Feline Cheyletielosis: Walking Dandruff in Cats

Walking dandruff, or cheyletiellosis, is a mite infection similar to fleas but often more painful and difficult to get rid of.

Defining Walking Dandruff

Cheyletiellosis is a result of a mite infestation. These mites appear as small, white dots on a cat's skin, and are difficult to see if you aren't looking closely. Even then, they can be mistaken for dandruff, which is how they earned the name 'walking dandruff.' They are contracted either from other animals or people, or from entering an environment where the mites are living.

Walking dandruff can be a large problem in animal shelters especially, because of the limited space. For this reason, overcrowding in shelters creates even more of a problem in spreading this disease.

You should always quarantine a new pet when you first bring him home, in case he has a case of cheyletiellosis or some other disease (such as feline parvovirus) that could spread to other cats or dogs, or even people.

Symptoms of Walking Dandruff

Signs your cat may have walking dandruff are primarily itchy, scaly and sometimes red or irritated skin.

Cheyletiellosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can transfer between cats, humans and dogs. For this reason, infestations often affect the entire household. Owners may find rashes and bites on their abdomens, backs, arms and legs. This can be exceptionally problematic if there are children or babies in the household.

Sometimes the scales that develop on the cat's skin will look as though they are moving, which is a result of the cheyletiellosis mites crawling around beneath them.


Aggressive treatment is necessary to get rid of cheyletiellosis. Because of how contagious it is, and the fact that the mites can survive for days in the environment off of their host, it can be a battle to get rid of them and keep them gone. Walking dandruff is much more difficult to cure than fleas or lice.

  • Topical drugs such as brand-name Advantage are oils placed at the back of your cat's skull, down to between their shoulder blades. These oils work over the cat's skin naturally and are most commonly used against fleas. However, they have shown promise in dealing with cheyletiellosis.
  • Ivermectin is a prescription drug used in parasite control. It causes paralysis and then death in parasites.
  • Lime sulfur baths can be give for six to eight weeks, but can be a pain, especially in longer-haired cats.
  • Pyrethrin sprays, also used in lice and flea control, can be used around the home.  

The pet's living environment needs to be thoroughly cleaned. This includes bedding, carpets, upholstery furniture, combs, brushes and other grooming tools. All animals in the household need to be treated, even if they are not showing signs of walking dandruff.


While it can be a hassle, walking dandruff is a controllable problem with aggressive and thorough treatment. Prevention is difficult, but as previously mentioned, quarantine any new animals in your home and do routine checks on your pets for any sign of mites, fleas, ticks or other skin problems.