How to Prevent and Treat Your Cat's Dry Skin and Dandruff

If you notice flakes of dry skin in your cat’s fur, it might be a case of dandruff. Of course, only a vet can diagnose the condition, but in any case, it will be best if you know what you are up against. In this post, you’ll learn some basic skin biology as well as what are the best shampoos on the market that don't dry cats’ skin and help alleviate conditions including dryness and dandruff.

What is Skin?

Dumb question, isn’t it? Everybody knows that skin is the protective outer layer of animals’ bodies, but the skin is more complex than you think. Thus, before working on prevention and treatment of dandruff in your pal, it behooves you to learn the basic structure of skin.

Everybody who has taken some biology classes knows that human skin is like an onion - it consists of several layers. The visible part is called the epidermis - it protects the body and gives it its color. Underneath it lies the dermis - it hosts the hair follicles, sweat glands, and blood vessels. The bottom third, the hypodermis, is made of a fatty layer called subcutaneous fat.

Cats’ skin is similar in structure. The difference is that cats are hairier than (most) people and their fur is more complex than human’s hair - it consists of four sets of fur.

In both species, as with any other organ, the skin condition deteriorates with age. Furthermore, the constant exposure to the elements makes skin susceptible to problems.

Now, let's see what causes dandruff - these flakes of skin that embarrass many people but also occur in cats.

What Causes Dry Skin and Dandruff in Cats?

Now that we have learned that skin serves a variety of protective functions its natural to think that this organ is susceptible to problems. Some of them may appear in the deep layers - like the hypodermis, while others, like dry skin, can pop-up on the surface - visible to the naked eye.

Dryness happens when the skin is starved of essential nutrients. This causes the skin to lose moisture, elasticity and some of its protective abilities. Thus, it's important to address any issues that appear on or under the skin. While dandruff is considered mostly a cosmetic problem, it can signify trouble in another part of the body.

Variety of causes - nutritional, environmental and health, can cause dandruff in cats. A diet that lacks healthy fats (such as Omegas) and an absence of proper hydration can deplete the moisture in your furry friend’s skin.

When it comes to environmental factors, it's harsh weather conditions that are the main culprit. Prolonged exposure under the sun, dry air or strong winds can strip away moisture from the skin.

Health issues also can result in dandruff - from parasites and allergies to diabetes and thyroid problems, plenty of cat diseases can cause dry skin and dandruff.

It is possible for dandruff not to cause serious concern provided that it's not a symptom of another disease. Only a vet can determine what is causing your cat’s skin to dry out.


Dandruff can be a very stubborn condition so you should do yourself and your cat a favor and follow some preventive guidelines.


Nutrition plays an essential role in maintaining healthy coat and fur. Feed your cat a high-quality diet that provides not only the essential macronutrients but also enough vitamins and minerals. It's also important that your cat eats healthy fats-- especially Omegas which come from fish. There are diets on the market that have been formulated especially for maintaining healthy coat and skin.


To prevent your cat from developing dandruff, you also need to address any environmental concerns. This is especially important if your cat goes outside. In such case make sure to shelter her from the harsh sun and winds. If on the other hand your cat stays only inside make sure to maintain healthy humidity especially if you use an air conditioner. Also, don’t use harsh chemicals and irritants which can lead to skin problems.


Health issues are the most serious culprits for dandruff. A plethora of conditions can lead to dehydration of the skin and other problems. Furthermore, an irritated skin makes your cat scratch herself which further worsens the condition. Even if you don't notice any symptoms other than dandruff get your cat to the vet as soon as possible to make sure that there is no underlying disease that's causing it.


If despite the preventive measures your cat has already gotten dandruff then it's time to think about treatment. Here are some lifestyle changes that you can implement to alleviate your cat’s skin problems. After that, we’re going to suggest some products that you can buy if your cat has an especially bad case of dry skin and dandruff.


One thing that you need to pay attention to in order to treat your cat’s dandruff or dry skin is to address any possible parasite infestations. Mites, ticks, fleas and a variety of other parasites can cause infections and allergic reactions in your furry friend which in turn lead to skin problems.

Weight Loss

We have a separate post about obese cats and how much suffering too much weight brings to your pal. While the list of problems caused by excessive weight is quite long, one of the issues that obesity causes in cats is making it hard to groom themselves. If your cat is obese and cannot clean himself properly he will suffer from outbreaks and other skin conditions such as dryness and dandruff.

Diet Changes

If your cat is obese or she’s not getting enough fat, you need to change her diet. Consult with your vet about how to switch your pal to a better one. If your cat’s nutritional lifestyle is seriously messed up your vet might even prescribe a special formula. There are also over-the-counter diets that contain additional fatty acids such as Omega-3.

Water Intake

Water is as essential as food. Cats tend not to consume enough water which can lead to dry skin and dandruff among other issues. If you notice that your cat is not drinking enough water, consider buying a water fountain which makes drinking more fun.


It might sound ironic, but too much hygiene can lead to health problems. If you bathe your cat too often, you're stripping him of his natural oils, damaging his fur and skin. Cats don't need to be bathed unless they've gotten into contact with chemicals or irritants. Felines are quite capable of grooming themselves, and they usually do not require extra care.


If you haven't been doing it so far, it's a good idea to start brushing your cat. This way you’ll clean her of shedded skin cells and fur letting her coat and skin to breathe. Brushing your cat is especially important if you have a long-haired breed. If your cat is not accustomed to being brushed she might protest against it. Start slow and be careful not to hurt her or yourself. Gradually make it a daily habit.

Cat shampoos for Dry Skin and Dandruff

While bathing your cat might not be necessary under normal circumstances at some point you might have to wash her. To avoid giving your cat dry skin and to alleviate already existing conditions consider getting the right shampoo. Here are our suggestions.

Earthbath All Natural Shampoo

This product is everything that you should be looking for in a cat shampoo. It contains oatmeal and Aloe Vera both of which provide a soothing effect for problematic skin. Plus, it’s soap-free and pH-balanced so it won't dry your cat’s skin. Also, this shampoo won't wash away topical treatments such as flee medicine.

Pro-Pet Works Natural Oatmeal Dog Shampoo + Conditioner

This one contains oatmeal, aloe vera, and almond oil. It's formulated for pets with allergies and skin problems caused by parasites and the formula doesn't contain alcohol, soap or sulfates. It’s also free of chemicals and fragrance. This is a two-in-one formula which also includes conditioner making it easier to brush your cat's fur.

Natural Pet Shampoo For Dogs & Cats

This one contains coconut oil, lavender and evening primrose. All of these ingredients provide a natural way to calm and moisturize irritated skin. The formula is paraben and sulfate free and provides natural deodorization of the fur. The shampoo is indicated as safe for use on sensitive skin. The product can be used on the go as the formula allows the shampoo to be applied to the fur and cleaned away with a brush and a towel - no rinsing necessary.

Top Performance

If your cat’s fur tends to tangle or develop mats, consider using the Top Performance shampoo. Tangled fur makes it hard for your pal to groom himself leaving the skin underneath dirty, dry and prone to problems. The Top Performance formula provides a light scent with added conditioner which helps with grooming. The shampoo is pH balanced so under normal circumstances it shouldn't dry out your cat’s skin.

Calily Life

Aloe vera, oatmeal, shea butter and sea minerals make up Calily Life’s formula. This shampoo + conditioner product hydrates, nourishes and soothes the skin thanks to the oils and minerals while the essential oils leave a pleasant scent. It doesn't wash away tick and flea treatments. The formula doesn't sting your pet’s eyes though be cautious when applying the shampoo around them.

Vet's Best No Rinse Waterless Dry Shampoo for Cats

Not every cat agrees to be washed under the shower. In such a case, consider Vet’s Best. The formula is developed by vets and contains organic ingredients which clean, moisturize and calm the skin. What sets apart this formula is that it doesn't require rinsing. You apply the shampoo and let it do its thing. The manufacturer, however, advises wiping your cat's fur after using the shampoo to clean away dirt and stray hair.

Other Considerations

Taking care of your cat’s skin and coat doesn't end with the shampoo. Plenty of things around your home can cause irritation, dryness, and dandruff. We've covered the topics in other posts, so here we are providing you with links to them so you can make wise choices when it comes to picking up stuff like flea treatment and household cleaners.

This post is about ear mite treatments, but some of the solutions provided there work great for preventing and treating other parasites such as ticks and fleas.

A significant irritant around many homes is the household chemicals that people use to clean their places. Here is a post on solutions that are safe for pets.

Finally, to avoid allergic reactions in cats which can lead to various conditions including dry skin and dandruff, you can check out this post on how to manage allergies in cats.

Dandruff is an annoying problem to have no matter who has it - you or your cat. While stubborn, the root of this problem is usually not hard to pinpoint - it comes down to what dries out the skin. But if you follow the preventive measures laid out in this article then dandruff and dry skin shouldn't be an issue. Yet, however trivial, dandruff in cats may also indicate other issues, so it’s best to bring your pal to the vet if you notice shredded flakes of skin.