How to prevent dry, flaky skin in cats

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How to prevent dry, flaky skin in cats - A long-haired cat being groomed with a brush

Dry, flaky, or irritated skin is a common symptom of many medical conditions in cats. Skin conditions can be difficult to diagnose, so prevention of the most common causes is the best strategy to avoid extensive veterinary intervention. Read on to learn:

  • How do I know if my cat has dry skin?
  • Can dry skin in cats be prevented?
  • Why does my cat have dry skin?
  • How will a vet diagnose and treat my cat’s skin issues?

Feline dandruff is unpleasant for both cats and their owners. Pet owners can prevent skin issues and keep skin healthy with regular grooming, routine wellness exams, parasite prevention, and maintaining a cat’s healthy weight.

What are the symptoms of dry skin in cats?

Cats with dry skin may exhibit multiple symptoms. Symptoms of dry skin in cats include:

Since dry skin in cats is usually associated with an underlying condition, the specific characterization varies depending on the root cause and other individual factors. In addition, each associated condition has its own disease process and progression, so the presentation of dry skin and associated symptoms vary from one individual to the next. It’s best to seek veterinary advice to determine the cause of your cat’s dry or irritated skin, as it can be difficult to know based on symptoms alone.

How can I prevent my cat’s flaky skin?

It’s important to note some cats simply have drier skin than others. Dry skin in cats can be caused by many different conditions and individual situations, and many common causes of dry skin in cats can be prevented.

Regular grooming

Brushing cats helps distribute natural, healthy oils through the skin and fur, improving skin health and maintaining a healthy coat. Cats with mobility issues due to obesity and arthritis often need help grooming hard-to-reach areas on their backs. Long-haired breeds can develop mats and tangles that pull and irritate the skin underneath. Regular and consistent brushing helps maintain healthy skin.

Healthy diet and exercise

Obesity can hinder a cat’s ability to groom properly as well as contribute to other medical conditions that can affect the skin. Regular exercise and movement help maintain a healthy body that contributes to healthy skin.

Cats require omega-3 fatty acids in their diet to help promote healthy skin and fur. Most commercially prepared cat foods contain the proper amount of fatty acids for otherwise healthy adult cats. Cats with skin conditions may benefit from an appropriately-formulated fatty acid supplement. Talk to a veterinarian to determine whether a supplement is necessary and get a recommendation for a good quality supplement for your cat.

Parasite prevention

Fleas, mites, and other external parasites can cause skin problems and itching. Flea allergy dermatitis is one of the most common feline skin conditions and can be prevented with broad-spectrum parasite prevention. Depending on which type you choose, external parasite control medications also prevent parasitic infestations caused by mange, walking dandruff, scabies, ear mites, and many other parasites that can live in a cat’s fur and on their skin. Always consult a veterinarian before purchasing external parasite control for cats. Many non-prescription products on the market are extremely toxic to cats.

Regular vet visits

Regular checkups improve the chance of detecting underlying conditions that may contribute to dandruff. Early intervention and treatment helps improve outcomes and prevent worsening of symptoms, including skin changes. Health conditions that can lead to poor skin condition include:

Many of these conditions can be caught early with regular wellness checks and testing before they affect the skin and coat.

What causes flaky, dry skin in cats?

Dry, flaky, and itchy skin can be caused by multiple issues ranging in severity. When it comes to skin issues causing dandruff in cats, there’s usually an underlying cause, and the symptoms will go away if it is identified and successfully treated.

Grooming issues

Obese cats and cats with mobility issues due to osteoarthritis who cannot groom properly often get dry, flaky skin and matted hair. Long-haired cats who aren’t brushed can get mats that cause skin irritation underneath. In addition, using the wrong shampoo, bathing too frequently, and using harsh products can dry out a cat’s skin.


External parasites such as fleas, mites, mange, and scabies can cause skin problems and itching. Excessive scratching can lead to secondary infections that cause even more skin issues.

Fungal and bacterial infections

Skin infections caused by bacteria or fungi can cause itchiness, dryness, and flakiness. Fungal infections, also known as ringworm, are one of the most common causes of dry skin in cats. These infections can occur on their own or as a complication of excessive scratching from another condition causing itchiness, resulting in open sores

Dry air

Arid, dry environments and the winter season can cause dry skin in both people and cats due to lower environmental humidity. Humidifiers, regular grooming, and moisturizing pet shampoo may help if this is the underlying cause of a cat’s dry skin.

Genetics and other underlying health conditions

Some individuals or cat breeds are more prone to dry skin than others. Certain health issues such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and some types of cancer can also cause irritated skin. Skin disorders, such as seborrhea, can also cause flakes of dandruff in the fur and skin irritation.

How do vets diagnose and treat cat skin conditions?

Veterinarians use physical exams, medical history, microscopic examination of cells from the surface of the skin, and other diagnostic testing to diagnose skin conditions in cats. Underlying health conditions may require blood tests, urinalysis, and other testing on a routine basis to monitor and adjust treatment. Treatment for skin issues varies and depends on the diagnosis. Treatments may include:

A diagnosis from a vet is needed to determine proper treatment for a cat’s skin issues. Skin conditions can be difficult to diagnose in some cases and may require ongoing testing and treatment.

What should I do if my cat has dry, flaky, or itchy skin?

“If you find signs of dry, flaky, or irritated skin on your cat, don’t assume it’s normal or something that can be ignored,” warns Vetster veterinarian Dr. Jo Myers. “Check for other symptoms, signs of illness, or behavioral changes and talk to a vet. Dandruff is usually due to an underlying medical condition, so it’s best to receive diagnostic testing and a physical exam from a vet before trying home remedies such as shampoos, grooming, supplements, or a diet change.” The root cause of skin conditions in cats can be hard to figure out without the help of a veterinarian. If your cat is experiencing dandruff or dry skin, you can connect to a vet near you in an online virtual care appointment from the comfort of your home.

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FAQ - How to prevent dry, flaky skin in cats

Should I worry about cat dandruff?

Dandruff and dry skin in cats can be caused by many different conditions, some of which are serious. It’s best to talk to a vet any time you notice a change in your cat’s skin before assuming it’s harmless or trying at-home treatments.

How can I moisturize my cat’s skin?

Healthy cats do not usually need moisturizers for their skin. Feline dandruff is usually due to a medical condition, not dry skin. Talk to a vet if you think your cat needs a skin moisturizer before trying at-home products and treatments.

How can I help my cat have healthy skin?

Providing a nutritionally complete diet, grooming your cat regularly, receiving regular vet checkups, and keeping your cat on broad-spectrum parasite prevention can help prevent many of the common causes of dry skin and dandruff in cats.

What is a home remedy for cat dandruff?

Talk to a vet any time you notice a change in your cat’s skin or coat before trying at-home remedies. Many health conditions that lead to dry or flaky skin cannot be treated without a vet’s help. Once the underlying cause is identified and treated, dandruff usually goes away. Your vet may recommend at-home treatments such as medicated baths, diet changes, and parasite prevention to help your cat recover as quickly as possible.