Cat dandruff is a perplexing subject. Very few of the best books on cat health refer to it by which I mean the sort of dandruff that human’s get, the symptoms of which are well-known: flaky skin which can be seen and which is trapped in the hair. We consider dandruff to be a mild, manageable condition. For cats the word is used in a wider context.
The interesting thing is that cats do get dandruff in my opinion because my late female cat had it and discussions and articles on the internet refer to it albeit vaguely. I can see why. It is not listed in the indexes of the excellent books that I have on cat health.
However, one book on cat health does index the word “dandruff”. The book is The American Animal Hospital Association Encyclopaedia of Cat Health and Care (AAHAE).
On page 158 it lists the causes of feline dandruff. It says that dandruff or flakiness of a cat’s skin can be caused by a diet deficient in oils or fats, by too much bathing (which dries the skin), or by worms. The book goes on to say that dandruff is common in housecoats who stay inside most of the time; the skin dries out from lack of fresh air. In addition skin infections caused by mites sometimes produce dandruff.
The last cause leads me nicely to a feline condition called “walking dandruff” which is not the sort of dandruff with which humans are familiar. It a type of mange caused by a large reddish mite which lives on the skin. It causes mild itching. A lot of dry, scaly material is produced which looks like dandruff. It is heaviest over the back, neck and sides1. A vet will diagnose it by finding the mites in a skin scraping and examining it under a magnifying glass. As this is a parasitic infestation the treatment is an insecticide. These chemicals are dangerous so seeing a vet is important.
The AAHAE refers to what I’d call classic dandruff. Classic human-like dandruff can be caused by (1) poor diet lacking omega-3 oils lading to dry flaky skin and a dull coat (2) poor hydration – not drinking enough (3) parasites such as mites (see above) and (4) feline diabetes and (5) allergies – food and environmental allergies can cause stress and affect the cat’s skin. As type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity losing weight is a way forward.
It would appear that a cat owner can do quite a bit to alleviate it by way of home treatments. A change in diet to an excellent high protein wet food will probably help. Perhaps a full-time dry diet may exacerbate the condition. If a diet deficient in oils and fats is the cause, you can buy Omega 3 capsules for cats online (Nature’s Best). I have not used these but the product is highly rated online for what that is worth.
If being an indoor cat can cause feline dandruff I’d think about increasing the activity levels of your cat and possibly building an outdoor enclosure but the latter is a big step. Alternatively walking a cat on a leash can work but it needs lots of patience and some training ideally. As for worms we all know about these: ask you vet to provide some de-worming pills. He can administer the first one! Other treatments include: proper hydration (encouraging drinking), a change of environment and food and brushing your cat. And as mentioned losing weight if obese will help.
Source: 1 — Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook 3rd edition, page 142