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Why does my cat have dandruff?

Dandruff is dried, dead skin cells that look like small, white flakes in your cat’s coat. In severe cases, you may notice dandruff on furniture or dark-colored rugs your cat has laid on. Like humans and dogs, cats get dandruff for various reasons, from parasitic infection to sunburn to environmental changes.

Although dandruff is common, you should handle it before it becomes a serious problem. The best way to do this is to determine what’s causing dandruff. Once you know the cause, you can develop a solution that makes both you and your furry friend happy.

Cat dandruff causes

There are several causes of cat dandruff, and it’s critical to find the root of the issue to tackle it correctly. 

Insufficient grooming

Cats are notorious for keeping themselves clean, but not all cats groom themselves well. Large or obese cats may be unable to reach areas such as their backs or their hindquarters. When you neglect certain areas of the cat’s coat for a long time, the dead skin cells may start to build up, which causes dandruff to appear.

Felines with long hair or a thick undercoat may also have trouble cleaning themselves, especially if they have joint problems or are senior cats. Matting or tangles in your cat’s hair are often a sign that they’re unable to groom themselves.

Nutrient deficiency

Many indoor cats have a nutrient deficiency, which can lead to skin, coat and health-related problems. This is particularly true with cats that only eat dry kibble. While outdoor cats may supplement their regular diet with fresh food outside, indoor cats don’t have this luxury.

One of the biggest causes of dandruff is a lack of Omega-3 fatty acids. Along with other health benefits, Omega-3 fatty acids help keep your cat’s skin healthy and its coat soft and sleek. Unfortunately, many cat foods lack these essential nutrients, which could lead to dandruff.


Cats are very sensitive and can be negatively impacted by stressful factors like environmental changes or sudden, loud noises. Anything from a new desk to a new person in the home could stress your feline out.

A particularly anxious cat may have undesirable behaviors such as scratching at furniture or urinating on the carpet. If your cat is stressed, they may also neglect to groom themselves or eat properly, which could result in dandruff.


Changes in the environment may not impact all cats, but there are other factors to consider that could be causing your cat dandruff. For example, artificial fragrances, seasonal changes, harsh cleaning products and air quality could all lead to dandruff. If the air in your home is dry, it could also result in your cat having dry, flaky skin.

Pests or parasites

Just like people, cats can develop allergies. One of the more common causes of this is internal parasites or external pests. If your cat has worms, fleas, mites or ticks, it may have an allergic reaction to them. Pests that bite and cause your feline to excessively scratch or bite at themselves may also lead to dandruff.

It’s also possible that your cat doesn’t have dandruff but has a Cheyletiella mite infestation, or “walking dandruff.” These mites are often mistaken for dandruff because of the way they look and move.


Cats who spend a lot of time outside in the sun may end up with a sunburn. This is especially common with cats who have short hair or are light in color. A sunburn could cause their skin to peel and flake.


If your cat has severe dandruff and you’ve ruled out other causes, your cat may have a more serious health problem you can’t see, such as an infection, diabetes, kidney disease or pancreatitis.

How to treat cat dandruff

If your cat has dandruff, chances are it’s treatable. Don’t wait to treat it because it can make your cat uncomfortable or cause your cat to scratch or lick its skin raw. Unless the dandruff results from a temporary factor, such as the season, there’s a good chance it will worsen if left alone. Here’s how to get rid of dandruff once and for all.

Groom your cat

cat brush

Use a cat brush designed for shedding, mats and tangles to groom your cat regularly. Brush them once a day or a few times a week to remove tangles and mats for long-haired cats. If you don’t have time to do this, take your feline friend to a professional groomer’s once every month or as needed. If your cat has noticeably dry skin, apply a hydrating skin and coat spray to aid in grooming and reduce excessive scratching or licking.

Bathe your cat

moisturizing shampoo

Cats don’t usually like water, but you may need to give your pet a hydrating bath to treat dry skin or a dirty or matted coat. If you decide to bathe your cat, use a special moisturizing shampoo formulated for cats. Never use a shampoo made for humans or other animals because it may destroy your cat’s natural pH balance and make them ill. Only bathe them as often as necessary.

Consider using dry shampoo instead if your cat gets stressed out by the bath but has a dirty coat. Combine the dry shampoo with regular brushing.

Eliminate environmental stressors

pheromone-based, calming diffuser

Avoid significant changes to the environment, cut down on activity and reduce noises in the home. Introduce new things slowly and let the cat get comfortable before adding anything else. If your cat still seems stressed, get a pheromone-based, calming diffuser or two for the home to help ease any tension your cat feels.

Improve the air quality


Get a humidifier if the air in your home is dry because of winter or a running fireplace. A humidifier will combat the dryness and reduce static cling in your cat’s coat. Keep your home well ventilated, especially if you use air fresheners, chemical products or smoke cigarettes indoors. If possible, use plant-based cleaning products, smoke outdoors and get rid of any artificial fragrances.

Change up your cat’s diet

 low-calorie dry food

If your cat is overweight, switch to low-calorie dry food or light wet food to help them lose some weight. Make sure whatever food your cat is eating has enough nutrients, especially Omega-3 fatty acids like fish oil, for healthy skin and coat. Look for food that uses natural, organic ingredients or add a little fish oil to your cat’s meals. You can also add treats rich in Omega-3 fatty acids to your cat’s diet.

Add fountains

small fountain

Cats don’t always drink enough water, leading to dehydration, dry skin, dandruff and more serious health problems. Many cats are distrustful of still water, or they forget it’s there. If your cat isn’t drinking enough water, get a small fountain to entice them to come to drink. Alternatively, mix wet food in with your cat’s dry food.

Tick and flea treatment

flea and tick collar

Cats, especially outdoor cats, often get fleas or other parasites. If your cat has fleas, mites or other pests, use a flea and tick collar or monthly flea treatment to get rid of them. You may also need to get a carpet and fabric product that kills off unwanted pests in serious infestations.

Speak to a vet

Bring your feline to a vet to determine what’s causing your cat’s dandruff if nothing else works. It could be due to an underlying medical condition or an allergic reaction to something like a new food or a household cleaner. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics or antihistamines for your cat.


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Angela Watson writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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