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Anyone who's found themselves dealing with dry, flaky skin knows there's nothing fun about it. Unfortunately, it's a common issue — so common that even a cat can experience it. It's easy for a pet parent to panic and rush to the vet's office when they notice their pet's skin is dry. However, the good news is that mild itchiness and irritation from dry skin or dandruff isn't usually anything to worry about; pet parents can treat those at home with a few simple remedies. If the cat almost always has dry skin, shows symptoms of a feline skin disease or illness, or exhibits signs of a skin infection, there may be cause for alarm.
So, what causes a cat's dry skin, and what should a pet parent do about it? Most commonly, cat dry skin stems from:
Lack of Grooming: Good grooming habits do more than guarantee a cat looks and smells good; they make sure the animal is comfortable, too. When cats don't regularly groom themselves, dead skin and hair build up on their coats, resulting in dry, unhealthy skin. If their cat has trouble grooming themselves due to obesity or mobility issues, pet parents should help them by brushing once a day. While brushing, they should pay extra attention to hard-to-reach areas, like the back end, belly, and behind the ears. Similarly, excessive grooming can cause dry skin, too. A cat usually doesn't need a bath unless it's hairless, extremely dirty, or covered in fleas. But those pet parents who insist on shampooing and conditioning their cats should be sure not to do it too often, avoid using too-hot water, and only use anti-itch shampoos designed for felines.
Allergies: Sometimes, when a cat is allergic to items like pollen, dust mites, food, chemicals, or fragrances, the feline's immune system responds by causing dry, itchy, and inflamed skin. These allergic reactions can sometimes be mitigated, such as by not feeding the cat a specific meal anymore.
Fleas or External Parasites: Sometimes, fleas, ticks, mites, or other external parasites can make a cat's skin dry and itchy. Usually, removing those pests solves the problem fairly quickly. If a pet parent suspects bugs are crawling around on their cat, they can run a flea comb through their fur and examine them thoroughly for fleas or flea dirt. They should also keep their eyes peeled for signs of fungal infections on the animal — ringworm, for example — like scaly skin or redness.
Weather Changes: A pet parent may notice their cat is extra itchy around the time fall turns into winter, and the weather outside gets so cold that they have no choice but to fire up their heater. The heater makes the air in the home quite dry and, in turn, dries out both the cat's and the human's skin.
Poor Diet: Low-quality diets can not only cause skin issues but other serious health problems, too. Pet parents must read the label carefully to ensure the cat food they're buying has proper nutrients for their feline and work to give the animal enough fats and protein, as these can be good for improving skin health.
Health Conditions: Illnesses like diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, and hyperthyroidism can affect a cat's skin. And if they don't cause dry skin directly, their symptoms may render cats unable to groom themselves, incidentally leading to dry skin.
Pet parents should make themselves familiar with the warning signs of dry skin. Besides, the first step of knowing how to help a cat with dry skin is to see that the animal is uncomfortable in the first place.
With cat dry skin, dandruff will often appear. It's usually pretty easy for pet parents to spot it on their animals, but if they miss it on their bodies, it's likely to show up on furniture and bedding.
Cats with unhealthy skin also scratch more than usual, sometimes to the point of hair loss. So, if a pet parent sees their cat is itchier than they typically are and only seems to scratch in one area, it's probably safe to assume dry skin is the culprit.
Determining the best cat dry skin treatment ultimately depends on what caused the feline's discomfort, but a few common skin soothers are:
A healthy cat coat and the underlying skin starts from within. A well-balanced diet rich with omega-3 fatty acids, quality protein, and essential oils will do more to transform a cat’s skin health faster and for longer than externally applied treatments.
Pet parents should avoid bathing cats unless necessary, but if the need arises, a hypoallergenic, moisturizing, and gentle shampoo is a must. They must rinse the cat thoroughly, too, as leftover shampoo can create even more irritation if it dries into their fur.
Depending on what caused the cat's dry skin (usually infections or unwelcome critters), the feline might need topical antibiotics or antifungal medications. In those instances, a vet can help determine what product is best.
A pet parent may also consider adding supplements to the cat's diet. Adding around an eighth of a teaspoon of omega-3 supplements (flaxseed, salmon, or fish oil, for example) to the cat's food is a great way to correct dry skin triggered by poor dietary habits. These are often recommended for cats that suffer from obesity, arthritis, stress or behavioral issues that prevent a pet parent from handling them for any extended period of time.
Aside from diet enhancements, the best way for a pet parent to treat a feline's irritated skin is to stay on top of grooming. A grooming routine should include daily brushing to remove matted or tangled fur and to keep dry skin flakes from building up.
Any pet parent knows it's always hard watching their cat be uncomfortable, so they may be tempted to panic if dry skin starts to irritate their pet.
Staying calm is a must, though. Dry skin and feline dandruff and its causes are treatable so long as pet parents have hypoallergenic products on standby, prioritize proper grooming habits, and provide the cat with a nutrient-rich diet.
To learn more about cat dry skin treatment, Fuzzy members can consult the Live Vet Chat. The 24/7 tool educates pet parents and empower them to give their animals the best care possible, and these experts can help anyone figure out how to best give their cat itchy skin relief.