When I was deployed to Cyprus in the early 2000’s, our dorms were surrounded by feral cats. Only once was I concerned about a cat that looked “scary”. I went back to my station to do some research into what I saw on this cat and find out what these signs and symptoms were.
So, what is mange in cats? There are various types of mange in cats but the most noted are Notoedric mange, feline scabies (this is contagious to humans), and Demodex mange, non-contagious to people. These tiny parasites, called mites, can cause a severe skin infection starting on the head and spreading to the rest of the body.
“Mangy old cat”.
Common catchall term to describe the bald patches on cats. I learned that the condition this cat had was mange.
It turns out to be more common in dogs but does affect cats. It’s really concerning because this one cat was infected and I was scared others were too and if we could get it.
I ended up reporting it and the majority of the cats were caught, treated and released.
But don’t worry I’ll explain below that if you can nip this in the bud quickly, it’s easily resolved.
What Is Mange?
The term used for the infestation of mites is mange. Even stranger, there’s actually mites already living on your cat’s skin in their hair follicles.
This is normal.
But when you find an undernourished cat that has a weak immune system or cat’s that live in unsanitary environmental conditions (close to affected wildlife like foxes or rabbits), those mites will proliferate and cause the “scary look” I saw that day.
“In order to understand how mange in cats works, know that there are different types of mange mites that affect cats differently.” – Dr. Francisco Torrado, DVM
Types of mites in cats:
- Otodectes cynotis (ear mites) – most common mite that can spread all over their body with time. Easy to identify inside your cat’s ear:
- red-brown/black crust
- little black bumps that look like coffee grounds
- frequent head shaking
- excessive ear and head scratching
- abrasions and scratches on the back of the ear
- crusting/scaling of the skin
- Demodex cati – Mostly in Siamese and Burmese cats.
- Cheyletiella blakei aka “walking dandruff” – looks like moving dandruff
- Notoedres cati – feline scabies
- Demodex gatoi – Mainly found in the southeastern U.S.
Notoedric Mange in Cats
Notoedric cati on cats is a mange condition also called feline scabies or sarcoptic mange.
These mites like to burrow deep down into your cat’s skin which causes a relentless itch (called pruritus).
From that itching, your cat will experience hair loss, crusty/flaky skin and prone to infections. These are the types of mites that will get transferred to us humans.
We’ll most likely get some itchy bumps that should go away after a few days.
How Would My Cat Get Feline Scabies?
I mentioned before that cats can this from infected dogs or other cats and rarely really sick cats can get it.
“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.” Dr. Francisco Torrado, DVM
Interesting note: This type of mite is generally rare but in the UK it was very common during the 1940s – 1950s. It has since almost disappeared. (Thomsett and Baker, 1990)
Demodectic Mange In Cats
There are 2 types of mites that can cause this in cats.
These mange mites are Demodex gatoi and Demodex cati and they affect cats differently.
Neither of these mites is contagious to us humans.
- Demodectic Gatoi – Most prevalent in cats
These mites are transferred between cats, live on the surface of your cat’s skin and will make them have bad itchiness.
- Demodectic Cati – Less common in cats
These are the mites that are thought to live on your cat’s hair follicles.
If these get out of control, your cat will experience those normal symptoms that we see with mange.
There are two forms of demodicosis:
- Localized – This localized itching will spread over the whole body and typically has symptoms like hair loss (patchy alopecia) around the:
You might even notice small red bumps on your skin that’ll itch too from handling or petting your cat.
Don’t worry though, they can’t truly infest your body. According to the ASPCA, they need a cat to reproduce.
- Generalized – this looks like various larger patches or lesions
Why Do Cats Get Demodectic Mange Mites? If you find your cat to have any proliferation or infestation of these mites then it can usually mean there’s a pre-existing health issue that’s putting a drain on your cat’s immune system.
You’d need to get your cat to the vet for skin scrapings to see what type of mite your cat has and the best treatment.
Your vet can also do a fecal test because your cat will probably be licking and grooming itself ingesting these mites.
In the video below, Dr. Becker talks Demodectic Mange in Cats:
Cheyletiellosis Or “Walking Dandruff”
This type of contagious (to humans, cats or dogs) and zoonotic disease is caused by the Cheyletiella mite and the term “walking dandruff” is just a form.
They’re most prevalent on the back of your cat, although they can live on the entire body.
It’s almost creepy to witness this type of mite.
They move under your cat’s skin, looking like moving dandruff. To learn more about this bug: Companion Animal Parasite Council
Symptoms Of Mange In Cats
If you think your cat has mange, try and pair it with the varied symptoms below.
- Dandruff or scales, especially along the back
- Hair loss
- Redness of the skin
- Weight loss
- Ridges on the head
- Scabs – red papules resembling small pimples that will eventually crust over.
- Missing patches of fur – hair loss
- Possible swollen eyes
- Itchiness – excessive scratching/grooming
- Mange Lesions – As the mites multiply, your cat will continue to scratch. That’s when the real damage happens.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual primary lesions, smaller portions of infected cats skin, become crusted and hardened.
Since mange mites love to infect hairless skin areas, you’ll see more of these lesions start around the ears or belly.
Don’t look for mange mites without a powerful magnifying glass or microscope.
Mites are less than 1 mm long, so just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Are Certain Cats Prone to Mange? Cats that are more prone to getting mange are malnourished or have compromised immune systems.
Treatments For Mange In Cats: Home Remedy, Holistic, And Veterinarian
Hopefully, your cat will have a mild case of mange.
If that’s the case, you can certainly treat them at home.
Natural remedies for mange in cats using apple cider vinegar:
- Apple cider Vinegar
- Bathe cat mange shampoo: Benzoyl Peroxide
- Rinse using warm water and apple cider vinegar mix.
- Towel dry and keep them warm – see how to bathe a cat (https://catveteran.com/cat-bath/)
- Gently scrub the cat’s body with a soft-bristled brush or toothbrush. (remove any “mange”)
- Lather the cat with castor oil or olive oil to suffocate the mange even further
- Repeat washing and gently scrubbing of your cat to remove oils
If you go to the vet, they’ll first properly diagnose what type of mites your cat has and then prescribe treatment.
They’ll likely tell you to wash with a specialized cat shampoo (like the one above), use a lime sulfur dip (these can be harsh), or give you a topical solution like for fleas or heartworm.
You might get prescribed antibiotics or other meds for any bacterial infections
Could mange in cats be allergies? Some of the symptoms of allergies could like mange.
But allergies will sometimes come with gastrointestinal symptoms:
Just be sure to rule out any recent changes with your cats like a new food or cat litter. Try removing those changes and see if the symptoms lessen.
Of course, if you’re not sure please consult a veterinarian.
Tips for Preventing Mange in Cats
It’s going to make your life and your cat’s a lot easier if you’re able to prevent mange or any other skin issues.
So, to do that it’s best to look at your cat’s whole wellbeing and health.
You’re basically making choices and decisions on behalf of your cat, so choose wisely.
Below are some tips for everyday cat health to ultimately prevent mange from creeping up on them:
Keep your cats indoors if at all possible, otherwise…
Healthy diet – Your cats should be eating high protein-rich food with no grains like NomNomNow (my fresh food of choice for my cats)
Immune supplements – Neem bark is an antioxidant good for promoting your cat’s response to pathogens.
Clean cat environment – Thoroughly clean or replace all:
- Food dishes
Below is Edens success story from extreme mange to healing: Part 1
This not only goes for your cat but you also! Everywhere your cats have gone, needs to be cleaned or replaced as well.
Once, when my indoor cat’s got fleas, I bombed my house.
A better way, of course, is to use Diatomaceous Earth.
Then after all is said an done, take your cat to the vet for a recheck and make sure all the mites are gone.
Use all-natural remedies – Your vet (unless holistic) will use traditional meds for mange. But these contain chemicals that can cause irritations or side effects.
Try and stay with safer more environmentally safe ways to treat your cats.
Holistic veterinarian – These vets will use a more natural approach and only go towards the traditional meds as a last resort.
Mange in cats contagious to humans? The mites called Sarcoptes scabiei hominis (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19442661), that cause mange in cats are contagious to humans. The contagious condition is called scabies which can spread to humans through physical contact. These mites will die given 3 or more days because they need an animal host to survive.
Can cat mange go away on its own? Cat mange will not go away on its own, it does need treatment. Your cat will die if it goes untreated. Yet, mite infections on humans will go away on their own but will itch while it lasts.
References and further reading:
Hardy, J., and others. A case of feline sarcoptic mange in the UK. Vet Rec Case Rep 203 (1): 1-2. Hnilica, K. A. In Small Animal Dermatology – A Color Atlas and Therapeutic Guide, 3rd edition, p138. Elsevier, 2011.
Dog and Cat, 2nd edition, pp115-116. Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Thomsett, L. R., and Baker, K. P. In: Canine and Feline Dermatology, pp142-144. Blackwell Scienti c Publications, 1990.
And if you’re interested in understanding more about your cat, their body language and how to communicate with your furry feline friends – read this post!