Flaky Furballs. Why Indoor Cats Get Dandruff Too

What is dandruff in cats?

Dandruff in cats, also known as feline dandruff, refers to the flaking of skin and hair that occurs as a result of certain skin conditions. It is characterized by a flaky, dusty appearance of the skin and hair coat, often accompanied by mild itching or scaling.

The main symptom of dandruff is the presence of white, greasy flakes on a cat’s skin and in their fur. This flaking and scaling is often most noticeable along the back, flanks, belly, tail, and behind the ears, but can occur anywhere on the body. As dandruff progresses, larger flakes and crusty accumulations may form. Mild redness, itching, and irritation of the skin often accompany dandruff.

Dandruff is not the same thing as dry skin, though the two conditions may coexist. With dandruff, the skin cells are shed in large flaky patches. Dry skin lacks oils and moisture, causing tighter flakes and a duller coat. However, chronic dry skin can progress to dandruff if left untreated (1).

Some key differences between dandruff and dry skin in cats include:

  • Dandruff flakes are larger, greasy, and white.
  • Dry skin flakes are smaller and powdery in texture.
  • Dandruff is often accompanied by some degree of itching and irritation.
  • Dry skin shows overall coat dullness, but not necessarily flaking.

Common causes of dandruff in cats

There are several common causes of dandruff in cats:


Allergies to food, plants, or other environmental allergens can cause skin irritation and flaking in cats. Allergy-related dandruff may be accompanied by signs of itching, licking, and scratching. Allergy testing by a veterinarian can help identify the source of the allergy.


External parasites like fleas and mites can cause inflammation, irritation, and flaking of the skin. Treatments like flea and tick prevention medications can eliminate parasites and resolve associated dandruff.

Skin conditions

Skin conditions like seborrhea can cause excessive oil production, leading to flaky skin. Bacterial or fungal skin infections may also result in dandruff. Diagnosis and treatment of the underlying skin condition by a vet is important.

Nutritional deficiencies

Diets deficient in certain nutrients like fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals can cause dry, flaky skin in cats. Switching to a balanced diet formulated for the cat’s life stage may resolve nutritional deficiency-related dandruff.

Indoor vs outdoor cats

There are some key differences between indoor and outdoor cats that are important to understand when examining if indoor cats can get dandruff.

Indoor cats live exclusively inside the home, while outdoor cats are allowed to roam freely outside. Some key factors affecting indoor cats include:

  • Less exposure to external parasites like fleas, ticks, and ear mites since they don’t go outside
  • Living in a controlled environment indoors away from weather extremes, wildlife, vehicles, contagious diseases, and other outdoor hazards
  • Need to have exercise and stimulation provided inside through playtime, cat trees, toys, etc.
  • Eat a consistent diet of commercial cat food provided by owners

Overall, indoor cats tend to have fewer health problems and live longer lives compared to outdoor cats. Their protected indoor environment means they are less exposed to many of the parasites and dangers present outdoors.

Can indoor cats get dandruff?

Yes, indoor cats can absolutely get dandruff. While outdoor cats may be exposed to additional environmental factors, the underlying causes of dandruff in cats can apply to indoor kitties as well.

Some of the most common reasons cats get dandruff include dry skin, allergies, parasites, stress, obesity inhibiting grooming, and nutritional deficiencies. All of these can affect indoor cats. In fact, low humidity is one of the top reasons for dandruff and dry skin in cats, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) [1], and indoor environments tend to be drier.

So while outdoor cats may deal with additional factors like sun exposure and environmental allergens, indoor cats are prone to dandruff too. Monitoring for dandruff and addressing any causes is important for the health and comfort of any cat, whether indoor or outdoor.

Diagnosing dandruff in indoor cats

If you notice your indoor cat has dandruff, the first step is to take them to the vet for an examination. The vet will do a complete physical exam and take a full medical history to try to pinpoint the cause of the dandruff.

Some diagnostic tests the vet may perform include:

  • Skin scraping test – The vet takes a skin sample and examines it under the microscope to look for signs of parasites, fungal infections or skin conditions causing dandruff.
  • Allergy testing – Blood or skin tests can check for allergies to food, fleas or environmental allergens that could be causing dandruff.

The vet will also check for other symptoms like itchiness, hair loss, skin lesions or scabs that may provide clues to the cause. Diagnostic testing helps determine if the dandruff is due to allergies, parasites, infections or other skin problems.

Properly diagnosing the underlying cause of dandruff through veterinary examination and testing is important before trying treatments to resolve indoor cat dandruff issues.

Treating dandruff in indoor cats

There are several methods for treating dandruff in indoor cats:

Anti-fungal shampoos can help treat fungal infections that may be causing dandruff. These medicated shampoos contain antifungal ingredients like ketoconazole or chlorhexidine that can reduce fungus on the skin and scalp that contributes to flaky skin and dandruff (source).

Flea medications may be prescribed, even for indoor cats, if fleas are suspected as the cause of dandruff. Flea saliva can trigger skin irritations that lead to flakiness. Topical or oral flea preventatives can kill fleas and stop the itching and flaking they cause (source).

Dietary supplements like fish oils, flaxseed oil and vitamin E can help improve skin and coat health from the inside out. These supplements provide omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation and moisturize the skin (source).

Allergy medications may be prescribed for cats with environmental or food allergies causing dandruff. Antihistamines and steroid treatments can reduce allergy symptoms like skin irritation and flaking (source).

Preventing dandruff in indoor cats

There are several ways to help prevent dandruff in indoor cats:

Grooming and brushing – Regular grooming and brushing can help distribute natural oils, remove dead skin cells, and prevent buildup that causes dandruff. Groom gently with a soft bristle brush at least once a week.

Balanced diet – Feeding your cat a balanced, high quality diet with omega fatty acids can help keep their skin and coat healthy. Consult your vet on the ideal nutrition for your cat.

Humidifier use – Running a humidifier can add moisture to dry indoor air and prevent your cat’s skin from getting too dry. Aim to keep indoor humidity around 30-50%.

Reduce stress – Stress can contribute to skin issues like dandruff. Make sure your cat has a comfortable home environment with clean litter boxes, scratching posts, toys, and places to perch up high.

Home Remedies

There are a few natural home remedies that may help treat dandruff in cats:

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties that can help combat infections causing dandruff. Rub a small amount of extra virgin coconut oil into your cat’s coat and skin daily to moisturize their skin and reduce flakes. According to HolistaPet, coconut oil can improve skin health and soothe itchiness caused by dandruff.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is naturally antibacterial and antifungal. Mixing a 50/50 solution of apple cider vinegar and water and applying it to your cat’s coat with a sponge or towel can help balance pH levels on their skin and get rid of dandruff flakes. Rinse thoroughly after 5-10 minutes.

Oatmeal Baths

An oatmeal bath can provide relief from itchy, flaky skin. Grind plain oatmeal into a fine powder and mix it with warm water. Gently pour the mixture over your cat while bathing, avoiding their face, then lather and rinse as usual. The colloidal oatmeal will coat and soothe irritated skin. Oatmeal baths may need to be given weekly to control dandruff.

When to see a vet

If your indoor cat has severe dandruff or the condition does not improve with home care, it’s time to see a vet. According to Zoetis Petcare, some signs that warrant a vet visit include:

  • Severe scaling and flaking of the skin
  • Hair loss or bald patches
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Skin lesions or sores
  • Excessive scratching or skin irritation

A vet can help diagnose the underlying cause and provide proper treatment. Severe dandruff may be a sign of skin infections, parasites, allergies, or other medical conditions that require medication. Vets can prescribe medicated shampoos, antibiotics, anti-fungal medications, or medicated wipes to treat infections and reduce inflammation.

Cats with food allergies may need prescription hypoallergenic diets. In some cases, antihistamines or steroid treatments may be prescribed to control allergic reactions. Identifying and treating the root cause of severe dandruff under veterinary guidance can help provide relief and prevent complications.

Don’t hesitate to schedule a vet appointment if your indoor cat’s dandruff does not respond to gentle bathing, brushing, diet changes, supplements, or other home care. Severe, persistent dandruff in cats requires professional veterinary attention.


Here are some frequently asked questions about dandruff in indoor cats:

Why does my indoor cat have dandruff?

There are a few common reasons an indoor cat may develop dandruff, including dry skin, allergies, and not grooming enough due to obesity or arthritis. Indoor cats can also experience seasonal dandruff in the winter when the air is dry. https://www.webmd.com/pets/cats/what-to-know-dandruff-cats

Should I be concerned about dandruff in my indoor cat?

Mild dandruff is normal in cats and is usually nothing to worry about. However, excessive dandruff, flaking, redness or hair loss can indicate an underlying issue. It’s a good idea to have your vet examine your cat if the dandruff persists or worsens. https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/cat-dandruff/

How can I treat my indoor cat’s dandruff at home?

Gently brushing your cat daily can help distribute natural oils and reduce dandruff flakes. Bathe your cat occasionally with a gentle, moisturizing shampoo. Using a humidifier can add moisture to dry indoor air. Omega fatty acid supplements may also help soothe dry skin. Always consult your vet before giving supplements. https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/dont-brush-off-feline-dandruff/

When should I take my cat to the vet for dandruff?

See your vet if dandruff persists for more than 2-3 weeks, is severe with excessive flaking/scales, or is accompanied by hair loss, redness, sores or itchiness. This could indicate a more serious skin condition requiring treatment. Vets can diagnose the cause and prescribe medicated shampoos or other treatments.

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