Is there such a thing as feline dry skin? People search for it on the internet – hence this article. But how do they know or think that their cat’s skin is dry? You can’t see a cat’s skin, except at the extremities of the cat’s body where the fur is thin, and if you part the fur to see the skin you cannot tell if it is dry or not – although see below. People usually decide that their cat might have dry skin because he or she is scratching it.
The foremost text book on cat health, Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, Fully Revised and Updated does not refer to feline dry skin in a section about cat skin that has 40 pages. This excellent book does refer to “itchy skin disorders”. Perhaps people searching for feline dry skin should instead be searching, at least initially, for itchy skin disorders? This is a wider topic but a more accurate one.
That said, people scratch themselves when their skin itches and for people that can be caused by dry skin. My skin becomes dry after a shower in winter (colder weather – no sweating to moisten it). It itches. There is no reason to suppose that something similar does not take place with cats. Common sense dictates that frequent bathing can dry the skin of a cat as the soap in the shampoo cleans off the natural oils on the skin. We know about this as people. I don’t think cats need bathing unless there is a good reason – usually a health reason. Show cats are bathed much more frequently to look smart.
Before I make a list of possible causes of an itchy skin (based on the above book), I’d like to mention my boy cat Charlie. He scratched sometimes. It was not a real problem but it was a concern. Did he have dry skin, I thought? After carefully combing him with a flea comb I found the odd very small flea that I had not seen before. They were almost like mites. This was the cause. And you might notice that often cats scratch around the neck and face area. These are the areas where fleas are most likely to congregate. This is a list of probable causes of an itchy skin:
- Top of the list, as mentioned: Fleas! Cats itch and scratch around the neck and also around the tail and hindquarters. They will also lick. We cannot be vigilant enough in respect of the doughty cat flea. Check once daily with a flea comb – 32 teeth to the inch, I do. See: Cat Flea Treatment for a good look at this nasty parasite. See also: Cat Parasites
- Head Mange Mites (Scabies) Intense itching around the head, face, neck and edges of ears. Crusty skin
- Walking Dandruff (Cheyletiella Mange) – occurs frequently in dogs perhaps more so than fleas. Dry scaly dandruff over the back, neck and sides. This post: Feline Dandruff, discusses what I consider to be a cat version of human dandruff.
- Chiggers. Causes itching and “severe skin irritation” between toes, around ears and mouth (ref: above book). Caused by very small – just visible – red, yellow or orange larvae.
- Ear Mites. Cats shake their heads try to get rid of them. They scratch their ears. Brown wax is visible in ear or “purulent material in ear canal”. “Purulent” means: Containing or composed of pus. See Cat Ear Mites
- Ticks. Horrible blood sucking large parasites attached to the cat’s skin that are easily visible. Often situated around the ears, along the back and between toes. See Ticks on Cats and Humans
- Lice. These are two millimetres long attached to hair. Or “white grains of sandy material (nits)” (ref: above book). Usually associated with poorly kept cats that have matted hair.
- Maggots. These are fly larvae that are found in damp matter hair.
- Food allergy. This is a hidden cause. There may be no obvious reason why a cat is itching and allergies of whatever kind can cause it. There may be severe itching over the head, neck and back. The eyelids may swell. Hair loss may be present and sores due to heavy scratching. See: Hypoallergenic Cat Food.
- Feline Miliary Dermatitis: I have a post on this: Feline Miliary Dermatitis. Can be associated with fleas.
- Irritant Contact Dermatitis. Skin is red, lumpy and inflamed. We know about this as it affects people quite a lot. Caused by contact with chemicals such as detergents. It may result in scales and hair loss.
- Inhalant Allergy. An allergy causes by substances that are breathed in. See:Feline Allergies
I hope this list helps. What can be perceived as feline dry skin is quite possibly itchy skin and will be usually be caused by an underlying problem, one of which is probably listed above.
Before signing off I’d like to mention one or two underlying illnesses that might cause straight forward feline dry skin1 although the first priority would be to check of the list of causes for an itchy skin in the list above. Apparently, kidney disease, heart disease and hypothyroidism can cause skin problems. For example, heart disease affects circulation which in turn can cause skin cells to die resulting in flaky skin1. Hypothyroidism apparently causes the skin cells to grown more slowly leading to dry skin. Kidney disease can cause some waste to be secreted through the skin appearing as dandruff1. Personally, I am not sure about that but I report it with a reference nonetheless.
Finally, diet can cause dry skin. A diet high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids is beneficial. High quality cat food should be complete and should deal with dietary problems that might tend to produce a dry skin. Low levels of vitamin E resulting from a diet that is too high in fish and particularly tuna can cause feline dry skin1.