Cats have sensitive skin that can dry out easily. When this happens, your cat will experience discomfort. Dry skin on the back itches and breaks off in flakes, giving the appearance of dandruff. If the dry skin enters the air, the dander may cause allergies.
Encourage your cat to drink more water. This hydrates the skin, preventing dryness. Manage the ambient temperature of your cat’s surroundings, ensuring quality airflow. Feed your cat a protein-rich wet diet. Aid with grooming if the cat is immobile. Check for allergies, including ones caused by parasites. Allergens dry out the skin.
Getting rid of dry skin on a cat’s back is usually a simple process. With basic diet and lifestyle adjustments, it can often be corrected.
My Cat Has Dry Skin on its Back
Dry skin will leave flakes of dandruff in your cat’s skin. It will also itch, tempting your cat to scratch its skin. Dry feline skin opens easily when scratched with claws. Your cat may start bleeding, which risks infection.
There are many possible explanations for dry skin on a cat’s back. Treatment depends on the cause. Common reasons include:
- Allergic reactions
- Lack of grooming
- Fungal infections (e.g. ringworm)
- Medical conditions (e.g. hyperadrenocorticism)
Learn what is causing your cat’s dry skin. You can then find a rapid and non-invasive solution to the problem. Prescription medication can usually be avoided, unless the cat has a disease or fungal infection.
How to Moisturize a Cat’s Skin
Never apply a human moisturizer to your cat. Cat skin has a different pH to humans. This means the moisturizer may provoke a reaction. This is especially likely if the product contains perfumes.
Check that your cat’s dry skin is not caused by a medical complaint. Pay attention to the following symptoms in addition to dry skin on the back:
- Excessive thirst and urination
- Enhanced appetite
- Swelling around the belly
- Muscle weakness
- Vomiting and diarrhea
According to The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, these are symptoms of hyperadrenocorticism.
It’s rare in cats, but senior females fall into the highest risk category. Diabetic cats are also at higher risk.
Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease) must be managed with prescription drugs. It is a serious health concern.
Left untreated, it can be fatal. If your cat shows no other symptoms of ill health, you can treat its dry skin with more traditional remedies.
1/ Encouraging Hydration
Dehydration is a common cause of dry skin on a cat’s back. Cats are descended from desert-dwelling wild animals. This means that cats naturally retain water comparatively well. Unfortunately, this means that cats rarely drink enough water.
The cat’s body will react to this lack of water by creating more oil to compensate. Oil dries out a cat’s skin and causes irritation. This makes the cat scratch, further drying out the skin.
The average 10 lb housecat should drink around 8 ounces of water throughout a day. That is the size of a typical glass. Outdoor cats should drink more, as they are more active.
Many cats will refuse to drink water from a bowl. There are several possible reasons for this problem:
- The water is too close to food or a litter tray
- The water smells of chlorine or other chemicals
- The water bowl is too narrow, causing whisker fatigue
Get a water purifier or bottled water and pour it into a wide-rimmed bowl. Place this bowl on the opposite side of a room to food and litter. If the cat drinks more, dry skin on the back should clear up. If a cat still won’t drink, the problem may be an instinctive distrust of still water.
According to the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, some cats prefer to drink from running water sources. Wild cats drink from rivers or streams.
2/ Wet Food
Wet food is also a source of hydration for cats. Kibble will leave your cat dehydrated. Wet cat food is around 80% water. One tin will provide a cat with roughly half its required water intake.
Wet food is typically higher in protein. Protein is essential to healthy skin in a cat. A good quality wet food can do wonders for your cat’s dry skin.
If your cat currently eats a dry diet, you must manage the transition gradually. A sudden diet change will upset a cat’s stomach. This will cause diarrhea, leading to further dehydration.
Start by mixing 10% of wet food with 90% dry food. Over the course of two weeks, gradually reverse these ratios.
Once your cat is eating and drinking appropriately, dehydration is a much lower risk. This will help your cat manage the dry skin on its back.
3/ Parasite Management
Parasites, particularly fleas, can be a major cause of dry skin on a cat’s back. The fleas will congregate on the back due to a large surface area. As the fleas multiply, they will bite more.
This will cause irritation to your cat’s skin. Companion Animal Practice explains how the saliva of a flea can cause dermatitis. This condition will leave your cat’s skin dry and sore.
If you use a regular spot-on treatment, your cat will be protected. Some preventative measures can also cause dry skin though. If your cat has a reaction, switch to a different brand of flea collar.
If your cat has fleas, deal with them immediately. Use treatment and comb your cat daily. Dip the comb in alcohol before and after each brush. This will kill any lingering fleas. Wash everything in your home afterward. The damage caused by flea allergy dermatitis will soon heal.
4/ Managing Allergies
Flea bites are not the only allergen that can cause dry skin in cats.
According to Veterinary Dermatology, food and environmental allergies can cause hypersensitivity dermatitis. Exposure to allergens will make your cat’s skin dry and flaky.
Tests can be run to discover what your cat is allergic to. These will never be failsafe and conclusive. You will need to experiment, removing different things from your cat’s environment until the skin repairs.
Start with food. It’s possible that the dry skin is sparked by an ingredient in your cat’s food. Offer bland meals, such as chicken and rice, for a few days. If this clears up the dryness on your cat’s skin, food is likely to blame.
Something in your cat’s surroundings can also be sparking the allergy. Fabrics, scents, and chemicals can all result in dry skin. Change your cleaning products, such as fabric softener and ironing water. Stop using air fresheners for a few days.
If the dry skin continues, cat litter may be to blame. Although perfumed brands mask the smell of cat urine, they can also dry out the skin. Use a plain, natural and unscented cat litter.
5/ Assisted Grooming
Your cat’s back skin may be dry through a lack of grooming. Your cat’s skin will create natural oils throughout the day. When a cat grooms, it redistributes these oils throughout the fur. If a cat is not grooming itself, these oils will build up and dry out the skin.
Senior cats sometimes struggle to access their back while grooming. It requires a degree of bodily contortion that is beyond an arthritic cat. Help your cat out by grooming those hard-to-reach spots.
Use a combination of a fine-toothed comb and a wide, soft brush. This will ensure that the oils are evenly distributed. This, in turn, keeps your cat’s entire skin moisturized. After a few days, your cat’s dry skin will heal.
6/ Weight Management
Obese cats also have difficulty grooming. Their belly will get in the way, meaning they cannot reach their back.
In addition, obese cats are also at risk of other health concerns. The link between feline diabetes and obesity is well documented. Dry skin is one of the symptoms of diabetes.
According to the Journal of Small Animal Practice, obesity is a prevalent factor in hyperadrenocorticism.
Dry skin on the back is more concerning in overweight cats. Encourage your cat to reduce its BMI and seek medical attention from a vet.
7/ Moderating Temperature
Ambient temperature is important to retaining skin moisture in your cat. If your cat is too warm, the skin will dry out. This is a particularly high risk during the winter. If you use central heating, a cat’s skin will suffer.
A cat’s body temperature should remain at 100.5-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that an ambient temperature of 77-86 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.
Check your thermostat. If your house is running hotter than this, your cat’s skin will suffer.
This is easily resolved without sacrificing warmth and comfort. Invest in a humidifier and place this in a cat’s preferred location. The humidifier will improve air quality in the home and prevent cat skin from drying out.
Cats should receive all the vitamins and minerals they need for healthy skin from their diet. This is another reason why wet food is preferred.
Some cats are incapable of absorbing the appropriate vitamins from food. This could be due to a medical condition. If necessary, look into supplements to improve the quality of your cat’s skin.
The most effective feline supplements for dry skin in cats center around fatty acids. This means Omegas 3 and 6. Fish is rich in these fats, so oral products will be palatable to a cat. Vitamins A, K, B2, and B4 are also important.
9/ Medications and Ointments
If every other approach to resolving your cat’s dry skin has failed, consult a vet. There may be a medical reason for the concern. If this is the case, prescription medication will be required.
A ringworm infection will require the application of a formal ointment. This issue will be clearly visible. Your cat’s skin will not just be dry. It will also bear tell-tale spherical rashes. A topical antifungal will treat this.
If your cat has a non-specific dermatological issue, other remedies will be available. These will usually take the form of a topical ointment or, more commonly, medicated shampoo. The shampoo will coat the entirety of your cat’s back. This will ensure the dry skin is treated.
10/ Home Remedies
If you are averse to medication, address your cat’s dry skin with topical home remedies. This may be preferable for senior cats. Home remedies that moisturize the skin on a cat’s back include:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil and fish oil combination
These remedies are all safe to be ingested by cats in moderate quantities. If your cat manages to lick its back, it will suffer no ill effects.
Dry skin on a cat’s back should be addressed. It will be uncomfortable and aesthetically displeasing. Attempt to treat the problem at home first, though. Oftentimes, you can reverse the issue with a minimum of trouble.