnormal production of oil from the skin’s sebaceous glands.

Excessive oil production on the surface of the skin can cause superficial irritation and inflammation, leading to skin flaking and dandruff formation. Abnormal keratinization rate also causes accumulation of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and eventual dandruff formation.

Symptoms of Dandruff in Cats

Aside from the white specks easily visible on the cat’s fur, other symptoms go along with dandruff in cats. Most cats with dandruff often have pruritus (itchiness) of varying degrees. Excessive scratching can cause further dandruff formation, skin inflammation, and wound on the surface of the skin.

The skin will look dry, and excessive scaling is evident in cats with dandruff. Alopecia, or abnormal hair loss, may be seen in severe dandruff cases. A foul smell may be observed in cases where a secondary infection has started. This usually happens if dandruff is left untreated.

Common Causes of Dandruff in Cats

It’s uncommon for dandruff to occur as a primary skin condition in cats. Most cases have underlying conditions that need to be addressed to successfully manage and control dandruff formation. The following are some of the most common causes of dandruff in cats:

1. Fungal Infection (Ringworm)

Ringworm is a fungal infection of the cat’s skin caused by dermatophytes, a group of fungal organisms that infects the superficial layer of the skin. Breaks in the barrier of the skin, such as in open wounds, allow the fungal spores from dermatophytes to enter and multiply under the skin.

This type of fungal infection affects the sebaceous glands, causing abnormal oil production and keratinization. As the infection progresses, the skin becomes dry and flaky and will eventually form dandruff. Cats with ringworm are often itchy and have patchy or generalized hair loss, depending on the severity of the infection.

2. Dietary Deficiencies

Your cat’s diet also has some degree of influence in maintaining proper skin health. Some nutrients are essential in maintaining proper hair development and skin health which the cat’s body can’t synthesize on its own. Thus, providing these essential nutrients through the diet is important to keep your cat’s skin and coat healthy.

Protein is an important component of hair development. Lack of protein in the diet can lead to abnormal hair development and growth. This can cause abnormal sebaceous oil production and eventually dandruff. Essential fatty acids like Omega-6 and Omega-3 nourish and protect the skin. Lack of intake of these fatty acids will make the skin more susceptible to infection, inflammation, and subsequent dandruff formation.

3. External Skin Parasites

The presence of external parasites is also a common cause of dandruff formation in cats. Fleas and lice can be very itchy for cats. Excessive scratching brought about by these parasites often causes severe skin inflammation and superficial wounds that also lead to dandruff formation. A condition called flea bite allergy dermatitis, where the skin develops an allergic reaction to the saliva from a flea bite, can compromise the skin’s health and function, predisposing it to dandruff formation.

Microscopic external parasites, like certain types of mites, live and multiply in the skin’s hair follicles, damaging the glands attached to them. This results in poor sebaceous oil production which causes severe dryness of the skin, leading to scaling, flaking, and ultimately dandruff formation. The presence of these mites can also cause severe itchiness which can worsen the dryness and dandruff formation of the cat’s skin.

4. Overall Lifestyle of the Cat

Cats are very efficient in grooming and keeping themselves clean and fresh. The roughness of the surface of their tongues can act as a brush to help spread saliva across their coat and detangle matted hair strands. By grooming, cats can keep their skin and coat protected, well-moisturized, free from visible dirt, and generally healthy.

However, some conditions can cause the cat to not be able to groom themselves properly. If a cat becomes overweight, they lose their innate flexibility and will not be able to reach certain areas of their body to groom. This leads to localized skin dryness, hair loss, and can lead to localized dandruff formation.

Overweight or obese cats are also prone to developing osteoarthritis, an inflammatory condition of the joints. Severe osteoarthritis in cats causes chronic pain which hinders their movement and their ability to groom themselves. This can also lead to dandruff.

Health conditions like these are more lifestyle-related and can easily be prevented or managed by giving your cat a proper diet and enough room to move around and exercise.

How to Care for Cats with Dandruff

Successful dandruff treatment depends entirely on the underlying health condition causing the skin problem. While there are medications that can symptomatically control or reduce the dandruff formation of your cat’s skin, if the underlying cause is not treated then dandruff will most likely recur.

It’s best to visit your vet to help determine what the cause of the dandruff is and to come up with an appropriate treatment to address it.

Read more:

Vitamin and Supplement Safety for Dogs and Cats

Cheyletiella Mites in Cats and Dogs

Toys, Games, and Puzzles! How to Entertain Your Indoor Cat

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Published: 6/26/2021
Last updated: 8/3/2021

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