Cat dry skin can be caused by:
- the weather
- poor diet
- skin trauma
- hormone imbalances
- immune system disorders
- and old age.
Vets have a range of techniques to diagnose and treat cat dry skin, so your cat doesn’t have to suffer. In this article, we look more closely at the most common causes of cat dry skin, and how they’re treated.
Cat Skin Problems
Even if your cat’s skin is perfectly healthy at the moment, it is smart to take some time to learn about cat dry skin and other cat skin conditions.
For example, it helps to know why it happens — what can cause cat skin issues. Then, of course, we want to know the best cat dry skin remedy options. It’s also wise to know how to spot cat skin problems quickly before they worsen.
So now, read on to learn more about common feline skin conditions. See what can cause your cat’s skin to become dry and unhealthy and how to help cats with dry skin feel better right away.
Cat Dry Skin Breeds
There are many more “unrecognized” cat breeds as well. You’ll find both “designer” hybrids and generic mixed breeds, and each has a different type of coat. There are short and long hair, curly and straight, smooth and coarse and even hairless cat breeds!
The more you brush and groom your cat, the more familiar you will get with what your particular cat’s normal skin and fur looks like. You can then start to spot cat dry skin symptoms more quickly, even through thick or long coats.
It can also be helpful to know that some purebred cat breeds are more prone to cat skin conditions.
For example, Balinese, Birman, Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, Munchkin, Napoleon, Oriental Longhair and Shorthair, Persian and white and orange purebreds are all known to be more prone to skin allergies.
Cat Dry Skin Symptoms
In the wild, animals will try to hide any sign of weakness or illness. They do this because weakness can make them a target for predators.
Even though your cat lives safely with you and you provide for their every need, this survival instinct is very strong and they may still try to hide the signs that they’re suffering. So, you may not notice anything amiss with their fur or skin until your next brushing and grooming session.
Or, your first signs may be quite subtle and seemingly not even skin-related. For instance, you may notice your cat is drinking more, eating less, acting more irritable or anxious, or is less inclined to cuddle and be petted.
The More Obvious Signs
Thankfully, though, there are other more obvious signs of cat dry skin you can look out for:
- shaking their head
- biting their tail
- excessive grooming
- biting their skin or fur
- fur loss or bald patches
- scratching their ears, paw pads or around the claws
- patches of matted fur
- bumps, lesions, crusty skin or scabs, rashes, scaly skin, flaking
- hot spots or ulcers on the skin
- and visible rashes or redness in sensitive areas like face, under arms, base of tail.
Causes of Cat Skin Disorders
Even if one or several of these signs are identified, this is just the first step towards figuring out how to treat dry skin on cats.
The next step is to try to isolate what is causing the skin dryness, irritation or discomfort.
Causes of Cat Dry Skin
There are a few causes of cat dry skin, some more common than others. Some more uncommon reasons may also be more serious and require urgent medical attention. We’ll begin with more typical reasons for dry skin in cats:
- Outdoor conditions: Cats who live indoors tend to be less prone to environmental skin issues than their outdoor peers. Cold dry winters, sun damage, and the like could be a catalyst for dry skin.
- Poor diet: For example, vitamin A deficiencies in cats have been known to result in dry skin.
- Allergies: If your cat is allergic to pollen, flea bites, environmental and lawn toxins, or their food, it could result in dry skin.
- Infections: Parasites, fungi, and bacteria can all present as cat dry skin.
- Trauma from catfights
- Age: Sometimes it just happens with older cats.
More Serious Reasons
Other rare, more serious reasons:
- Hormonal issues
- Immune system disorders
- Congenital defects
A simple fix for your cat’s skin and overall health, as well as your peace of mind and veterinary budget, might be to enforce an indoor lifestyle! It’s obvious that outdoor cats are more vulnerable to factors causing dry skin.
Cat Skin Conditions
For both people and felines, the skin is the largest organ in the body!
So when your cat’s skin begins to dry out, flake, scab, itch or develop irritation, it is important to take action without delay. The two most common causes of cat skin disorders tend to stem from skin infections or noninfectious skin reactions.
As mentioned, the most common types of cat skin infection include parasites, fungi, viruses and bacteria. Fleas, mites and worms are all examples of cat skin infection.
Non-Infectious Skin Reactions
The most common types of non-infections skin reactions include:
- cat skin allergies
- contact with chemicals
- medication reactions
- systemic disease (cancer, feline leukemia or autoimmune dysfunction)
- localized trauma (fights, bites, other injuries).
Your vet may be able to connect the dots right away. But in some cases, you may need to go through a process of elimination to figure out exactly what is creating your cat’s dry skin.
Let’s now consider a few of these cat skin problems in more detail.
Cat Skin Allergies
Feline food allergies are one of the most common causes of cat skin allergies. In fact, food allergies are one of the top three most common allergies domestic cats experience!
Often the first sign of an unfolding food allergy is when your cat’s skin starts to develop a rash.
You likely won’t see the rash under your cat’s fur. But you can see something is wrong because your cat begins to itch and scratch at the area. Then when you part the fur, you may see small, pale, pus-filled bumps.
When a food allergy is involved, these bumps often form first on the head and neck areas.
Cat skin sores can form and turn into cat skin scabs. Over time and with continued scratching, your cat’s hair may begin to fall out in affected areas.
Diagnosing and Treating Cat Skin Allergies
If your cat has a food allergy that is causing an allergic skin reaction, it is time to visit the vet.
Your vet may want to do allergy testing or begin experimenting with a limited diet. This helps them to isolate the food your cat is allergic to and remove it from their diet.
It is important to identify what food(s) are causing the cat skin allergies and remove those from your cat’s diet permanently. This is the only way your cat will find permanent relief from their dry skin.
Nutrition and Cat Skin Problems
As mentioned, another less known cause of cat dry skin scabs, cat flaky skin and other feline skin conditions is a dietary imbalance.
For example, if your cat is not getting enough essential fatty acids through their diet, this can cause the skin to start to dry out.
Another example is a zinc deficiency. If your cat is not taking in enough zinc, their skin may begin to develop a rash, bumps, lesions and fur loss. If you are thinking, “my cat has dry skin and dandruff,” this too can be caused by nutritional deficiencies.
Diet and Cat Dry Skin
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means their digestive system has evolved to require a pure protein diet. Therefore, a daily intake of high quality, digestible proteins and fats is strongly linked to healthy skin and fur.
The most common reason why a cat might not be getting sufficient protein, fats and nutrients is feeding the wrong diet.
Veterinarians cite feeding home-made cat food and “people” food as culprits. Also, cat food that is not nutritionally balanced as the one of the three most common reasons why a cat might have dry skin from nutritional causes.
Your vet can do tests and work with you to determine if cat dry flaky skin might be linked to dietary imbalances. They can then figure out how to supplement or change your cat’s diet to restore both nutritional balance and skin health.
Cat Skin Infection
A cat skin infection can arise from parasites, bacteria, viruses or fungi. Parasites may be visible. Mites, though, can be so tiny they can only be seen under a microscope.
Flea bites often cause a secondary reaction called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) that is intensely itchy. This is because of a protein in the flea’s saliva that triggers a skin allergy in your cat.
Fungal infections such as ringworm or bacterial infections (pyoderma) are also common. However, these may require tests (skin, blood, fecal) to identify the type of fungi before your vet prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Cowpox virus is a rare cause of cat skin lesions that has no known cure.
It can also be transmitted to humans.
Luckily, cases of feline cowpox are very rare.
If your cat has dry, flaky, itchy skin, he may be suffering from cat dandruff.
There are a number of reasons why your cat may develop cat dandruff. Sometimes nutritional deficiency, especially from feeding a limited diet, can cause dry or flaky skin.
Parasites, overly hot weather and exposure to chemicals or medication side effects can be another reason. Then there’s residual shampoo left on the skin — this can also cause dandruff.
Dry skin on cats lower back is commonly linked with obesity. This is because when a cat gets too fat, it is harder to groom the area of the lower back. As a result, the fur may become matted, leading to skin dryness and irritation.
Once the cause of your cat dandruff is determined, your vet can recommend what to do for cats with dry skin caused by dandruff.
Cat Skin Scabs
Scabs are rough, scaly, dry patches that form over areas where a cat’s skin has become compromised.
The skin may be abraded in places where your cat has scratched, licked, groomed or bitten it. Miliary dermatitis, or flea bite allergy, is one of the most common causes of cat skin scabs.
Some cats are also prone to feline acne, which can create pustules that break and scab over as they heal. Other cat skin conditions scabs may appear from range from allergies to systemic stress.
Determining the best cat skin scabs treatment starts with figuring out what is causing your cat’s scabs.
When you take your cat to the vet, they can do tests to determine what’s causing the scabs and prescribe the right treatment.
Cat Skin Diseases
Even indoor cats who lead very sheltered lives can be prone to cat skin diseases at some time during their life.
Some cat skin disease are actually related to the natural process of ageing. They occur as the skin’s keratin production decreases and skin becomes looser and more fragile.
Other cat skin diseases can be genetic, especially in purebred cats bred for show purposes. Still, other cat skin diseases are related to internal issues that may begin to affect the skin.
Autoimmune diseases such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) or lupus and bacterial infections such as pyoderma can present as skin issues. Feline cancer can also cause changes in the skin which serve as warning signs that something is wrong.
You may or may not ever be able to isolate exactly what caused your cat to experience dry or itchy skin. Many cases of cat dry skin are “idiopathic” or for an undefined reason. But at least, your vet can help you narrow down the possible causes to eliminate future threats.
Most importantly, your vet can help by prescribing a remedy to ease the itching or discomfort your cat is experiencing!
Treating Cat Skin Problems
If your cat has dry skin, arrange for your vet to check them over.
Usually, they will take a full medical history, and help you identify the underlying cause. Next, they will help you relieve your cat’s discomfort, and heal their skin.
For people, of course, we tend to treat dry skin by applying moisturizing lotion.
It isn’t possible to use lotion for cats dry skin effectively. For one, the fur gets in the way. Then also, this is because you don’t want your cat ingesting the lotion when they groom themselves.
Your Vet Might Recommend…
Luckily, there are other ways of treating cat dry skin that are much more effective. Of course, the treatment will generally depend on the cause. Regardless, your vet may recommend one or more of the following:
- changing shampoos
- adding Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) to your cat’s diet
- feeding a limited ingredient diet to isolate food allergens
- adding a humidifier to your cat’s space during dry winter weather
- ensuring they are eating sufficient protein daily
Don’t try to treat feline skin conditions by yourself. Your vet can advise you on which treatments are best suited to ease your cat’s skin discomfort.
Cat Dry Skin – Summary
Cats are so fluffy and cute and loving, aren’t they? So it is easy to forget they are complex beings with exacting health and dietary requirements! But they are. Whether your kitty came to you from a breeder or rescue shelter, you may not know what cat skin issues are hidden in his DNA or past lifestyle.
Cat dry skin, itchy skin, lesions or scabs, redness or discoloration, bald patches, lumps, pumps or rashes are all signals your cat needs your help right away.
Just by learning about what can cause cat dry skin, you will be better equipped to notice early warning signs. You can then take your cat with dry or compromised skin to the vet for fast relief.
Does Your Cat Have Dry Skin?
What symptoms did you spot first? Have you been able to identify the cause?
Share your cat’s experiences with others in the comments section below.
References and Further Reading
- Kornreich, B., MD, “Food Allergies,” Cornell Feline Health Center/Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 2016.
- Beitz, D.C., et al, “Your Cat’s Nutritional Needs: A Science-Based Guide for Pet Owners,” National Research Council, 2006.
- Downing, R., DVM, “Nutrition, Skin and Cats,” VCA Animal Hospitals, 2018.
- Newman, C., DVM, “Cat Dermatology,” Harlingen Veterinary Clinic, 2017.
- Cats Protection Veterinary Guide 4, “Itchy Cats and Skin Disorders,” Cats Protection UK Charity, 2013.
- Houlihan, C. DVM, “Early Disease Detection – All Cat Breeds,” The Cat Practice Veterinary Hospital, 2017.
- Nicholas, J., DVM, “Miliary Dermatitis – Those Bumps On Your Cat’s Back,” Preventative Vet, 2015.