In order to understand how mange in cats works, it is important to know that there are different types of mange mites that affect cats differently. Dr. Francisco Torrado, DVM, associate veterinarian at Live Oak Animal Hospital in Vero Beach, FL, discusses the types of mange in cats and the mites that cause them, to offer better insight into these unsightly skin conditions.
Demodectic Mange in Cats
There are actually two kinds of mites that can cause demodectic mange in cats. Dr. Torrado explains, “Demodectic mange is an inflammatory skin condition that is caused by mange mites like demodex cati and demodex gatoi.” While they both fall under the category of demodectic mange mites, they affect cats differently.
Neither are contagious to humans, but demodex gatoi mites are transmissible amongst cats. Demodex gatoi mites are short, stubby mites that live superficially in the skin of the cat. Due to it being an opportunistic infectious parasite, it is the more prevalent type of mange in cats. These mange mites cause extreme itchiness, and the resulting scratching causes lesions that can lead to secondary skin infections.
Demodex cati is much less common. They are long, skinny mites that inhabit the hair follicles of felines. Similar to demodex canis, these mites are thought to be normal inhabitants of feline skin, but a proliferation of them will cause the symptoms that we associate with mange. There are two recognized forms of feline demodicosis: localized and generalized. The localized form will typically display symptoms like lesions and patchy alopecia (hair loss) around the eyelids, face, chin and neck. The generalized form is normally characterized by five or more lesion sites or more than one body region affected.
Why Do Cats Get Demodectic Mange Mites?
It is important to note that any proliferation in demodectic mange mites on cats is usually an indicator that there is an underlying health condition that is hindering the proper functioning of the immune system. Dr. Torrado explains, “Most cats that are afflicted by demodectic mange, especially cats older than one year, are most likely suffering from a suppressed immune system due to an underlying health issue.”
Diagnosing Demodex in Cats
To accurately diagnose a case of demodex in a cat, Dr. Torrado notes that “Skin scrapings are necessary to determine the type of mite and the appropriate treatment.” Since cats tend to be fastidious groomers, demodex mites on cats can also be found by doing a fecal flotation test. Once diagnosed, your veterinarian will recommend the most appropriate treatment option.
Sarcoptic Mange in Cats
Feline scabies, notoedric mange or sarcoptic mange are all terms for the mange condition caused by notoedres cati mites on cats. The notoedres cati mites burrow into a cat’s skin and cause pruritus (severe itching) and patchy hair loss—due to the continued scratching. The skin becomes crusty and flaky and susceptible to secondary skin infections. These mites can be transferred to humans, but they cannot live for long periods of time because we are not their preferred host. If you do contract these mange mites, the symptoms will include rash-like bumps and minor itching that will normally subside after a few days.
How Can Cats Get Feline Scabies?
Dr. Torrado explains, “Cats in close contact with dogs infected with sarcoptes scabiei var. canis mites may be temporary reservoirs for the mite, and occasionally develop transient pruritus. Rarely, immunosuppressed cats may develop persistent pruritic lesions when infested with sarcoptes scabiei var. canis.”
However, feline scabies is not seen very often among cats. This mange in cats is found mostly amongst stray or feral cats living in unsanitary environmental conditions or in close proximity to affected wildlife like foxes and rabbits. However, if you have a multi-cat household and one of your cats does contract notoedric mites, it is essential that you treat all of the cats in the home in order to prevent reoccurring infections.
Diagnosing Feline Scabies
To diagnose scabies in a cat, a veterinarian would have to do skin scrapings and examine them underneath a microscope. Once the diagnosis of notoedric mites has been confirmed, your veterinarian will make a decision on what the best treatment plan will be.
If you are concerned that your cat might have mange, get them to the vet right away to find out for sure and to determine the course of treatment.
Kendall Curley, BeChewy Editorial Assistant
As a former Connecticut resident, Kendall is coming to terms with the lack of seasons in Florida by gaining an appreciation for all the activities that the Florida climate allows year-round. When she is not hard at work at Chewy, she can be found going on adventures with her dog, Pip, or going horseback riding with her friends. She is an avid fosterer of dogs and spends an inordinate amount of time picking dog hair off of her clothes and belongings.