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Cat dandruff

Does your kitty have a nasty case of dandruff? Should you be concerned? Find out what causes cat dandruff, how to treat it, and see if you’ll be covered for treatment through your pet insurance.

Does your kitty have a nasty case of dandruff? Should you be concerned? Find out what causes cat dandruff, how to treat it, and see if you’ll be covered for treatment through your pet insurance.

Written by
Anna McEntee
Home, pet and travel insurance expert
Last Updated
17 JULY 2024
7 min read
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What is cat dandruff? 

Cat dandruff is dry, white, flaky skin. It’s often a sign that your cat’s skin is overly dry and irritated under their fur, but it could also be a sign that your cat’s sebaceous glands are producing too much of their protective natural oils and interfering with your cat’s normal shedding processes. 

It’s not uncommon to see the odd bit of dandruff in your cat’s fur, but because cats like keeping themselves so clean, you normally won’t notice a lot. If you do start to notice dandruff on your cat’s fur, it could indicate that your cat has a skin problem or isn’t able to groom themselves properly.

What causes cat dandruff? 

If you notice that your cat is getting dandruff and is cleaning themselves less than usual, it could be because they’re finding it hard to groom. This is particularly common in older cats, who – like us, when we get older – stiffen up and find it harder to reach certain spots. 

Your cat’s problems grooming could be caused by:

  • Arthritis
  • Being overweight and not being able to reach certain areas
  • Pain caused by being stiff

Dandruff could be exacerbated by issues relating to your cat’s diet and environment. It could also be related to several skin conditions, including: 

  • Parasites: fleas, mites and lice can all irritate your cat’s skin and cause an attack of dandruff. One particularly disturbing pest, Cheyletiella mites, are commonly referred to as walking dandruff  because they look like large flakes of dandruff moving across your pet’s skin.
  • Skin allergies: just like us, cats can develop allergies to foods, chemicals, perfumes and even plants, and these allergic reactions can lead to dry, irritated skin and dandruff.
  • Skin infections: cat dandruff can be caused by bacterial and fungal skin infections like ringworm , where spores get into your cat’s skin through a bite or scratch and attack the outer layer of skin.
  • Metabolic conditions: hormonal conditions like hyperthyroidism and diseases like diabetes  can cause dandruff in cats. 

Very rarely, cat dandruff could also be connected to autoimmune skin diseases, such as pemphigus, or even cat cancer , but it’s much more likely to be one of the more common causes above.

It’s important to take your cat to get checked out by your vet as soon as possible if you notice they have a dandruff problem. A meticulous cat may scratch themselves or even lick their skin raw to scratch that itch and try to get themselves clean. You’ll also need to find out if the dandruff is a sign of an underlying condition before you can treat it.

What are the symptoms of cat dandruff? 

Alongside noticing the tell-tale white flakes of dandruff on your cat’s fur, and on sofas and bedding, you might note these other symptoms that are commonly associated with cat dandruff:

  • Your cat is limping or is showing signs of stiffness
  • Your cat is grooming less
  • Or conversely, your cat is grooming fanatically, to the point where they’re losing fur and making their skin raw
  • Your cat is scratching more than usual
  • You can see irritated rashes or red skin under your cat’s fur
  • Your cat’s coat is greasy 

If you notice these symptoms of cat dandruff, you should take your cat to the vet so they can look at the underlying cause and identify the best course of treatment.

How to treat cat dandruff 

Before trying any home remedies, it’s always a good idea to check first with your vet to find out the underlying cause of your cat’s dandruff problem. If it’s caused by a specific problem or skin complaint, then your vet may be able to prescribe a specific course of treatment to get your kitty looking and feeling dapper again.

If your vet can’t find any signs of infection or infestation and your cat is otherwise healthy, there are some simple home remedies you can try to treat your cat’s dandruff and stop it coming back. Many are similar to the home treatments that we would use on ourselves and our human family if we had dry skin: 

  • Look at your cat’s diet.  We know that a poor diet can affect our skin, and it’s the same for cats. A balanced diet will help keep your cat’s skin healthy and their coat shiny. Look for cat food that contains fatty omega oils, like those found in fish, to keep their skin in tip top condition. If your cat is looking a little chunky, you’ll want to get them on a diet; an overweight cat is less able to groom themselves properly. 
  • Make sure your cat is hydrated. Preventing dry skin starts from within, so make sure your kitty is drinking enough water. If you have a fussy cat that doesn’t like to drink much you could try switching to a cat-friendly water fountain. Or you could try to incorporate more wet food into your cat’s diet, or even switch to a raw diet.
  • Make sure your cat has a healthy environment. The climate affects your cat’s skin, too. A dry environment – like a heated home in winter – can cause your cat to get dry skin. If you think this could be the issue, you could try using a humidifier in the room your cat frequents most during the winter. Allergies can be hard to spot in cats, but you could check if your cat insurance includes allergy testing, or simply look out for changes in your cat’s skin when you start using new products. To try to keep skin allergies at bay, avoid cleaning with strong chemicals and keep your home well-ventilated.
  • Soothe their itch with pet-friendly creams. If your cat has an obvious patch of dry skin, you could try using a pet-safe moisturiser, like Vaseline, to keep the affected area moist and stop the skin from cracking.
  • Groom your cat regularly. Especially if your cat is getting older or a little tubby, they may need a little help to keep their skin and coat well groomed.  Groom your cat two to three times a week to help spread out the natural oils their skin produces. Regular grooming will also help you to spot any skin complaints or any pest problems early – and (with most cats) it can be a lovely time to bond with your feline friend.
  • Try a special cat dandruff shampoo. If you’re really brave, you can try washing your cat using a specialist cat dandruff shampoo (don’t use the human kind – it could make the condition worse!). You could even forego the specialist shampoo and try warm water and baking soda. Your cat has very sensitive skin so don’t bathe them often, once every four to six weeks  is the maximum recommended.

Will pet insurance cover the treatment of cat dandruff? 

It depends on what type of cat insurance you have, the cause of your cat’s dandruff and what treatment your vet prescribes. You may be able to treat your cat’s dandruff with simple home remedies, but your vet will be able to advise you on any special treatment your cat needs. 

Accident only pet insurance won’t cover you for trips to the vet caused by illness. 

Depending on the policy you choose, you may be covered for the vet initial consultation and any treatment needed, on Time Limited, Maximum Benefit and Lifetime cat insurance policies. 

Find out more what’s covered by cat insurance.

Frequently asked questions

How can I tell the difference between cat dandruff and flea eggs?

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference at first glance, but there a few things to note when deciding whether your cat has flea eggs or dandruff in their coat. 

Dandruff looks like small, thin, irregularly shaped white flakes. If you notice the white spots are all uniformly shaped, with a very similar size and shape, they may be flea eggs. They’re usually bigger than dandruff flakes and rounder in shape. Dandruff is also usually easier to remove than flea eggs, and flea eggs normally come hand in hand with other signs, such as adult fleas and evidence of flea faeces.

Difference between cat dander and dandruff?

They sound similar, but they have an important difference. Cat dander is the perfectly normal shedding of your cat’s dead skin, as the skin is replaced through natural processes. Cat dandruff is abnormal levels of skin shedding, and is normally accompanied by dry, irritated skin, or an oily, greasy coat. Cat dander is often blamed for cat allergies, but the allergen is normally the cat’s saliva, which is transferred to their coat by grooming.

Why does my cat have dandruff on its back, near the tail?

If your cat has dandruff in these hard-to-reach areas, it could be a sign that they’re not able to reach these areas to groom. This is often a problem for overweight cats, or older cats that have sore and stiff joints.

Looking for insurance for your feline friend? 

It’s a good idea to shop around to see what’s out there. We compare 40 pet insurance products from 32 different providers[1], helping you find cat insurance in a matter of minutes. 

[1] Correct as of June 2024.

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