Your cat is scratching up a storm. As his paw rakes through his fur, little black and white specks go flying into the air. And when you comb him, you find the same flakes. Rather than a single skin problem, your kitty may be dealing with both a flea infestation and dandruff, each of which has its own treatment.
Signs of fleas
You may not see fleas hopping on your cat's fur, but finding a number of black specks on her are an indicator she has fleas. The specks are often called "flea dirt" and are the feces from the fleas. A way to test to make sure the black specks come from fleas is to place some on a piece of damp white tissue. If it's flea dirt, it will dissolve, leaving behind a reddish-brown blotch. Regular dirt particles will just leave a gray stain.
Some cats itch incessantly from just a few bites, and you'll see them scratching themselves often, while it might take a larger infestation to bother other cats. Cats that develop an allergy to fleas will feel much more itchy after fleas bite them.
Fleas feed on your cat's blood after they bite him. For kittens (or cats with small bodies) or cats with a severe infestation, the blood loss can lead to anemia. Another hazard of fleas is that they are often accompanied by tapeworms. This is because flea larvae can contain tapeworm eggs and if your cat ingests a flea with tapeworms while grooming, your cat will also have tapeworms.
Getting rid of fleas
To eradicate fleas, it's important to not just treat your cat, but other pets and your home as well. Commercial products like Frontline Plus and Advantage II are applied topically. Chemicals in the products will kill fleas as well as their eggs and larvae on your cat. You will need to treat all other cats and dogs in your home as well or they will just re-infest each other.
However, do not use a product made for dogs on your cat. Flea extermination for dogs contain much higher levels of pyrethrins, which are toxic to cats in all but low levels.
You must also eliminate fleas from your cat's environment. Flea "bombs" release insecticide throughout your house. You must remove pets for several hours to ensure their safety and air out the house. Commercial sprays and powders can be used on carpeting.
Your pet's bedding should be washed in hot water. Another step to getting rid of fleas is vacuuming all of your floors and furniture to make sure no flea eggs are left behind to hatch.
If your cat has white flakes as well as black specks in her fur, she likely also has dandruff. Akin to human dandruff, the condition is caused when the oil glands in a cat's skin go into overdrive, producing more oil than is needed. This leads to irritation, itching, and those white flakes that may fall onto your pet's bed and other favorite places. Cats with dandruff may also shed more.
Ringworm can cause dandruff as well. This fungal infection will show up as circular patterns on your cat's skin and lead to fur loss. To cure this contagious condition, which you can catch from your cat, your vet must prescribe anti-fungal medications, usually in both topical and oral forms. Warm weather can also lead to an over-secretion of oils in your cat's skin and contribute to dandruff.
Dry conditions can also make the skin dry out and cause overly dry skin to flake off. A trip to the vet is important in diagnosing dandruff to rule out ringworm or another parasite. Don't bathe your cat as shampoos can dry out the skin and make it more prone to flaking. Obese cats are more prone to dandruff, particularly toward the rear of their body because they have a harder time washing it, which helps lower the amount of oil and flakes.
Feed a healthy diet
A healthy diet is important in keeping cats free of flakes. Their food needs to contain omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, as well as vitamin A. Some cat foods are specially formulated to help maintain healthy skin.
The appearance of black and white specks in your cat's fur can be unsettling, but with a little sleuthing and a veterinarian's help, you can discover their cause and be on the way to ensuring your cat is flake and itch free.