Feline dandruff - do you call your cat 'Snowy'?

Most cats get dandruff from time to time. Dandruff is flaky, dry skin which the cat sheds in small flakes that work their way out through the fur. Although dandruff is more visible in cats with dark hair, it affects all cats. Cats can develop dandruff for all sorts of reasons. For example, cold, dry weather often brings skin problems, such as dry skin and this causes skin flaking - i.e. dandruff. Even with wet, cold weather the indoor heat in a well-insulated home removes moisture from the air and dries the cat's skin. In the same way, frequent bathing may dry the skin and cause it to flake.

Flaky skin can also be a sign of poor nutrition. Many low-cost cat foods are of poor nutritional value, and don't have supplements such as essential fatty acids which are very important in maintaining a healthy, glossy skin.

Cats which do not groom enough may also start to shed dandruff. For example arthritic cats will have difficulty reaching some parts of the body while grooming. Also overweight cats struggle to reach some parts - well-padded ribs prevent the cat from reaching its lower back. In such cases the cat develops very localized areas spotted with dandruff.

Although dandruff in a cat is not pretty, in itself it is not a problem. That said, it is not a good sign either. For example, if the dandruff is caused by dry skin the skin might get itchy and the cat will scratch it. Pets don't normally know when to stop scratching an itch and in severe cases, they may scratch the skin raw which can lead to bacterial infection.

Frequent brushing and combing will help cut down on dandruff, although if dry skin is the problem then the cause of the dryness has to be dealt with too. Brushing will remove loose skin, but will not solve the underlying problems. If the cat mostly eats dry food it may be an idea to add a bit of fish oil to its food. Also check the label of your cat food to see if anything is missing from her diet. You can find information about cat food in the article: 'What's in your Cat? - Cat food labels explained' on this site.

On rare occasions dandruff can be a symptom of more serious diseases affecting the kidney, liver or thyroid disease. If the dandruff is associated with other common symptoms of these diseases, for example lack of grooming, weakness, and lethargy then a visit to the vet should be number one priority. However, dandruff can be caused by something less serious. For example cats under stress may develop dandruff. Big changes, for example moving house, will often result in a dandruff attack. This is called transient dandruff as it normally clears once the cat settles in and the stress eases.

Finally, dandruff can be caused by infection with Cheyletiella mites. The condition known as Cheyletiellosis is an itchy, scaly skin disease which is also called 'walking dandruff'. This is because when the infected cat's skin is inspected, the large, white flakes appear to be moving because of the mites under the scales. Although the mites infect the entire body, the dandruff and itching seem worst on the back and the neck. Walking dandruff is very infectious, and re-infections are common because the mite's eggs survive in soft furnishings such as carpets etc. Therefore to completely eliminate the pesky mites, a full treatment of the home environment may be necessary. Drugs such as Selamectin (Revolution), Imidacloprid (Advantage) and Fipronil (Frontline) are good in eliminating the infection and should be applied to the infected cat every month for at least two months. Regular use of these drugs will also prevent a number of other diseases caused by skin psites.

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