HEALTH & CARE

How to Treat Dry Skin on Cats: What Causes Dry and Flaky Skin?

cat having dry skin
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

Most cat breeds have a luxurious, fluffy, and soft coat that becomes dull-looking and oily once a cat is suffering from skin problems. And while dry skin by itself isn’t a serious condition, it is in most cases a symptom of some underlying problem like allergies or lack of essential nutrients. Dandruff can cause your kitty to itch and scratch obsessively, so it is advisable that you learn how to treat dry skin on cats.

Treating this condition isn’t hard, but in order to prevent it from reoccurring in the near future, you should figure out what is causing it. For example, indoor-only cats easily develop dry skin during cold winter months because the air is too dry, but simply placing a humidifier in the room your cat spends most of her time in should fix her skin problem. In some occasions, dry skin can be a symptom of more serious problems, and you will have to take your cat to the vet.

In this article, we will tell you how to treat your cat’s dry skin at home successfully. We will also list some of the most common causes of dandruff in cats in order to help you get to the bottom of things and make necessary changes in your cat’s lifestyle.

What are the Common Causes of Dry Skin in Cats?

Even though most cats have fluffy and magnificent coats, it isn’t that rare for owners to notice dandruff and flakiness which are associated with dry skin. Other symptoms of this condition include licking, scratching, itching, hair loss, and thinning of the hair.

In most cases, dry skin is just a symptom of some other disease, and it will go back to normal once that issue is resolved.

#1: Skin Allergies

cat having an allergy

Cats can develop food-related allergies at any point in their lives, and they can also suffer from environmental allergies on pollens or grasses. Allergies will cause a cat to lick and scratch, and in some cases, a cat will also develop a skin rash. A cat will then develop dry and flaky skin, and her fur may begin to fall out from the affected areas.

When it comes to allergies, you will have to put your cat on an elimination diet to identify the culprit. We advise you to take your kitty to the vet if you suspect that she suffers from allergies.

The vet will assess your cat, if necessary run some tests, and advise you on the type of diet or medication that can provide long-term relief for your cat.

See Also: How to Treat Cat Allergies

#2: Nutritional Deficiency

A cat can easily develop dry and flaky skin if she isn’t getting enough essential nutrients from her diet.

All cats are carnivores by nature and require a high-quality protein-based cat food. An unbalanced diet can lead to deficiencies in essential vitamins, minerals, and omega fatty acids that act as coat and skin support.

Furthermore, low quality and poor nutrition can lead to more serious health issues that can jeopardize the overall health and well-being of a cat.

#3: Skin Infections

obsessive licking

Parasites, viruses, fungi, or bacteria can cause skin infections in cats that present with symptoms like dry, flaky skin, obsessive scratching, and licking. Parasites like fleas can easily be seen with the naked eye, and some cats can have a severe reaction even if they aren’t under a large infestation.

On the other hand, mites can’t be seen with the naked eye, and you will have to take your cat to the vet so he/she can diagnose the dry skin problem correctly.

Fungal infections like ringworm or bacterial infections like pyoderma can also cause a cat’s skin to become dry, and her coat dull-looking. In cases like this, your cat will have to be examined by a vet who will run blood, urine, and skin tests to set the proper diagnosis and course of treatment.

#4: Frequent Bathing

All cats are fastidious groomers that spend almost every waking minute making their fur look impeccable and clean. This fact makes them very easy to maintain. However, not all cats are the same, and some do need to be bathed more often than normal, and this can cause dry skin.

Frequent bathing strips your cat’s skin of its natural oils and doesn’t give it enough time to recover its natural balance. This results in a dull looking and thinned coat, on top of the dry and flaky skin.

#5: Diseases

sick cat

Older cats are at a higher risk of developing all sorts of health problems that can result in dry skin. However, you shouldn’t automatically dismiss illness as the cause of your cat’s dry skin just because she is in her prime.

Thyroid disease causes hormonal imbalance that affects every aspect of your cat’s health and can also impact the state of her skin, causing it to become dry.

Kidney disease is one of the most commonly seen conditions in older cats and leads to toxin buildup in the bloodstream. This affects the function of all organs in a cat’s body and leads to a variety of health problems including dry and itchy skin.

It may seem strange, but heart disease also affects the state of a cat’s skin. Since the heart isn’t able to pump enough blood, the oxygen can’t reach all the cells in the body, which causes the skin cells to die-off and flake.

#6: Advanced Age

Older cats are less mobile, and their bodies aren’t as flexible as before, which makes grooming difficult and results in a matted coat on areas they aren’t able to reach.

Mats and tangles don’t allow the skin to breathe and can cause skin infections or dry and flaky skin. You should also be aware that the immune system of older cats can be weakened, which can lead to skin and coat problems.

See Also: How to Groom a Cat

10 Effective Treatments for Dry Skin on Cats

Once you notice the first signs of dry skin on your cat, you need to do your best to identify the underlying cause behind it. This will give you a better understanding of what exactly is going on with your kitty and significantly improve the chances of treating dry skin successfully.

Furthermore, since dry skin can be a symptom of some serious diseases, we advise that you take your cat to the vet if you don’t see any improvements after using the treatment for some time.

#1: Treat Your Cat for Parasites

treating fleas on cats

Fleas are nasty blood-sucking parasites that bite their host and cause a cat to itches, scratch, lick, and in some cases, their bites can cause an allergic reaction. Most cats develop dry and flaky skin when they are under flea infestation, and the only way to treat it is to get rid of the fleas.

Check your cat’s fur for any adult fleas or flea eggs to confirm that this is the real cause of dry skin. Once your suspicions are confirmed, there is a variety of treatment options you can choose from.

Flea shampoos and sprays with pesticides are very effective in killing fleas in all life stages. But if you don’t want to expose your kitty to harsh chemicals, you can use apple cider vinegar, essential oils, or herbal baths and rinses to get rid of fleas.

Most cats experience immediate relief when it comes to itching and scratching once all the fleas are killed, and the problem with dry skin is resolved in a few days.

See Also: Flea Bath for Cats

#2: Change Your Cat’s Food

Cats can develop food allergies just like people do, and if you’ve ruled out all other causes of dry skin, this one may be it.

You can take your cat to the vet so he/she can confirm the diagnosis for sure, or you can just try switching your cat onto a different food and see how she reacts. It is best to use foods that have some type of novel protein like, duck or any other type of meat your kitty wasn’t eating before.

Skin rashes, itching, scratching, dry skin, and any other symptoms of allergies will clear up within a few days after the new diet is introduced. To keep your cat healthy and prevent her skin from drying up again, you should continue feeding her with the new type of food.

#3: Protect Your Cat from the Weather

humidifier

It may seem strange, but just like us, cats can have their skin and coat damaged by the weather. Thin-coated and hairless cats are at a higher risk of getting sunburns and developing dry and flaky skin as a result.

However, this doesn’t mean that your fluffy fur ball is safe, so it is advisable to keep all cats inside and away from the harsh summer sun.

You shouldn’t let your guard down during cold winter months either since heaters dry up the air and your cat’s skin as well. Buying and placing a humidifier in the room your cat spends most of her time in can solve her problems with dry skin.

#4: Avoid Frequent Baths

As we’ve already said, cats are easy to maintain and don’t need frequent baths. However, some skin conditions and yeast infections require the use of medicated shampoos and frequent baths that can create a dry and flaky skin. In this situation, it is best to use a natural, moisturizing cat shampoo that will nourish, hydrate, and heal dry skin.

If your cat doesn’t suffer from any skin infections and doesn’t require a special bathing treatment, it is best to avoid bathing altogether. A few times a year is the golden standard for most cats, and it is only necessary if a cat is really dirty and in a desperate need of a bath.

#5: Wrap Your Cat in a Hot Towel

cat wrapped in a towel

Wrapping your kitty in a towel that was soaked in hot water is an easy but effective way to treat dry skin and dandruff at home. The moisture from the towel will hydrate and soothe your cat’s skin and help with itching.

Use a towel or a piece of cloth and soak it into hot water; just make sure that the water isn’t too hot that you aren’t able to hold your hand in it.

When the towel or cloth is soaked, bring it out of the water and wring it until it isn’t dripping and gently wrap it around your cat. Keep your kitty calm by talking to her in a soothing voice and make sure that she is comfortable and not under stress.

If it is possible, keep your kitty wrapped for five minutes and repeat this process for a couple of days until your cat’s skin is back to normal.

#6: Add Fat to Your Cat’s Diet

In some cases, a cat isn’t getting the right amounts of nutrients from her diet, which can affect the state of her coat and skin. Try researching the type of food you are feeding to your cat currently and compare it to other high-quality cat foods. Pay close attention to fat content and check if the food contains omega 3 fatty acids.

You can also supplement your cat’s food by adding 1/8 of a tablespoon of fish oil every other day. Besides fish oil, you can also give tuna and salmon to your cat once or twice a week since they are natural sources of omega 3 fatty acids.

Supplementing or changing your cat’s food to fattier ones (the good fats, not the bad ones) will greatly improve the state of her skin and coat and help you get rid of dandruff.

#7: Keep Your Cat Hydrated

water fountain for a cat

Most cats don’t drink enough water during the day which results in dry skin, and in some cases, dehydration. Water is the most important nutrient, and it is essential for keeping a cat in optimal health.

Monitor your cat’s water intake and if you are concerned that she isn’t drinking enough, try providing more water sources around the house to encourage your cat to drink more.

Keep the bowls clean and disinfected and make sure that the water is always fresh. Additionally, you can keep your cat hydrated by switching her to canned cat food. It contains higher levels of moisture that will support healthy skin and increase your cat’s water intake.

See Also: How to Get a Cat to Drink Water

#8: Groom Regularly

Good grooming routine can greatly improve the state of your cat’s skin and coat. It is best to brush your cat daily to increase the circulation and distribute natural skin oils through the coat. Daily grooming also removes loose hairs and prevents tangles and mats that can irritate and dry the skin.

It is important to be gentle while you are brushing your cat to prevent further irritations to the skin. For the best results, brush your cat in the direction of hair growth without applying too much pressure.

#9: Visit the Vet

cat visiting a vet

If none of the above-listed solutions work, you will have to have to take your cat to the vet. Furthermore, if your cat is experiencing any additional symptoms besides dry skin, you should take her to the vet right away.

Your vet can run blood, urine, or allergy tests to check your cat’s overall health and exclude any serious health problems.

#10: Try Using Shampoo

Nowadays there is a variety of cat shampoos that treat different medical conditions like bacterial or yeast infections, and some are specially made to soothe and heal dry skin. Your vet will recommend a type of medicated shampoo if your cat requires one, and you should follow the instructions.

Some skin problems require frequent bathing with strong shampoos that can additionally dry the skin. In these cases, try to find the one that includes moisturizers, aloe vera, or oatmeal that will nourish the skin during the treatment.

If there is any need to bathe your cat simply to make her clean again, it is best to find a completely natural shampoo that won’t strip the skin of its natural oils and damage the coat.

See Also: DIY Cat Shampoo

Wrap Up

tabby cat lying

When it comes to cats, there are many factors that contribute to the development of dry skin. This condition doesn’t pose a serious health problem besides causing your cat to be itchy, so you should know how to treat dry skin on cats and relieve your kitty’s discomfort.

However, dry skin can also be a sign that your cat is experiencing nutritional deficiency, allergies, or suffering from an undiagnosed health problem.

To completely cure your cat, you need to figure out what is causing her skin to become dry and flaky. Most owners can do this at home and cure their feline without any problems, but sometimes a cat needs to be checked by a vet.

What treatment did you use to cure your cat’s dry skin at home? Do you have any good tips you can share with us? Let us know in the comments section below. If the problem gets too severe, you may want to learn how to shave a cat.

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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