5 Easy Ways to Fix Cat Dandruff, Greasy Fur & Mats

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A fluffy, glossy coat of fur is a cat’s crowning glory and a sign of health and vitality. So why do I have cats coming to the clinic with oily, greasy fur, mats and dandruff?

In general, cat dandruff, greasy fur and mats are caused by infections, allergies, nutrition, thyroid issues and decreased mobility. Today, I’ll give you some advice on you how you can restore your cat’s healthy skin and coat.

It’s not as simple as moisturizing dry skin in most cases. Here is the step-by-step process I follow when helping a cat overcome a coat and skin condition. 

The best ways to get rid of cat’s greasy fur, dandruff and mats are

  1. Improve her diet
  2. Help her with grooming
  3. Use a degreasing shampoo
  4. Be patient since coat changes take months, not days!
  5. Diagnose and treat underlying diseases

Improve the Diet for Less Dandruff

If you’re feeding a cheaper brand of cat food, try upgrading to a premium brand. Try adding canned or fresh cooked food to the rotation for added moisture. 

Adding fish oil in the appropriate amount will balance the omega-6 fatty acid in commercial cat food. An ideal dietary fat balance will increase the chances your cat will have a soft, shiny coat without excessive dandruff.

If your cat is overgrooming to the point of having a thinning coat, scratching the head area, etc., a food allergy may be part of the problem. You may notice a generally untidy appearance including an oily coat appearance and dandruff.

For cats with suspected allergies, I recommend that food allergy trials use Royal Canin Limited Ingredient Diets or Purina HA.

You should feed the new food for at least two months. During this time, you must make sure the cat has no access to other food or treats, especially anything containing animal proteins. 

cat with clumpy, greasy fur and dandruff
Mats on the lower back and oily fur on a cat.

Assisted Grooming for Matted Fur on Cat’s Back

Older arthritic cats with mobility problems and overweight cats have trouble reaching all parts of their body with their tongue. You can help with both health and appearance by brushing your cat frequently,

Hopefully, your cat already enjoys grooming. If he doesn’t you’ll have to get him used to it gradually. Start with a soft-bristled brush and use it lightly. Give lots of verbal praise and tidbits of delicious food like cooked chicken when he lets you brush him even for a second. I find it helps to have someone distract by gently stroking another part of the cat’s body like the cheeks or top of the head.

Furminator combs work great to remove dead hair. But be careful not to overdo it. I’ve seen cats who were practically bald after their owner went too far with the Furminator! 

It may take weeks to work up to using a Furminator to remove loose fur. The key is not to push the cat past it’s tolerance limit.

When you start to see body language that he’s getting annoyed, stop and try again another day. Once you can brush your cat for a few minutes at a time, do it several times a week to help him keep his coat nice. 

If your cat already has a lot of mats, the best solution may be to clip them off. If you’ve never used a clipper before, I recommend you let a professional help you. It’s super easy to cut a cat’s skin with scissors or clippers when they have mats. Most vet clinics are willing to clip off troublesome mats or you can find a good cat groomer to help. 

Bathe Cat With a Degreasing Shampoo

No matter the reason for excessive oil in your cat’s coat, shampooing can help. Use a degreasing shampoo such as DermaBenSS (benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid) or Keratolux (salicylate, zinc and pyridoxine). These also act as an effective dandruff shampoo by normalizing the turnover of skin cells.

bathing for cat dandruff greasy fur and mats
Regular bathing will help with excessive oil, mats and feline dandruff.

If you use any shampoo containing benzoyl peroxide make sure it’s 5% or less. The one I’ve used and recommend is only 2.5% benzoyl peroxide and it’s called DermaBenSS. Watch for skin redness and irritation when using degreasing shampoo on your cat. Stop its use if you see irritation and switch to a gentler shampoo.  

If your vet suspects a bacterial or fungal infection, you’ll want to use antibacterial and/or antifungal shampoo like the one I use: MiconaHex+Triz. It has a couple of different ingredients from DermaBenSS and is gentler for cats with milder symptoms.

I tell people to let the lather soak on the cat’s body for at least five minutes before rinsing. Depending on the severity of the problem, you may be instructed to bathe your cat twice a week to every other week. 

shampoo for cat dandruff greasy fur and mats
This shampoo is great for cats with skin infections.

If you’re having problems bathing your cat at home, see if the staff or groomer at the vet’s clinic can do it. Some cats need a sedative to be comfortable with bathing and grooming. That’s best done under a vet’s watchful eye. 

Be Patient Waiting for a Better Coat

Since the hair growth cycle requires time to complete, coat changes will take weeks to months to become visible. Don’t give up on any single strategy until at least three months have passed unless it’s causing major problems. 

Why Does My Cat Have Dandruff, Greasy Fur and Mats?

The major issues veterinarians find in cats with dandruff and greasy, matted fur include skin infections, food problems, thyroid issues and decreased mobility. No amount of brushing or shampooing can fix a cat’s untidy coat if they have an underlying disease. Read on below to find out how we diagnose and treat these primary diseases.

Abnormal Skin and Hair Cycles Cause Dull, Oily Fur

Cat fur has a normal cycle of growth occurring at all times. A hair grows in the follicle, stays there for a time, then is shed. After shedding, a new hair grows to replace the lost hair. 

The reason cats don’t go bald is that all the millions of hair follicles on their body are not shedding hairs at the same time. Occasionally, we see cats that go somewhat bald from losing a lot of hairs at the same time. This usually happens after a severe illness or fever. 

The follicle area contains oil-producing glands that maintain moisture levels in healthy skin. These glands are affected by diet, hormones and inflammation. Too much or too little oil production changes the way the coat looks. Anything that changes the normal turnover of cells or the normal production of oils can lead to skin symptoms. 

There are many reasons for a poor hair coat. Getting an accurate diagnosis is the first step in restoring your cat’s luxurious, shiny fur. Let’s talk about causes, how each is diagnosed, and treatment options for a cat with unkempt fur that looks separated and clumpy. 

Ringworm Infections Cause Fur Loss and Dandruff

The most common fungal skin problem vets see in cats is from ringworm. It’s not a worm, but a microscopic fungus that causes symptoms in this disease. 

Ringworm organisms like Microsporum and Trichophyton are present in the environment, but most cats pick it up from another infected cat. The fungus infects the hair follicle and the top layer of the skin. Hair changes including increased dandruff, oil and mats, are common in ringworm infected cats. 

Long-haired gray cat lying on a bed

Parasites: Fleas, Mites, Lice

Parasites love to get a free ride on a nice, warm cat’s body. Little creatures like fleas and mites can cause a lot of skin problems. Fleas you can see with the naked eye, but some kinds of mites are microscopic and also hard to find. There is one parasite that is famous for causing mystery skin and coat problems: Demodex cati or gatoi

Demodex mites are a commensal parasite of many species. That means they live in the skin but don’t cause many problems in most normal animals. Some animals don’t have the right immune system response to keep the numbers of Demodex mites low. When Demodex undergoes a population explosion, the cat’s hair becomes unhealthy, falls out and the skin may become inflamed with increased oil and dandruff. Demodex cati and gatoi are spread between cats but these cat mites are not infectious to dogs or humans. 

illustration of a Demodex mite
The cat Demodex mite contribute to greasy fur & mats.

Sub-Optimal Nutrition

Have you ever seen an alley cat who lives his life outside, snatching food wherever he can find it? Most alley cats have dirty, clumpy hair coats with excessive dandruff and it’s due in part to a poor diet. 

If you’re feeding your cat high-quality, balanced cat food and she still has skin and coat problems, it’s possible the diet is not right for that particular cat. Some cats do better with different proteins, different levels of fat and different mixes of vitamins and minerals. 

Feline Thyroid Disease Affects a Cat’s Coat

The thyroid gland is part of a cat’s endocrine system. Located in the area of the “Adam’s apple,” the thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones that help control many metabolic activities in the body. 

The most common thyroid disease cats get is hyperthyroidism. Nodules from within the gland produce excessive thyroid hormones. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include weight loss, scruffy fur, and changes in behavior–often that means your cat gets grouchier. 

Hypothyroidism, when too little hormone is produced,  is uncommon in cats. Symptoms of low thyroid function in a cat include weight gain, greasy fur and dandruff. You can see that hyper– and hypothyroid symptoms can look similar. 

cat dandruff greasy fur and mats
Cats with hyperthyroidism are usually thin and have a scruffy coat.

Matted Fur on Cat’s Back from Low Mobility

Have you ever paid close attention to how your cat grooms himself? It’s amazing how flexible cats are–bending their legs over their head or twisting to reach their lower back with their tongue. Whenever a cat has a decrease in mobility, their appearance suffers. 

orange cat sitting with rear legs forward
It’s tough to groom your belly when your back hurts!

Cats over the age of ten or so commonly have some degree of degenerative changes in the bones of their spine. Twisting and bending become difficult, even painful for many older cats.

Mouth pain also interferes with a cat’s grooming ability. Dental disease is common in cats, especially older kitties. If their mouth, tongue and gums are sore they won’t want to lick their fur the way they used to. 

Obesity in cats is so common these days people have come to see it as normal. Excessive abdominal and body fat seriously limits a cat’s ability to groom every part of her body. It’s very common for overweight cats to have clumpy, greasy fur on the back half of their bodies. 

Cat Dandruff Due to Skin Allergies 

Cats can develop allergies to pollen, dust, and even things they come in contact with. When the immune system responds to these normal substances as an invader, inflammation, and itchy skin develops. 

The classic symptoms of skin allergy in cats are the presence of tiny scabs on the skin, hair loss, and changes in coat quality. You may or may not see your cat licking and grooming more often. Dandruff can be severe due to scratching inflamed skin.

Skin allergy symptoms tend to be seasonal and are worse in the spring and fall when pollen counts go up. If you live in a warm climate or your cat is allergic to something in your home, symptoms may persist throughout the year. 

cat dandruff from skin allergies
Allergies can cause excessive grooming in cats.

Seborrhea Causes Cat Dandruff

Seborrhea is a rare condition in cats that causes greasy, matted fur and increased dandruff. The disease is another manifestation of an abnormal normal skin cycle. When a cat has seborrheic dermatitis, the normal shedding of dead skin cells is interrupted (1). You will often see a lot of dandruff plus or minus an oily coat when a cat has seborrhea. 

Persian cats sometimes have an inherited form of this skin disease, called primary seborrhea. It’s often most noticeable as a “dirty” appearance in the facial folds of the short-nosed breed. 

Secondary seborrhea occurs as a result of some other disease-causing changes in the skin. Some diseases that can trigger secondary seborrhea are a type of tumor called thymoma, skin allergies, skin infection and diseases of the endocrine system. 

Bengal cat with a beautiful leopard pattern coat
Bengal cats have amazing, luminous fur when they’re healthy.

Other Diseases That Affect a Cat’s Coat Quality

A cat’s fur is kind of like the tip of the health iceberg. When something is going wrong inside the body, it will eventually show up as changes in the coat. Processes like inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, dental disease, cancer, liver disease, kidney disease can all change the metabolism or cause enough pain to affect coat quality. Either nutrients aren’t being absorbed the way they should, or toxins are building up in the body as a result of the primary disease. 

By the time we see changes in a cat’s coat, the primary underlying cause has been present for several months. If you’ve recently noticed your cat’s coat quality is poor, start looking for other symptoms. How is her appetite? Is she drinking more or less than she used to? What are the stool quality and frequency? Is there more or less urine in the litterbox than before? Does she feel like she’s lost weight? 

All these clues will help your vet get started in the right direction in solving the mystery. 

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References

  1. Campbell, K. L. (2012). An approach to keratinization disorders. In BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Dermatology (pp. 46-52). BSAVA Library.
  2. Miller W H, Griffin C E, Campbell K L: Congenital and hereditary defects. Muller and Kirk’s Small Animal Dermatology, 7th ed. Saunders Elsevier, St. Louis 2013 p. 232.
  3. Resnick A W: Food Allergy: Dr. Google Debunked. Wild West Veterinary Conference 2019.

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Fix your cat's dandruff greasy fur and mats

Last update on 2022-06-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API