Dry Skin in Cats

Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

dry skin in cats
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Dry skin in cats can lead to flakiness, dandruff, itchiness, and general discomfort. It can also make the skin more susceptible to infection. Dry skin is symptomatic of a wide range of conditions and environmental factors, so it is essential to take your cat to the vet to receive a proper diagnosis as soon as you notice dryness. Fortunately, there are many treatments for a cat's dry skin and techniques to keep it from returning once healed.  Your cat's recovery has much to do with the issue causing the dryness. For example, if an autoimmune condition is causing your cat's dry skin, treatment may not be straightforward, and the dryness might not be so easily resolved.

What Is Dry Skin?

Dry skin is the body's response to the skin's inability to retain moisture, which creates an inflammatory response. Dry skin causes your cat to develop flaky and itchy skin, usually resulting in discomfort. Occasional, mild itchiness in any animal is normal, but dry skin and/or an underlying condition might be to blame if you notice your cat exhibiting more intense symptoms.

Symptoms of Dry Skin in Cats

The symptoms of dry skin in cats range in severity and overlap with symptoms of other conditions. If you're not sure that dry skin is the cause of your cat's discomfort and suspect it could be something else altogether, consult with your vet for a proper diagnosis.


  • Itching
  • Dandruff
  • Bald spots
  • Excessive licking


Dry, inflamed skin can be very itchy for your cat. If you notice your cat scratching or licking a spot excessively, this behavior could lead to them inevertly hurting themself which dry skin could be the root of the problem. Dermatitis conditions of various levels of intensity are usually the root cause.


Dry skin in cats commonly causes dandruff. Usually, a small amount of dandruff is benign, but if you notice it in conjunction with other symptoms, a more significant problem might be behind the flakes.

Bald Spots

If your cat has dry skin, it may also have a few bald spots on its fur. There are a variety of conditions that cause bald spots or a patchy coat, so keep an eye out for hair abnormalities when you notice your cat scratching at its skin.

Excessive Licking

Cats with dry skin may excessively lick at their skin, trying to relieve some of the discomfort of the itch. Sometimes, the licking can exacerbate the skin problem, causing rawness, redness, and further pain.

What Causes Dry Skin in Cats?

Dry skin is typically symptomatic of another issue. Whatever the issue, it can cause flaky skin, itching, and an unkempt coat appearance. You may also notice your cat self-grooming more than usual. The key to treating dry skin is first to determine its cause.

  • Weather and Temperature Changes: Changes in the environment can cause cats to develop dry skin. For example, indoor heat during the winter may cause a cat's skin to become dehydrated. In summer, the air conditioner may cause sensitive skin to become dry. Other environmental factors contributing to dry skin include cigarette smoke, fragrances, and household chemicals.
  • Unkempt Coat: Normal grooming activity allows cats to clean their skin and hair. Lack of grooming causes dead skin and hair buildup on the coat. This can lead to dry, unhealthy skin. Cats may find it difficult to groom themselves if they have limited mobility due to problems like arthritis or obesity.
  • Over-grooming: Over-grooming may also cause dry skin and hair loss. A cat typically over-grooms when it is itchy, or its skin feels uncomfortable. Cats generally do not need to be bathed unless they get very dirty or have a skin problem. Occasional bathing with a cat-safe shampoo is usually harmless, but frequent bathing can lead to dry skin.
  • Diet: Cats that eat an incomplete or imbalanced diet may experience dry skin. Or even cats who have dietary allergies may develop itchiness. Homemade diets are made with the best intentions but are usually not complete and balanced. Even commercial diets may not be optimal for some cats. Cats tend to thrive on high-protein, low-carbohydrate moist food. Consult a nutritionist in the veterinary field to help if you make home made food for your cats to ensure it has well-rounded nutrition.
  • Parasites: External parasites like fleas or mites on the skin may cause the skin to develop a dry, flaky appearance. Fleas and flea dirt may be seen with the naked eye in some cases, but fastidious cats may remove evidence of fleas while grooming. Most mites cannot be seen with the naked eye. Cheyletiella mites are an exception and are often called "walking dandruff."
  • Allergies: Cats with allergies often experience skin issues, including dry skin. Allergens can cause a cat's immune system to react with itchy, inflamed, and dry skin. Cats can be allergic to pollen, dust mites, food, chemicals, and fragrances.
  • Skin Diseases: Several skin diseases affect cats, and some cause dry skin. Some bacterial and fungal infections can cause the skin to have a dry, flaky appearance. Without treatment, skin disease can become worse over time.
  • Systemic Diseases: Systemic diseases like hyperthyroidism, diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease can affect the appearance of the skin. The skin may be affected by systemic diseases themselves. Still, even if the disease doesn't cause dry skin directly, it may arise because symptoms of the disease make some cats too sick to groom themselves adequately. 
  • Stress: Stress can significantly impact human skin and hair, and it can do the same to cats. Possible sources of stress in your cat's environment include moving to a new home, adding or losing a family member or pet, new people in their environment, noisy events in and around and outside of the house, and illness.

How Do Vets Diagnose Dry Skin in Cats

If you notice dry skin in your cat, you should first contact your veterinarian for advice. Your vet may recommend an examination to evaluate the skin and administer the proper treatment. The recommended treatment will depend on the cause of your cat's skin issues. Remember to keep up with routine wellness examinations as instructed. Regular visits will allow your vet to detect the early signs of underlying illness causing dryness. Stay in communication with your vet about your cat's condition, and do your best to follow your vet's recommendations.

How to Treat Dry Skin

Your cat may need antibiotics, antifungals, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory drugs, special food, or supplements. Some vets recommend omega-3-fatty acid supplements for cats to improve the skin. Never give your cat home remedies or supplements without first asking your vet about the best options for your cat.

There are ways to modify your cat's environment and possibly alleviate dry skin. Keep your home clean and as dust-free as possible. You should clean washable materials with gentle, additive-free detergents. Consider getting an air purifier to reduce allergens in the air. Avoid the use of harsh chemicals and fragrances in your home.

If your cat seems to have difficulty grooming, try brushing out your cat every few days. See your vet about the underlying cause of the grooming problems, as your cat may have an illness that needs treatment. If your cat is overweight, you can manage this through diet and exercise.

Avoid bathing your cat unless necessary. When cleaning your cat, use a gentle, soap-free, oatmeal-based moisturizing shampoo.

Use an effective monthly flea control product to keep fleas at bay. Not only can fleas cause skin issues, but they can also worsen existing skin diseases.

Take steps to reduce stress in your cat's environment. Slowly introduce new pets or people to your cat, but always provide a safe place where your cat can hide. Consider using calming pheromones like Feliway spray or diffusers. Take the time to play and bond with your cat.

Prognosis for Cats With Dry Skin

The success of treating cats with dry skin has much to do with the underlying cause. If, for example, your cat has chronic dry skin because of a systemic issue, the dryness may be harder to treat in the long term. The best thing you can do for your cat is to make sure they are experiencing as little pain as possible. Symptom management is achievable majority of the time with environmental and grooming changes, supplements, and prescription medications.

How to Prevent Dry Skin

Preventing dry skin in cats isn't entirely possible, as there will always be environmental and health factors out of your control. Early in your cat's life, you can establish habits that promote healthy skin, such as frequent brushing and fatty acid supplements. Be proactive in your cat's skin health, but remember that you can only do so much to prevent the affliction altogether.

  • Is dry skin in cats curable?

    The ability to cure dry skin in cats is heavily dependent on the root cause of the dryness. However, in most cases, dry skin can be treated successfully, and you can minimize the symptoms of discomfort your cat is experiencing. Your vet will provide an appropriate treatment plan.

  • Isn't some dandruff normal?

    A couple of pieces of dandruff shouldn't be cause for worry, but if you notice your cat producing an excess of dandruff or shedding larger flakes of skin, pay a visit to the vet and diagnose what is causing dry skin.

  • What's the reason for my cat's dry skin?

    There are many causes of dry skin in cats, so it's difficult to know exactly what is afflicting your cat. These causes include diet, stress, parasites, and weather. Take your cat to your vet as soon as possible for a diagnosis.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.