Q: What’s the best way to address a cat’s dry, flaky skin?  

A: Common causes for dry kitty skin include allergic reactions (to food, dust or flea bites) and poor diet, but it could also signal kidney, liver, heart, adrenal or thyroid problems.

A thorough examination by your veterinarian should be your first step, to rule out any serious underlying medical conditions that may be the true cause of dry, itchy skin.

Food allergies are often assumed to be the culprit for dry skin in cats when, in reality, food allergies may cause only 10 percent of skin disorders in pets.        


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A healthy diet for cats should contain sufficient omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for healthy skin and coats. Omega-3 can be added via fish-oil supplements, but always consult your vet before using supplements, especially if your cat is on any medication.

Oddly enough, a diet high in fish (especially tuna) can actually cause low levels of vitamin E, which can contribute to dry, itchy skin. If you change foods, avoid digestive upset by doing it gradually over a seven-day period.           

Check your cat for evidence of fleas and flea bites, especially around the neck, underside and at the base of the tail. Your veterinarian can help you choose safe, effective flea control products, but it’s equally important to make sure your cat’s bedding and home environment are flea-free.

Fewer baths may help, especially in winter, when low humidity can dry out skin and coats.

Another newer technology in treating dry skin or seborrhea in pets is use of Phytosphingosine 1%. This is a topical product applied along the back of your cat or dog to help moisturize its coat. We have been recommending this product for the last five or six years with excellent success. We recommend this dry skin treatment for pets that are difficult to bathe, that will not accept the omega-3 fatty acids, and for those pets needing chronic treatment for dry skin. Phytosphingosine is made by several manufacturers. Talk to your veterinarian about this newer treatment of seborrhea.

David Tayman, D.V.M., has practiced veterinary medicine in Howard County since 1974. E-mail questions to Dr. Tayman at David.Tayman@vcahospitals.com.