Those same little white flakes that sell millions of dollars of medicated shampoo to human consumers can afflict cats as well. Since a cat has hair all over his body, dandruff is easy to spot. Dandruff is actually dead, dried-out skin cells. It is usually the result of some sort of allergic dermatitis -- a reaction to something that makes the cat's skin dry, itchy or scaly. But don't confuse dandruff -- the result of abnormally dry or itchy skin -- with dander. Dander refers to normal shedding of dead skin cells, combined with proteins in the cat's saliva left on the hair and skin when the cat grooms himself. (Incidentally, dander, and not cat hair, is the cause of allergies to cats in humans.)
Obviously, a cat isn't going to be worried about anybody seeing his dandruff, but it's still important to figure out what's causing it and treat the problem. If left untreated, dandruff may be so uncomfortable that the cat scratches his skin raw, running the risk of getting an infection. Or the underlying cause itself can be dangerous.
However, it can sometimes be difficult to determine the cause of allergic dermatitis. It could be caused by a parasitic infestation, such as ringworm, ticks or mites. Sunburn can cause dandruff. Your cat could be sensitive to stress, or allergic to a new food or grooming product. It could even be due to something as simple as the air being too dry indoors in the winter. If you feel like the air is dry in your home and your skin feels dry and tight as a result, you can bet your cat is experiencing the same thing. Humidifying will not only get rid of the dry skin problem, but it will also cut down on static electricity in your cat's coat and reduce the likelihood of winter colds. This is the easiest fix for dandruff problems in cats.
Once you're treating the cause of your cat's dandruff, you can help him feel more comfortable while his skin clears up. Look for grooming products designed for cats with dry skin. If your cat doesn't tolerate bathing, you can at least use a lotion or step up your brushing routine to distribute the oils in your cat's coat. You may need to make a change in his diet or add a fatty acid supplement as well.
On the next page, we'll look at some more potential causes and remedies for cats with dandruff.