Cat Dandruff - Causes and How to Treat It.

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Have you noticed that your cat has dry, flaky skin that looks like dandruff? A little bit of dandruff is a normal part of skin shedding, but when it starts to become obvious, it may be that something else is going on. 

Cats get a build-up of dandruff for two main reasons. It may be that your cat has a normal amount of dandruff but isn’t grooming it away. Alternatively, they may have an abnormal amount of dandruff because of an underlying cause. Let’s have a look at why this might be happening and what you can do about it.

Lack of normal grooming

Cats are fastidiously clean and should normally spend hours every day grooming themselves and keeping their fur and skin in tip-top condition. There are two main things that are likely to physically get in the way of this: obesity and pain, such as arthritis. If your cat is obese, which is sadly very common these days, they may physically not be able to reach all the places they need to. This will most commonly affect the back end.

The effect of chronic pain on normal grooming will depend on which part of the body is affected. As cats age, many develop arthritis in joints such as the hips, elbows and shoulders. Pain like this makes it difficult to get into the amazing positions that we’re used to seeing our cats achieve, so skin and dead hair flakes will build up.

Underlying causes that produce a build-up of dandruff

  • Allergic skin disease. Cats can be allergic to environmental things (atopic dermatitis) like pollen and grasses, and certain food ingredients. 


  • Parasites. Fleas and certain mites can cause irritation and dandruff build-up. Some mites are contagious to humans, too, so watch out for signs on yourself or the children.

  • Skin infections, either bacterial or fungal, may cause dandruff.

  • Other medical issues, such as kidney disease or hyperthyroidism, can cause the condition of the skin and coat to decline.


  • Malnutrition. If an animal is malnourished, the skin is one of the first things to suffer.

What should you do if your cat has dandruff?

You may not need to do anything except groom your cat more and see if it improves. However, you should contact your vet if your cat:

  • Seems unwell or their behaviour has changed.

  • Is grooming excessively.

  • Is scratching a lot or seems itchy.

  • Is drinking more than usual.

  • Is obese.

  • Is losing fur or has bald patches or scabs.

  • Is suffering from itchy skin at the same time that you or a member of your family also has itchy skin, as some causes of dandruff in cats can be contagious to humans.

Your vet may want to do some tests to find out the exact cause of the dandruff, and will recommend a treatment depending on the results. It may be that there are parasites or an infection that are easy to treat, or they may find another medical condition that needs addressing. Your vet may also recommend a change of food to rule out a food allergy, or  to see if your cat benefits from a food formulated for optimal skin and coat health. These foods have high levels of omega oils and antioxidants, and just the right mineral balance for great skin health, as well as good-quality protein.

In short, a little dandruff is probably nothing to worry about, but if it continues or builds up, then a trip to your vet is always a good idea. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA