Does Your Cat’s Food Cause Those Flakes? The Link Between Diet and Dandruff


Dandruff refers to the flaky skin and white specks that can appear on a cat’s fur. It’s primarily the result of dry, irritated skin. Many cat owners wonder if cheaper cat foods with filler ingredients or certain nutritional deficiencies can cause dandruff. While diet and nutrition can play a role, dandruff often stems from other issues like allergies, mites, grooming difficulties, or medical conditions. Identifying the root cause is important before exploring dietary solutions for stubborn dandruff.

Causes of Feline Dandruff

There are several potential causes of dandruff in cats:

Food Allergies

Cats can develop allergies to ingredients in their food, including fish, beef, dairy, and grain. Food allergies can cause skin irritation and flaky skin. Switching to a limited ingredient diet or novel protein may help (Source).

Nutritional Deficiencies

Deficiencies in certain nutrients like fatty acids, zinc, and vitamin B can lead to dry, flaky skin in cats. Feeding a high quality diet designed for your cat’s age and activity level can help provide balanced nutrition (Source).


Skin infections from parasites like cheyletiella mites or ringworm fungus can cause scaly skin, irritation, and dandruff. See your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment of infections (Source).

Dry Skin

Dry, flaky skin alone can cause dandruff in cats. This is especially common in the winter when low humidity dries out your cat’s skin. Using a humidifier and grooming with a moisturizing cat shampoo can help (Source).

Food Allergies

Food allergies are one of the most common causes of feline dandruff. Cats can develop allergies to ingredients like beef, dairy, fish, chicken, or grains [1]. When a cat eats something they are allergic to, it triggers an immune response that can lead to itchy skin and irritation. The cat will likely lick and scratch the area, which damages the skin. This allows dead skin cells to build up and flake off as dandruff.

Allergic reactions cause inflammation that makes the skin dry out faster. Cats with food allergies usually have flaky skin with reddened areas under the fur. The dandruff may be most noticeable on the back, near the base of the tail, or on the belly. Symptoms often appear year-round if the allergy is from a consistent part of the cat’s diet.

Diagnosing food allergies usually requires an elimination diet under a veterinarian’s guidance. Once the culprit ingredient is identified, feeding the cat a hypoallergenic diet free of that allergen can help manage the symptoms. Providing fatty acid supplements may also help soothe inflamed skin.

Poor Nutrition

A poor quality or imbalanced diet lacking in essential nutrients can contribute to skin issues like dandruff in cats. Cats require certain vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and amino acids in their food for skin health.

Diets low in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids fail to provide the building blocks for a healthy skin barrier, increasing water loss through the skin and leading to dry, flaky skin and dandruff. Long-chain omega-3s like EPA and DHA support skin cell membrane integrity and reduce inflammation.

Deficiencies in vitamins A, B complex, C and E can also compromise skin health. Vitamin A supports skin cell growth and repair, while vitamins C and E act as antioxidants to protect against skin damage from free radicals. The B vitamins help form the foundation of skin, hair and nail cells.

Insufficient protein in the diet can also negatively impact skin. Complete, high-quality animal protein provides amino acids like lysine that are vital for building healthy skin proteins like collagen and elastin. Plant proteins may be incomplete, lacking essential amino acids.

Overall, feeding a high-quality, balanced cat food formulated with omega fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins and complete animal protein sources can help minimize skin issues like dandruff.

Dry Skin

Dry, flaky skin is one of the most common causes of dandruff in cats. Cats need to stay properly hydrated in order for their skin to maintain healthy moisture and oil levels. Dehydration leads to decreased skin elasticity and oil production, resulting in dry, irritated skin that can flake off as dandruff.

Cats receive a good portion of hydration from the moisture content in their food. A diet too low in moisture can contribute to dehydration and subsequent dry skin issues. Cats also rely on dietary fats and oils to maintain supple skin and shiny coats. Diets deficient in certain fatty acids can lead skin to become dry, itchy, and flaky.

Ensuring cats receive adequate hydration and oils in their diet is key to preventing dry, flaky skin. Feeding canned/wet food more frequently can increase moisture intake. Supplementing with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can also help replenish skin oils and restore skin hydration to minimize dandruff.

Diet Recommendations

Certain types of cat food and nutrients can help minimize dandruff in cats. Focus on a high-quality diet rich in omega fatty acids, antioxidants, probiotics, and vitamins. Some great options include:

Purina Pro Plan Sensitive Skin & Stomach Salmon & Rice Formula Dry Cat Food – This salmon-based formula contains omega-3 fatty acids to nourish skin and minimize dryness and flaking.

Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diets Green Pea & Duck Formula Dry Cat Food – With duck as the #1 ingredient, this limited ingredient diet is easy to digest and contains antioxidants.

Instinct Ultimate Protein Grain-Free Canned Wet Cat Food – The 95% meat-based formula is packed with protein and omega fatty acids without fillers.

Feeding a nutritious, high-quality diet tailored to your cat’s needs can go a long way in minimizing dry, flaky skin and dandruff. Avoid cheap fillers and ensure balanced nutrition through high protein, omegas, antioxidants and limited ingredients for sensitive skin.

Other Tips for Managing Dandruff

In addition to diet, there are some other simple tips that can help manage dandruff in cats:

Regular brushing can help remove dead skin cells and distribute natural oils. Use a soft bristle brush and brush gently in the direction of hair growth (Source).

Make sure your cat is properly hydrated by providing fresh, clean water at all times. Dehydration can contribute to dry, flaky skin (Source).

Consider supplements like fish oil or vitamin E, which can help nourish skin and coat. Always consult your vet before starting supplements (Source).

Bathing can help moisturize skin, but only bathe if your cat tolerates it. Use a gentle, moisturizing shampoo formulated for cats.

When to See the Vet

In most cases, dandruff is a minor condition that can be managed at home. However, it’s important to seek veterinary attention if the dandruff is severe, persists for more than 2-3 weeks, or is accompanied by other symptoms.

According to veterinarians, you should make an appointment with your vet if your cat has significant hair loss, inflamed skin, open sores, or is excessively scratching, licking or biting the affected areas [1]. These signs can indicate a more serious skin condition or infection requiring medical treatment.

Additionally, if changes in diet, grooming, and humidity don’t improve dandruff after a few weeks, seek professional advice. Your vet can do tests to diagnose potential causes like allergies, fungal infections, immune disorders, or endocrine problems. They can provide prescription shampoos, antibiotics, anti-fungal medication, or tailored treatment plans to resolve stubborn dandruff and address any underlying medical issues.

It’s also recommended to schedule a veterinary visit if your cat has any other signs of illness along with dandruff like lethargy, reduced appetite, weight loss, or digestive issues. Dandruff with other symptoms could potentially indicate a systemic health problem.

While dandruff itself may not seem serious, it’s best to be cautious and have your vet examine your cat if the flakes don’t go away or any concerning symptoms develop. Proper diagnosis and treatment can relieve your cat’s discomfort and prevent the problem from worsening.


In summary, while cat food may not directly cause dandruff, it certainly can play a contributing role. Food allergies and poor nutrition lacking essential fatty acids can lead to excessively dry, flaky skin and dandruff. Feeding your cat a high-quality diet designed for their life stage, with balanced amounts of protein, fat, and essential nutrients can help minimize dandruff.

Cats prone to dandruff may benefit from omega fatty acid supplements added to their diet for skin and coat health. Proper grooming, moisturizing shampoos, and keeping their environment clean can also help manage dandruff. See your veterinarian if your cat has severe, persistent dandruff that does not respond to changes in diet and care.


[1] Hill’s Pet Nutrition. “Nutritional Causes of Cat Dandruff.” Accessed Jan 15, 2023.

[2] The Cat Hospital at Towson. “What Causes Dandruff in Cats?” Accessed Jan 15, 2023.

[3] Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Food Allergies in Cats.” Accessed Jan 15, 2023.

[4] Banfield Pet Hospital. “Cat Dandruff: Causes and Treatments.” Accessed Jan 15, 2023.

[5] American Kennel Club. “Cat Dandruff: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments.” Accessed Jan 15, 2023.

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