What Is Walking Dandruff in Cats and How Do You Treat It?

What Is Walking Dandruff in Cats and How Do You Treat It?

Dandruff in cats sounds innocent enough. Often it is. When it’s relatively benign, it may be due to obesity because a cat can’t groom itself properly. Or, it could be down to a skin allergy, skin infection, malnutrition, or a hormonal issue.

What we refer to as walking dandruff is quite different. Find out more about this highly contagious condition as we look into its cause, diagnosis, and treatment.

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What Is Walking Dandruff in Cats?

Cheyletiellosis or walking dandruff in cats is a skin problem caused by the highly contagious Cheyletiella mite. These mites feed on flakes of skin along with skin secretions. That can lead to extensive dandruff as well as other symptoms. 

Cheyletiella mites are highly mobile. They can infect furry animals such as dogs and rabbits as well as cats. They can even infect humans too causing tiny, itchy bites. Although they don’t survive for long on humans, they can be a nuisance nonetheless.

What Does Walking Dandruff in Cats Look Like?

We also refer to a Cheyletiella infestation as walking dandruff. The irritation that the mites cause leads to scaling of the skin. The mites move these scales around giving the impression of walking dandruff.  

Most healthy animals appear to have some immunity to infection. The majority of  affected animals tend to be very young, old, unwell, or have compromised immune systems. Kittens can typically become infected by their mothers during the first few weeks after being born.

Cats with walking dandruff typically display these symptoms:

  • Itching, dandruff, and skin scaling, often along the back of the cat
  • Crusty, red sores, overgrooming, and hair loss

It’s not unheard of for some cats to display no symptoms at all or very mild symptoms. 

How Does a Vet Diagnose Walking Dandruff in Cats?

If your cat displays signs of walking dandruff, your vet will try to diagnose the condition by: 

  • Using a comb to get a sample and examining it under a microscope  
  • Using tape to pick up flakes from their skin and examining them 
  • Taking superficial skin scrapings to look at under a microscope
  • Plucking hairs to check for any eggs attached, also under a microscope

Mites can be hard to spot so a vet may have to make the diagnosis based on how a cat responds to treatment. It’s sometimes possible to detect eggs and mites through a stool test, especially in cats that overgroom and ingest the mites.

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Why Does My Cat Have Walking Dandruff?

The causes of walking dandruff in cats tend to relate to the following:

  • Contact with other animals that have cheyletiellosis
  • Getting infested from bedding or where a cat sleeps in the home
  • Being in a kennel, a grooming establishment, or an animal shelter

Cats can pick up mites from shared brushes, leashes, collars, and grooming tools. It’s also worth noting that there have been instances recorded in which fleas, lice, and flies can carry Cheyletiella. These insects might therefore assist in transmitting Cheyletiella between pets.

Can Cats with Walking Dandruff Infect Others?

The first symptom cat owners notice may be a large number of flakes that looks like dry bits of skin in their pet’s fur. Their cat may also start scratching a lot and continue to develop small spots. 

Owners can sometimes become more seriously affected than their cats. They too can suffer from spots on their skin or itchy red patches. Lesions on people tend to affect the abdomen, chest, neck, and arms. 

Although humans can get infected with Cheyletiella mites, they are not natural hosts. When infestations do occur on people, they tend to only last for a few weeks.

What is the Treatment for Walking Dandruff in Cats?

These mites are so contagious that if one animal has an infestation, you’ll have to treat all cats, dogs, and other furry friends you keep as pets in your home. Although there is no specific product for the treatment of these mites, most flea and tick control products will typically get rid of walking dandruff in cats.

You may need to treat your cat several times depending on the product you use. Check with your vet for the most appropriate products. 

You won’t normally need to treat the environment. Mites can, however, live off their host for a week or more and you may have to use a flea control product to kill off any mites that might infect your cat or other pets all over again.

You may need to pursue some treatments for several weeks. An environmental flea spray on carpets and beds may help to keep mites at bay. 

When Should I Contact a Vet About Waking Dandruff in Cats?

You must always get in touch with your vet for treatment if you see dandruff on your cat and if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Itchiness and mood, or behavioral changes
  • Parasites moving on the fur or skin
  • Lesions, rashes, fur loss, or an unusually dirty and greasy-looking coat
  • Changes in your cat’s appetite, water intake, or litterbox use
  • Other pets or family members in the household display symptoms

Key Facts

  • Cats that groom excessively & have scaly, flaky skin may have walking dandruff
  • The cause of walking dandruff is the Cheyletiella mite
  • Because walking dandruff is so contagious, keep your cat away from other pets
  • Humans can get infected with the mites if they have contact with an infected pet
  • If you have an outbreak of Cheyletiella in the home, use a flea spray

Talk to a Qualified Vet

Should you have concerns about your pet and dandruff, we’d love to hear from you. We have a team of highly qualified vets available to offer instant advice and reassurance. You can book a timeslot with one of our vets here

Do get in touch straight away as usually the sooner we can treat pet issues the better the outcome. We also have a range of highly competitive pet insurance products available. Please ask us about these too.

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