How to reduce dander in dogs and cats

Dander is a common condition in dogs and cats but should not be considered normal.  Treatment of dander requires correcting the underlying cause.  I have listed some common causes and treatments below.

Cats

  • Overweight- Overweight cats cannot groom normally, leading to a buildup of skin cells and hair, especially down their back.
  • Arthritis– Older cats often cannot groom themselves sufficiently and skin cells build up.
  • Internal disease– If a cat doesn’t feel good, they decrease grooming behaviors leading to skin cells building up.
  • Parasites– Parasites like mites and fleas cause the skin to be inflamed, which leads to skin flaking and often itchiness.
  • Poor diet– Old, rancid, or poor quality diets lack essential fatty acids and high quality proteins to keep the coat healthy.
  • Atopic dermatitis– Allergies cause skin inflammation which can lead to scabs and flaking.
  • Coat type– Some long-haired coat types do not allow normal skin cell shedding causing a buildup.  Regular grooming can prevent this.
  • Primary skin disease– there are several autoimmune, infectious, or cancerous conditions that cause flakiness to the skin so if symptoms are extreme a biopsy or cultures of the skin  may be needed.

Treatment of dander in cats of course depends on correcting the underlying cause.  Bathing can help cats who are not grooming themselves, but it is best to look into the reason why they are not grooming in the first place.

To start with, have your cat examined regularly by a veterinarian.  Be sure parasites, ringworm (a fungus), arthritis, and internal disease are ruled out as a cause of your cat’s dander.  Some parasites are difficult to find with routine tests and need treatment trials to rule out.  Arthritis may also be difficult to diagnose (even with xrays) and may require close observation on an owner’s part to make sure a cat is grooming all areas of the body.  If your cat is not feeling well, blood work can help diagnose a reason for diminished grooming.  Atopic dermatitis (allergies) is another medical reason for dander, diagnosis and treatment is through your veterinarian.

Discuss with your veterinarian the best diet and daily calories for your cat, since not one diet is best for all cats.  Discuss your cat’s ideal weight.  Sometimes you need to specifically ask your vet what your cats ideal weight is and how to achieve that goal.  Yes exercise is good, but even hours of exercise cannot make up for overfeeding.    The labels of most commercial foods will tell you to feed too much- discuss with your vet the proper amount to feed.

Don’t buy bulk bags of pet food, it is better to open smaller bags more frequently (about once a month) to ensure food is not going rancid, unused food should be stored in an airtight container.  High quality canned foods don’t go rancid and most are usually healthier for cats due to the higher water content.

If your cat still has moderate to severe dander despite following all of your veterinarian’s recommendations, you may consider discussing referral to a veterinary dermatologist to look into more rare or undiagnosed conditions.

Dogs

  • Parasites- Parasites like mites and fleas cause the skin to be inflamed, which leads to skin flaking and often itchiness.
  • Atopic dermatitis- Allergies cause skin inflammation which can lead to infections, scabs, and flaking.
  • Internal disease- Many internal diseases can cause flakiness to the skin.
  • Poor diet- Old, rancid, or poor quality diets lack essential fatty acids and high quality proteins to keep the coat healthy.
  • Genetic disease- Ichthyosis is a genetic disease seen in puppies that causes flaking and other issues into adulthood.
  • Coat type– Some thick or long-haired coat types do not allow normal skin cell shedding causing a buildup.  Regular grooming can prevent this.
  • Primary skin disease– there are several autoimmune, infectious, or cancerous conditions that cause flakiness to the skin so if symptoms are extreme a biopsy or cultures of the skin  may be needed.

Bathing can be helpful for dander, but ideally the underlying cause should be looked into first.  As with cats, dogs with skin issues should be evaluated by their veterinarian to rule out medical, infectious, or parasitic conditions.  One strong difference between dogs and cats is that obesity is not a common reason for dander in dogs since dog’s skin is not reliant on self-grooming for maintenance.

The same with cats, dogs should be fed fresh, high quality dog food.  Sometimes, a fish based diet or fish oil supplementation can be helpful with mild dander.  It may take a month to see effect.  Supplements should not be needed with high quality diets, although there are some medical conditions that supplements may benefit.  The veterinarian should be consulted about the best diet for your dog for their stage in life.

If your dog still has moderate to severe dander despite following all of your veterinarian’s recommendations, you may consider discussing referral to a veterinary dermatologist to look into more rare conditions or potentially biopsy the skin.