Definition of Mange in Cats
“Mange” is a generic term for a skin condition of domestic animals caused by a number of different genera of external parasitic mites. There are several types of mites which predominately infect cats: Notoedres cati, (feline scabies), Cheyletiella blakei (cheyletiellosis or “walking dandruff”), Otodectes cynotis and Demodex cati and gatoi spp. (demodicosis). Other mites more commonly infect dogs, including Sarcoptes scabiei, although cats and even people can become affected from dogs with severe infestation from these parasites.
How “Mange” Affects Cats
Domestic cats of any age can develop a highly contagious disease from the Notoedres cati mite. This form of mange typically causes persistent pruritus (itchiness), crusts, flaky skin and hair loss (alopecia) on the ears, head, face, neck and sometimes paws. In chronic cases, it can spread across the body. Secondary skin infections can develop and cause extensive scratching and subsequent self-trauma. Occasionally, this mite can opportunistically infect other animals, including dogs and humans.
The Cheyletiella blakei mite also primarily infests cats, although cross-infestation to people is quite common. This disease is highly contagious and most often affects young or immuno-compromised individuals. Affected animals typically have varying degrees of crusting, scaling and pruritus (itchiness) along their back. Long haired cats may be at increased risk of developing clinical disease. The nick-name “walking dandruff” is apt because these mites are large and visible to the naked eye. The scales or flakes of “dandruff” are often the moving mites, themselves. The eggs from this mite are shed into the environment and can be a key source of reinfestation of people and pets.
Otodectes cynotis mites are common inhabitants of the external ear canal of cats, causing an itchy infection called otitis externa. Affected cats frequently shake their heads, paw at their faces and scratch vigorously at their ears.
Demodex cati and gatoi spp of ectoparasites are similar to the species common in dogs, but cats develop disease much less commonly. As in dogs, cats with demodicosis usually show hair loss, crusting and scaling on the head and neck, which may or may not become generalized. Cats with diabetes mellitus seem to be at an increased risk of developing generalized disease.
Causes of Feline “Mange”
As described above, mange in companion cats is caused by localized or generalized infestation by external parasites – most commonly Notoedres cati, Cheyletiella blakei and Otodectes cynotis. Cats develop disease by contact with infected symptomatic or sometimes asymptomatic carrier cats.
Preventing “Mange” in Cats
The most effective way to prevent mange is to prevent contact between infected and non-infected animals. This is not always possible, because some infected cats do not show noticeable clinical signs of disease but can still be highly contagious to other animals.
Treating Mange in Cats
Cats can become infected by several different types of ectoparasitic mites that cause an infectious and normally itchy skin disorder commonly called “mange.” One of the more frequent forms of mites infesting domestic cats is the highly contagious Notoedres cati, which causes notoedric mange, also called “feline scabies.” Cheyletiella blakei and Otodectes cynotis are other external parasitic mites that can affect cats, which develop disease by contact with infected symptomatic or sometimes asymptomatic carrier cats.
The most popular mange treatments are medicated dips and shampoos, other topical treatments, injectable drugs and/or or oral medication. The precise treatment protocol will be determined by the attending veterinarian and will depend upon which type of mite is the particular culprit. Medicated lime-sulfur dips need to be administered several times at 10 to 14 day intervals and usually are quite effective in cats. Amitraz is another medication that has been used in cats but it is not approved for this use and has been known to cause anorexia, depression and diarrhea in this species. Selamectin and ivermectin have also been used in cats, although they too are not approved for use in cats. Sudden death has been reported in some kittens treated with ivermectin.
If the parasite has caused secondary bacterial infections, antibiotic therapy is usually indicated. Anti-inflammatories and analgesics (pain medications) may be prescribed as well.
Old time remedies that are sometimes still used today in an attempt to treat mange usually fail miserably, and they can exacerbate damage to the cat’s skin. Some of these inappropriate remedies include rubbing motor oil or vegetable oil onto the cat’s skin, applying gasoline to the cat’s coat or repeatedly bathing the animal. None of these remedies kill or remove the mites, as they burrow and live in the deeper layers of skin. Motor oil and gasoline obviously can irritate the cat’s skin and, if ingested, can severely danger its health. Vegetable oil and repeated bathing are simply irritating and ineffective.
Because most mites are highly contagious to other cats (and often to dogs and to humans as well), other animals living in the household should also be treated even if they are asymptomatic, to prevent repeated reinfection.
If your cat is diagnosed with mites, you should follow the treatment plan prescribed by your veterinarian to the letter. A single missed dose or treatment can botch the entire treatment protocol and require therapy to start over from the beginning. The cat’s living environment should be treated as well. Owners of affected cats should pay attention to whether they develop any raised or itchy rashes, especially on their arms and trunk. If these symptoms develop, it is best to consult with a personal physician.
Your veterinarian can use a number of diagnostic tests to identify any mite infestation in your cat. A number of treatments are available to rid cats of these parasites, including oral and injectable drugs (antibiotics, steroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, anti-parasitic drugs), medicated dips and shampoos and a thorough cleaning of the cat’s living environment. Each type of mite will require an individualized approach to therapy. The adult mites need to be killed, and associated skin infections, sores and itchiness also must be treated. Eggs or larva must be eradicated as well.
It is important to remember that these mite-related conditions are zoonotic – meaning that they are highly contagious between people and their pets. Owners of affected animals who develop itchy rashes or redness, especially on their arms or trunk area, should consult with their personal physician. A veterinarian is not able to diagnose or treat disease in people.