Dry skin in cats can lead to flakiness, dandruff, itchiness, and general discomfort. It can also make the skin more susceptible to infection. Fortunately, there are ways to treat your cat's dry skin and prevent it from coming back.
Causes of Dry Skin in Cats
Dry skin is typically a symptom of another 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 to first determine the cause of it.
Weather and temperature changes can cause cats to develop dry skin. For example, indoor heat during the winter may cause a cat's skin to become dry. In summer, the air conditioner may cause sensitive skin to become dry. Other environmental factors that may contribute to dry skin include cigarette smoke, fragrances, and household chemicals.
Normal grooming activity allows cats to clean their skin and hair. Cats may find it difficult to groom themselves if they have limited mobility due to problems like arthritis or obesity. Lack of grooming causes dead skin and hair buildup on the coat. This can lead to dry, unhealthy skin.
Overgrooming may also cause dry skin and hair loss. Cats typically over-groom when they are itchy or their 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.
Cats that eat an incomplete or imbalanced diet may experience dry skin. Homemade diets are often made with the best intentions but are often not complete and balanced.
Even commercial diets that are complete and balanced may not be optimum for some cats. Cats tend to thrive on high-protein, low-carbohydrate moist food.
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 to this and are often called "walking dandruff."
Cats with allergies often experience skin issues, including dry skin. Cats can be allergic to pollen, dust mites, food, chemicals, and fragrances. Allergens can cause a cat's immune system to react with itchy, inflamed, and dry skin.
Several types of 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 like hyperthyroidism, diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease can affect the appearance of the skin. The skin may be affected by the disease itself, but also because some sick cats are often unable to groom themselves properly.
Stress can have a major impact on 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 loving a family member or pet, noisy events in and around the home, and illness.
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. Your cat may need antibiotics, antifungals, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory drugs, special food, or even supplements. Some vets recommend 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 some ways to modify your cat's environment and possibly alleviate dry skin. Keep your home clean and as dust-free as possible. Washable materials should be washed 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, this can be managed through diet and exercise.
Avoid bathing your cat unless necessary. When you do bathe your cat, use a gentle, soap-free, moisturizing shampoo made for cats.
Use an effective monthly flea control product to keep fleas at bay. Not only can fleas cause skin issues, 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.
Be sure to bring your cat to the vet for routine wellness examinations as recommended. Your vet may be able to detect the early signs of illness. Keep in touch with your vet about your cat's condition and do your best to follow your vet's recommendations.