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Ask the Veterinarian/flaky skin and excessive shedding


QUESTION: Hello! Thank you for reading my questions. One of my cats has been having flaky skin and shedding excessively lately.  At first, I thought he started having difficulty cleaning himself since he is over weight but I notices when I brush him, I see his hair falling off as small patches and the follicles of those hair has black material on them. They're not flea droppings as it seems more like tar-ish material and dissolves in water so I'm thinking it night be blood.  Can you tell me what it may be? He is not scratching that often so I don't think it's itchy or anything.

Thank you for your time!

flea pyramid and life cycle
flea pyramid and life  
ANSWER: There are many things that can be happening here, but from what you're describing I would say that your cat has a very large flea problem and that the food he is eating isn't helping his coat at all.

We are what we eat and the same holds true for our pets. Feed them grocery store or pet store brand foods and you will have a sickly pet with a bad hair coat.

If what you are seeing dissolves in water and looks like blood, that is flea droppings. If you looked close enough you would see a salt and pepper look- those are flea eggs mixed with black, tarry feces of the fleas.

I don't know what you thought flea droppings should look like but since all they eat is blood then the droppings are basically digested and dried blood. This is what the larvae eat when the droppings fall on the floor.

Your cat needs a major flea cleansing and he needs to be put on a weight reduction program as well.

You can start by getting him into the vets and having him looked over then have your vet put him on a SAFE reducing program. It is very dangerous to do this yourself at home or to cut back on his food. This is very important!

First it won't work and secondly it can cause him to go into liver failure which can be fatal. A reducing program won't cost more than the cost of the food, but you can take him in and get him weighed weekly for free at the vets.

While you're there, get him some revolution for long term flea control and then get some Ovitril spray to kill the adult fleas on him first. You might want to get a flea bomb made by Vet Kem as well to kill the eggs and larvae living in your rugs.

See cats don't scratch like dogs for the most part so a flea problem looks different on them.

That's what you should do for your boy. He is miserable but doesn't show it the same way. He can't even groom himself so that makes them even more miserable plus the added weight will shorten his life dramatically.

Science Diet makes a Light formula that will not only help with his weight loss but help his coat as well. Ask your vet to put him on that if you cannot afford the R/D, which is made just for weight reduction. In either case, start at the vets then go from there!

Most veterinary hospitals have great weight reduction programs for cats that really work!

I hope you can get him in soon. Please let me know how he progresses.

Here is a chart about the life cycle of the flea and a flea pyramid.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you so much for your answer so quickly!  Okay, so the reason why I didn't think they were flea droppings was we had flea infestation before and that time, I saw black specks that almost looked like dirt or sand in his fur. This time, I don't see any of those but the folicles of his hair (not all but some) have black stuff that I've never seen before. I tried to investigate what they were and thought they dissolved in water. But I'm not 100% sure.

As for his food, he has been eating the same food his whole life and never had any problems until this recent discovery. But I guess he needs to change his diet as he gets old also.  

In the last email, I forgot to mention I have 3 other cats. They have had fleas before also but none of them do right now.
And they've been indoor cats since they were born.

Still think It's a flea infestation and poor diet?

Thanks again!

Like I said, it could be many other things. How is his appetite? Is he hungry all of the time? Since you said he is overweight I doubt if he has hyperthyroidism since the first symptom people notice is that the cat loses a LOT of weight then wants to eat constantly.

Could be a skin disease, could be a kind of mite, could still be fleas. They get into the house on your clothes or through cracks in the house.

And being on one diet is good IF the diet is a good diet. IF it's whiskas or friskies, or meow mix, then no, it's not good.

If he is overweight, over 6 and has a bad coat and skin, I would say it's time for a diet overhaul and weight reduction.

He skin issues could be entirely related to his diet. So once you understand that most pet food companies do not keep the same formulas for their food each time, and source their ingredients by whatever is cheapest on the docks that day (from China among other places) then you will understand why Science Diet superior to almost any diet out there.

All of the food for their diets is grown in the USA and always has been. The company was started by a veterinarian and is still run by them. They have over 70 years of veterinary research behind their foods. All formulas are trial fed to real pets right on their premises.

So they KNOW that they work. Most bags of food state that they are FORMULATED to meet AFFCCO requirements but Science Diet says it's trial fed to meet the requirements. Formulated means that no one really knows if it sustains a pet for life.

Read all about the company here:

I fully believe in this company because I have SEEN the results from feeding their food, not only for my own pets but for our clients as well. My own daughter in laws cat came to live with me temporarily and she was shocked and amazed at the difference in his coat, weight and happiness after being here for a month on Science Diet. She kept telling everyone about how much he had changed. She had him on cheap grocery store cat food. He is like a new cat now.

I wish I'd taken a before picture!

So my suggestion is still to get the cat to the vet's and have his skin and these lesions looked at then go from there.

He could even have some type of ringworm! So please, get him into the vets soon.  

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Jana Connell RVT, CVT


PLEASE READ BEFORE SUBMITTING TO ME: I am NOT a vet and do NOT diagnose diseases. That is only for a licensed Veterinarian to do. I will give you suggestions and steer you toward calling your vet for help. You can call the vet's office and talk to the technician there or the vet at times. Don't be afraid to call them! If you have a serious issue with your pet please post it to one of the veterinarians in here- I will tell you the same thing in my answer. IF your pet is injured or in an emergency situation, CALL YOUR VET- Do not wait and post in here. Just call the vet's office and get them in to see the vet right away. Critical treatment time is lost if you seek answers here when you should have your precious pet at the vets!! Don't sit at home waiting for an answer when your pet is critically ill or injured!! I can answer most questions about small animal and wildlife care as well as small animal nutrition. I can also answer questions about all phases of dental care for small animals. I DO NOT answer questions about birds (unless it is wildlife or songbirds) or HAMSTERS/GERBILS/CHINS/GUINEA PIGS/REPTILES/FROGS/RABBITS/PET BIRDS OF ANY KIND so please submit these questions to the appropriate sections. I, as well as other experts in here, do NOT do homework questions- that is for YOU to do! Please respect these rules for all of us. Thanks!


I have over 42 years experience in the field of veterinary medicine. I specialized in small animals and did wildlife rehab for over 25 years, mostly raptors, squirrels and opossums. I am a Small Animal Nutritional Consultant with 6 certificates from Hills Pet Foods, CNM and Purina. I also specialized in Small Animal Dentistry which is a field I truly love. I also Teach Veterinary Technology to working technicians who are studying to take their California Tests to become Licensed Technicians. They have to take both the VTNE (Veterinary Technician National Exam) and the California boards.

Audubon,World Wildlife Federation, American Society of Veterinary Dental Technicians.


Licensed with California and Oregon, RVT and CVT. Certified Veterinary Dental Technician Have over 1500 logged hours of Continuing Education Credits(that means I keep up to date!).

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Nominated for Expert of the Month for the last 5 years.

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