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Two words: cat mange. Together they paint a picture vivid enough to make any cat parent cringe.
While mange appears most in dogs, cats can also come down with this skin condition. Witnessing our kitty companions itching and scratching for dear life as their skin becomes scaly, red, irritated, and riddled with bald patches is almost as painful for us as it is for them.
When cats get mange, is it true that they can kiss all of their majestic fur goodbye? Actually, for that matter, what is mange in the first place? How the heck can cats get it? And how can we help them recover?
Don’t panic. We’re here with everything you need to know about mange in cats.
- What mange is
- Mange vs. ringworm
- What causes cats to get mange
- The five types of mange in cats
- Symptoms of cat mange
- The best way to treat mange
What is mange?
Mange is a skin condition that comes from mites.
In the case of cats, mange often comes from an infestation of the parasitic Sarcoptes scabiei mites. These creepy crawly critters attach themselves to the fur of your feline friend and — brace yourself for this– burrow under their skin, lay eggs and live through an entire lifecycle. Then it repeats with the next mite generation.
This mite infestation causes extreme itchiness in cats, leading to red, irritated, scaly skin and patches of hair loss.
Mange is highly contagious to people and animals and can spread through close contact.
Mange vs. ringworm
At first glance, mange and ringworm seem similar. Both of these skin conditions cause hair loss, itchiness, skin irritation and are highly contagious to other animals and humans.
But mange and ringworm aren’t the same.
Unlike mange caused by mites, ringworm, also known as feline dermatophytosis, is a fungal infection.
Ringworm is the most common skin disorder in cats. It comes from microscopic parasitic organisms known as dermatophytes. Once they latch onto your cat as a host, they survive by eating your cat’s keratin proteins found in their hair and nails. Hence the hair loss and brittle nails in cats with ringworm.
Like mange’s Sarcoptes scabiei mites, ringworm’s dermatophyte parasites quickly reproduce, spawning millions of more microorganisms. If left untreated, ringworm can have serious consequences for your cat.
How do cats get mange?
The most common way cats get mange is by being outside.
Yup! As if you needed another reason to consider keeping your kitty indoors!
Free-roaming felines can easily develop mange when they walk through areas mites inhabit, like tall grasses and woodsy backyards, or contact animals that have mange themselves. This can be other domesticated animals like other cats or wild animals who have mange like squirrels, foxes, bobcats, and coyotes.
Cats can also get mange if they come into contact with a contaminated environment, such as bedding, blankets, and burrows that animals who have mange have been using.
In a less common type of mange, cats can develop mange from an overpopulation of the naturally occurring Demodex, or demodexi cati, mites that live in their skin and hair.
Symptoms of mange in cats
The symptoms of mange in cats are unmistakable. Symptoms are a lot like what you see in cats who have fleas: intense itching and scratching, irritated skin, and patchy hair loss around their bellies, neck, ears, back, legs, and face.
Although some symptoms vary depending on which type of mite your cat is involuntarily hosting, here are some of the most common signs of mange to look out for:
- Intense itching and scratching
- Scaly, crusty, or scabby skin
- Red and inflamed skin
- Hair loss and bald patches
- Excessive biting, licking, and grooming
- Bumpy or swelling skin
- White specks that appear to move in your cat’s fur
- Shaking their head and ears
Types of mange
Even though the symptoms of mange are obvious, your veterinarian will want to take skin scrapings, or even a biopsy, of your cat’s affected areas of skin.
These skin samples are examined under a microscope which can help figure out what type of mite is behind your cat’s mange. Because there are five different types of mange, this step is crucial to help you figure out how your cat got mange and the best course of treatment to wipe out the mites and help your cat heal.
These types of mange include otodectic mange, notoedric mange, sarcoptic mange, cheyletiella mange, and trombiculosis.
Otodectic mange is the most common mange found in cats, especially kittens.
This highly contagious mange is caused by Otodectes cynotis mites, or ear mites, which burrow deep in your cat’s ear canal.
Red flags that indicate your cat has otodectic mange include excessively scratching their ears, shaking their head, and developing scaly and bald patches around their ears and face. Also, black debris around the ears that looks like coffee grounds could be a sign of otodectic mange.
Notoedric mange is often contracted from wild animals. Also known as feline scabies, this is one of the less common types of mange found in cats.
Caused by Notedres cati mites, this type of mange is found almost exclusively in squirrels and occasionally in bobcats. This is a highly contagious type of mange and requires immediate treatment.
Cats with notoedric mange often have large bald patches around their ears, head, and neck and thick, crusty, and scabby skin.
Also known as “crusted scabies,” cats can contract sarcoptic mange from infected dogs, other cats, and wild animals like foxes.
The work of the pesky Sarcoptes scabei mites, sarcoptic mange appears as red bumps and red scaly patches, or lesions, on your cat’s skin.
Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious to humans and other cats and animals. Sarcoptic mange is most often found in stray cats or feral cats, especially if other felines in their colony become infested with these S. Scabei mites.
Caused by the parasitic Cheyletiella mite, this type of mange may first appear as “dandruff,”…except when you look closely, you’ll see that said dandruff moves. Hence its nickname– walking dandruff!
These mites are the only ones who don’t burrow under their host cat’s skin. Instead, they prefer to nibble on the outer layer of your cat’s skin.
This type of mange typically lasts only a few weeks. Symptoms include rashes and red, irritated skin. Cheyletiella mange most frequently appears in cats who live in animal shelters and catteries.
Chigger mites are the ones responsible for triggering trombiculosis. Free-roaming or outdoor cats can become infested with chiggers, specifically chigger larvae, in the summer and fall when these spider-like mites are most active.
Outdoor cats can wander through chigger-filled areas like grassy lawns, shrubs, woodsy backyards, and even places where trees and fallen leaves are decaying.
Symptoms of trombiculosis include red bumps, crusty, scabby skin around your cat’s belly, ears, feet, head, and patches of hair loss. This is one of the more painful and long-lasting types of cat mange. Itching can last for weeks– even after the chigger mites are long gone.
Demodectic mange vs. sarcoptic mange
Is demodectic mange the same as sarcoptic mange? No, demodectic mange isn’t the same as sarcoptic mange.
Also known as Demodicosis, the main difference between feline demodectic mange and sarcoptic mange is that demodecosis is not contracted from other animals or free-roaming mites.
The mites that cause demodectic mange are known as demodex, and they’re considered a normal part of your cat’s “skin flora.” They live in your cat’s hair follicles (Demodex cati) and the surface of their skin (Demodex gatoi).
Feline demodectic mange isn’t transmissible to humans. Feline demodectic mange is also different than canine demodectic mange and can’t be spread from cat to dog.
Demodectic mange can be considered an opportunistic infection as the demodex mites can get out of control when a cat’s immune system is compromised. This mange can be found in cats with a weak immune system, poor nutrition, chronic diseases like Feline Leukemia or FIV, and in cats who’ve recently been on immunosuppressant medicines. Demodectic mange can also be transmitted from mother cats to their kittens. Some cats, like the the hypoallergenic Burmese and Siamese cat breeds, are more prone to developing demodectic mange in their lifetime.
Symptoms of demodectic mange include thick, dry, flaky skin, as well as hair loss, lip ulcers, recurrent ear infections, small scabs all over the body, and inflamed skin that appears to be (but isn’t) an allergic skin disease.
How is mange transmitted?
Mange is transmitted through direct or close contact. If your cat comes in contact with an animal with any of the above types of mange we covered, or their contaminated environment, they’ll become infected by the same mites. They’ll develop the same kind of mange which they can also pass on to other cats, animals, and people.
Can humans catch mange from cats?
Yes, humans can get mange from infected cats.
Mange is considered a zoonotic disease which means it can quickly be passed from animal to human. If you contract mange from your cat, your symptoms will be a lot like the ones your feline friend has: itchy, red, and crusty patches on your skin.
However, the good news is that the mange mites from your companion cat are different from the mange mites that cause scabies in humans. This means that the animal Sarcoptes scabiei mites cannot reproduce under your skin like they can with wild and domesticated animals. On humans, these mites often quickly die off within a few days.
However, even though the mites from your mangy cat can’t burrow under your skin and reproduce there, they can still gnaw at it and cause itching, rashes, and skin irritation. It’s best to contact your human doctor immediately if you notice any symptoms to start treatment ASAP.
How to treat mange in cats
The best way to treat mange in cats is by starting with a trip to your veterinarian!
After giving your kitty a full examination and figuring out which type of mange and mites you’re dealing with, your vet can help you come up with the best plan of attack to banish these itchy pests for good.
Topical treatments, including ointments, medicated gels, and antiparasitics are, often the go-to course of action and tend to be the most effective. Some of the most commonly used topical treatments for cat mange include the spot-on insecticide Fipronil (also known as the brand Frontline), the antiparasitic Selamectin (also known as the brand Revolution).
Oral medications, like the antiparasitic oral medication Ivermectin and injections, are also available and helpful in the fight against mites.
Sulfur dips, medicated shampoos, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and pain-relieving sprays are also helpful. They can soothe your cat’s irritated, itchy skin while also providing them a layer of protection against infections.
These tips apply to indoor-only cats too. If you live in a buggy environment with lots of greenery and wildlife, consider regularly treating your indoor cat with an antiparasitic to protect them from mites, fleas, and ticks. Just because your cat is indoors only doesn’t mean it can’t get parasites. For example, indoor cats can, and do, get fleas.
Beyond medication, separating or isolating your cat when they have mange from the rest of your cats or animals is crucial to keep the very contagious mites from spreading.
That said, the exact treatment for your cat’s mange varies from cat to cat, depending on what type of mite they’re infested with. You’ll need to work with your veterinarian to develop the best course of treatment for your kitty.
Preventing mange in cats
Taking preventative action is the best way to protect your cat from getting munched on by mites and developing mange as a result! Here are some of the ways you can prevent mange in cats.
Keep your cat indoors and entertained
Free-roaming cats are at the highest risk of coming into contact with these bloodthirsty mites and developing bad cases of mange.
If your cat insists on being outdoors, why not consider creating a catio? Or setting up a routine where you put them in a cat harness and take them out with you once or twice a day?
Or, try taking a different approach and set up a more appealing home for your kitty. There are many great and easy indoor enrichment items and activities you can add! Even something as simple as a comfortable a cat tree, a pot of cat grass, and battery-operated toys can do a bored kitty a world of good…and protect them from the jaws of thousands of tiny mites.
Choose good food
Feeding your cat balanced and nutritionally complete wet cat food and dry cat food that contain high-quality meat proteins and are fortified with vitamins, and minerals, and essential amino acids, such as taurine and arginine is a key way to support their overall health. Good nutrition and a balanced diet can help give your cat additional protection from developing mange.
Making cleaning a habit
A clean environment is one of the best buffers against developing mange. Regularly keeping your living space tidy and clean, including vacuuming, sweeping, and mopping carpeted, tiled, and wooden surfaces and washing blankets, bedding, pillows, and wiping down and disinfecting furniture goes a long way. Especially if you have a multi-cat household!
Change your clothes and shoes when you come home
In some cases, you could be the culprit who unknowingly brings mites into your home or onto your cat. If you work in an animal shelter, vet hospital, cattery, run a cat sitting business, participate in TNR programs, or feed stray or community cats, it’s best to change your clothing and your shoes straight away when you get home and wash them in hot water or disinfect them. This is also an excellent preventative measure and can also help you avoid spreading ticks, fleas, or lice to your cats as well as all manner of contagious diseases.
Key takeaways on cat mange
Mange is an icky but very treatable, buggy problem.
Although the handiwork of the chiggers, feline scabies, and cheyletiella mites is alarming, to say the least — angry red scaly skin, raw bald patches, and crusty bumps aren’t a good look on anyone– getting mange isn’t the end of the world for your kitty companion.
While taking preventative action like keeping your cat indoors and feeding them a healthy diet is the best way to avoid mange, even if they do happen to pick up some buggy hitchhikers, all hope isn’t lost.
Treating mange is a cinch! With powerful topical, oral, and injectable medicines prescribed by your veterinarian and carefully crafted treatment plans, your feline friend will get back to living healthily, happily, and mite-free in no time!