If your cat has flaky skin, it’s probably dandruff. Cat dandruff is especially common in overweight and older cats. Learn what causes it and easy remedies you can try at home to help.

By Kristi Valentini
August 24, 2020
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Noticing white flakes every time you scratch your kitty? It’s probably dandruff. It’s a common condition, especially in overweight or older cats who can’t reach around to groom themselves as well. Learn the simple things you can do at home to get rid of cat dandruff.

Causes of Cat Dandruff 

It’s normal for both skin cells and hair to shed at the end of their growth cycle. But if dead skin cells build up—because of lack of grooming or because some cats are prone to it—they become visible and you’ll see white flakes on your kitty. Overweight and older cats do less grooming, which means you’ll see more flaky skin since it’s not being licked away. 

“Many people think dandruff is just dry skin, but cats are actually oily-skinned creatures,” says Lynn Paolillo, CFMG, CFCG, an instructor at the National Cat Groomers Institute. “Dandruff is the shedding of oily, dead skin that’s accumulated over time.”

Cat Dandruff and Dander: Not the Same!

Dandruff and dander aren’t the same things, though people often use the terms interchangeably. Allergy-inducing dander is actually caused by a protein in a cat’s saliva, Paolillo says. When cats lick themselves, the microscopic protein attaches and dries onto their hair and skin. Dander can be a part of dandruff. 

Cat Dandruff vs. Flea Eggs

Both dandruff and flea eggs are tiny and white. But flea eggs are smooth and oval-shaped, and usually don’t tend to accumulate on cats (flea eggs typically fall off within a few hours). Dandruff, on the other hand, tends to stick to and stay in the hair. So if you’re seeing white flakes on your cat, it’s most likely dandruff.

Cat Dandruff Treatments

To help get rid of your cat’s dandruff, Paolillo says as long as your cat sees the vet on a regular basis and has no underlying health problems, a bath with a gentle cat shampoo should do the trick. Bathe your cat every month or two to help wash away the excess oily skin. Doing it regularly will usually be enough to keep a cat’s skin in good shape.

If your cat hates taking baths, you may be tempted to try a product that doesn’t require a trip to the tub. But Paolillo says she doesn’t recommend wipes or waterless shampoos “because the product stays on top of the coat and gets licked off.” But if giving your cat a bath at home is simply out of the question, “take them to a groomer that works with cats,” Paolillo says.

Home Remedies for Cat Dandruff  

In addition to regular bathing with a gentle shampoo made for cats, there are a few other steps you can take at home to promote healthy skin and reduce dandruff. The ASPCA recommends brushing your cat a couple of times a week, especially as your feline friend grows older, to help remove dead skin cells and increase blood flow. 

“Doing things to improve the overall health of your cat can make a difference in the skin and coat,” Paolillo says. For example, feed your cat a high-quality food. The experts at the Cornell Feline Health Center recommend finding a cat food that lists meat or seafood (or meat byproducts), within the first three ingredients. You can also encourage your kitty to drink more water to stay hydrated.  

Typically, cat dandruff isn’t something to worry about and is easily treatable at home. However, if you notice other issues with your cat’s skin or coat—like dull hair, excessive licking or scratching, or something resembling a rash—see your vet in order to rule out anything more serious.