Q. My lovely black cat has started to get white flakes all over his fur. Could it be dandruff? Can cats get it? Benjamin, via e-mail
A. The simple answer is yes. Cats can suffer from dandruff just like humans, but their condition is more complex – you can't just give them a dose of Head & Shoulders. You need to find out what is causing the dandruff before you can treat it.
Something as simple as an environmental factor in your home could be the cause. And it is at this time of year that moggies can become especially susceptible to developing dandruff. When we use central heating in our homes it takes the moisture out of the air, which can make the skin dry.
A humidifier can help to get the moisture back into the atmosphere. Sunbathing can also be a problem, surprisingly. Cats can get sunburn, especially around the head area, which is very sensitive. This can lead to dry, flaky skin.
Your cat's physical condition needs to be looked after as well. If he is overweight he will not be able to groom himself properly, causing the natural dead skin to stay on the fur. Obviously, you can help him out by giving him a brush which also encourages the production of natural oils in his skin.
Diet is another aspect. Your cat needs a lot of fatty acids, which keep the skin moist and stop if from drying out. Your vet should be able to recommend an appropriate food.
In conjunction with these measures, a good skin shampoo for cats is advisable, but ask your vet about this as well. Never use human dandruff shampoos on cats since they are harmful to them. If you don't treat this problem quickly your moggie may try to sort the problem out himself by scratching, which can eventually lead to irritated and even bleeding skin. Do not let it get to this stage.
There can also be more serious underlying health problems that can cause dandruff. These include walking dandruff mites, fleas, diabetes and tapeworm. Please go to your vet if the problem doesn't quickly resolve itself.
Remember that if an animal shows signs of distress or discomfort an early visit to the vet is always recommended