by Nomi Berger
When dead skin cells accumulate on a cat’s skin, hair follicles or coat, it’s known as a condition called seborrhea, or simply put, dandruff.
Presenting as small white flakes or flecks that appear throughout her fur or attached to her skin, they may be visible in specific areas -- most commonly at the base of her tail or hind end – or everywhere on her body. Oftentimes these flakes are accompanied by such skin irritations as redness, scabbing or lesions.
The most common causes of cat dandruff include:
· Allergies: from fleas and food to genetics and the environment
· External parasites on the skin: fleas, mites and ticks
· Hormonal issues: diabetes mellitus or hyperthyroidism
· Internal parasites: coccidia, giardia and worms
· Malnutrition or poor diet: diets lacking in omega-3 fatty acids
· Obesity: overweight cats find grooming themselves difficult
· Orthopedic diseases like arthritis: pain can deter cats from adequately grooming themselves
· Temperature changes or changes in the humidity
While stress may be a culprit, dandruff may also be a symptom of a more concerning medical condition that requires a visit to the vet.
Your vet will begin by reviewing your kitty’s medical history and then perform a thorough examination on her. To determine if the dandruff is the result of some underlying condition, the following tests may be ordered:
· Full blood work: complete blood count, serum chemistry, thyroid levels and electrolytes to check for any systemic disease
· Fecal testing: to check for an intestinal parasite infection that can cause dry skin and a poor haircoat
· Skin scraping or hair plucking: to check for fleas, lice, mites or ticks
· Skin culture: to check for either bacteria or ringworm on her skin
If nothing reveals an obvious underlying medical condition, your vet might suggest changing your cat’s diet, changing or improving your environment (proper temperature/humidity) and her grooming habits as well as providing her with either holistic or feline-specific supplements designed to treat the dandruff. Anti-seborrheic shampoos and topical treatments such as Douxo-S3 or DermaBenSs can also be helpful. Should there be little or no improvement in her condition over time, oral antibiotics, steroids and/or immunosuppressive medications may have to be considered.
If a food allergy is suspected, your vet may recommend changing your kitty to a novel protein -- duck, whitefish, venison or rabbit -- diet or to a hypoallergenic diet. Brushing and flea prevention are also recommended, particularly for indoor/outdoor cats and those who can’t groom themselves properly because of arthritis or obesity.
However, if your cat’s dandruff not only lasts for weeks but is accompanied by scabbing, itching, behavioral changes, decreased appetite, lethargy or vomiting, or if you see fleas, mites or ticks on her skin, schedule an immediate appointment with your vet.