Saturday 16 August 2008

Feline dandruff

feline dandruff
Photo copyright Michael Broad

Feline dandruff is not something you can easily look up in a reference book. There is though a rare condition, not associated with "normal" dandruff (the kind you and I suffer from), that is called "Walking Dandruff", that I mention at the end of this posting. Also there are probably conditions that may look like normal dandruff that are not and which will need veterinarian care. A lot of skin conditions are caused by parasitic mites, for example. Dandruff treatments will obviously have no impact if this is the case. I'm going to talk about ordinary dandruff in this post.

Cats have similar anatomies, at a fundamental level, to humans (a classic example is the transferable condition cat ringworm caused by a fungus - more about fungus below). Dandruff in humans is rather poorly served by the pharmaceutical companies. A lot of the treatments (shampoos) treat the symptoms. One, however, treats the underlying cause. This product, in the UK is called, Nizoral Shampoo.

{Note: the term dandruff is poorly defined. Real dandruff is a mild form of seborrhoeic dermatitis in my opinion, as mentioned below, but dry skin can probably look like a low level form of dandruff and dermatitis in cats can be caused under a wide range of circumstances}

It is a very effective anti-dandruff shampoo. It contains the active ingredient, ketoconazole, which is an antifungal (it gets rid of fungus and yeast growths on the skin surface). It does this by damaging the cell membrane of the fungus cell. This chemical also successfully treats the widely present yeast Pityrosporum ovale (now called Malassezia furfur). The fungus and yeast cause dandruff. I am going to make the suggestion that ordinary feline dandruff is a mild form of seborrhoeic dermatitis as is the case in humans. A stronger version of seborrhoeic dermatitis is a skin disorder affecting the skin on the face and scalp. The skin goes red and is itchy. I believe that it also affects areas that are close to the skin on the head such as inside the ear flap, ear canal and even the sinuses (approached through the nose). I believe that this yeast and/or fungus can be a cause of sinusitis in humans.

Anyway back to feline dandruff.
What follows is my considered thought on the subject and mine alone. I am not a veterinarian. I am not recommending shampooing our cats with Nizoral shampoo. I can't as I am unqualified. But people do shampoo their cats. I am not one that does that as my cat would hate it but some cats like water (normally the wildcat hybrids such as the Bengal, Savannah and Chausie).

The website recommends shampooing with a mild shampoo and/or a feline dandruff shampoo containing sulfur and salicylic acid. My personal view is that the pet dandruff shampoo may treat the symptoms but not the underlying cause. But if my cat was used to being shampooed I know what I'd do. I'd mix in a tiny amount of Nizoral shampoo to make sure there were no adverse reactions and proceed from there adding a bit more next time and so on and check if it helped to relieve the condition. The shampoo should be left on for about 3-5 minutes before being rinsed off.

Another perhaps easier remedy that makes the skin less dry is to add oils to the cat food. Here are some recommendations:

  • EFA oil (Google this) - essential fatty acid
  • omega 3 fatty acids (same as EFA oil? - don't know)
  • add a small amount of olive oil to wet cat food
  • fish oil tablets
Brushing definitely helps too. Sometimes feline dandruff is exacerbated or perhaps caused by a cat being unable to groom properly (overweight perhaps). I find brushing with a spiked (but round tipped) brush both keeps mats at bay and stimulates the skin to produce oils, which moisturizes the cat's skin reducing the dandruff. The underlying cause may still be there but the symptoms are alleviated.

Update March 2011: My cat has become geriatric and has lost her appetite to a certain extent. She has lost weight and lost her dandruff. Her coat is better generally. My gut feel is that a lack of grooming may be the cause of feline dandruff provided that it is genuinely dandruff. The lack of grooming is simply because the cat cannot reach the coat.

Another possibility is to brush and then wipe the cat's back with a warm wet cloth. This may replicate cat grooming to a certain extent and may help if the cat is unable to groom due to old age or weight problems

Walking dandruff is caused by a reddish colored parasitic mite living on the cat's skin. The dandruff is acute with lots of dry skin looking like a bad version of "normal" feline dandruff. It is worse on the back, sides and neck. It is quite rare. A vet should deal with it. The mite can infest humans too so it is contagious.

Feline dandruff - Sources:

  • (how ketoconazole works)
  • Wikipedia (for details about the yeast causing dandruff)
  • (for information on adding oils to cat food)
  • my own experiences
Photo: published under a creative commons license = Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivs License .

Feline dandruff to cat health problems


  1. Cat dandruff is not like people dandruff. The flakes are not from dry skin, but from oil dead skin cells. Imagine if you didn't wash your hair for a month or two, it would get oily and you would get...dandruff! Cats have very oily, greasy skin. A bath with a de-greasing shampoo (I like Les Poochs F&T or Davis Degreaser) with help sop up a lot of that oil. Do not follow with a conditioner. A bath every 2-3 weeks should help clear up the dandruff (the first bath will not get rid of it all). I would also recommend going to a professional cat groomer to get the full benefits of the bath. Good luck!

    (I am a Certified Feline Master Groomer with the National Cat Groomers Institute of America, Inc.)

  2. Useful tips towards a healthier life. Thanks.Dano Dandruff


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