Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Feline Mange

Mychelle Blake
Sick cat with feline mange in a park

If your cat is losing fur and has brown or black spots near her ears, she may have feline mange. If left untreated, this contagious condition can actually kill your cat. Find out how to help.

Causes of Mange in Cats

Mange is caused by tiny parasites called mites that burrow beneath the surface of your cat's skin. They suck the blood of your pet and may also cause allergic reactions. While all mange is caused by these mites, there are several species of mites, and each causes a different kind of mange.

Mange and Other Animals

Cats aren't the only animals that can get this disease. It is very contagious and can be transmitted to nearly any mammal or bird. Although there are different types of mange, all types are very contagious. If you suspect that your pet may have this condition, you should take her to the vet right away. If one animal in the home has mange, all the animals living there should also be treated.

Types of Cat Mange

There are several types of mange that can afflict a cat.

Feline Scabies

Also called Notoedric mange, this condition is caused by Notoedres mites and leaves the cat with scales and crusty skin around their ears. These mites can also infect humans and other animals. Luckily it is rarely seen in the United States.

Sarcoptic Mange

Scabies is another name for sarcoptic mange which is caused by Sarcoptes scabei mites. These mites tend to congregate in areas with less fur such as inside the ears, on the elbows and the belly although eventually they will spread throughout an animal's body.

Cheyletiella Mange

Cheyletiella mites cause a cat's skin to become flaky , dry and itchy which is often mistaken for dandruff. The condition, cheyletiellosis, is also called "walking dandruff." Humans can also become a host for these mites.

Otodectic Mange

Otodectic or otocariasis mange is caused by the Otodectes cynotis mite. These mites primarily infect a cat's ear canal and are commonly referred to as ear mites.

Demodectic Mange

Unlike other types of mange, Demodex cati is not usually an unwelcome visitor to a cat's skin. These mites are present at all times on a cat in the hair follicles and become a problem when the cat's immune system is compromised. This leads to too many mites and irritated skin. There are actually over 60 types of Demodex mites but only one other is known to affect cats, Demodex gatoi. Demodex gatoi differs in that it is contagious to other cats and they live on a cat's skin rather than the hair follicle.

Symptoms of Mange in Cats

Feline mange is usually easy to spot on your pet. The fur is patchy with scabby looking skin beneath it. Here are the symptoms of mange:

Diagnosing Cats With Mange

Once the vet takes a look at your cat, he will be able to determine whether feline mange is a possibility. He will assess the overall condition of your pet and whether she has lost excessive amounts of weight or has become dehydrated. The vet will take a sample of skin cells, referred to as a scraping or a biopsy, to view under a microscope. If he finds mites, he will then try to determine exactly which type they are.

Cat Mange Treatment

Depending on the type of mange the vet finds, the course of treatment may include one or more medications and procedures to eliminate the mites. Your vet may even recommend no major treatment, as mild cases of demodectic mange most instances will resolve on their own without treatment. It should be noted that some mange treatments can be harmful to cats, so it's best to let your veterinarian set the course of treatment and the dosages rather than trying it at home on your own.

Isolation

If you have more than one cat, your veterinarian will instruct you to isolate the infected cat from the others. You will also need to isolate the cat from any other animals that may be at risk, as well as yourself and other people in the home.

Bedding

All of your cat's bedding needs to be cleared of mites. This can be done with a hot water wash and using a household disinfectant in areas that your cat inhabits. You may also want to treat cat trees and scratching posts.

Medication

There are several medications that your cat may be given for mange.

  • Your veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication and analgesics to treat the irritated skin from the mites and relieve your cat's pain.
  • Sometimes antibiotics will also be prescribed if your cat's case of mange is severe enough to lead to a secondary infection.
  • Ivermectin is a popular treatment for mange which can be given weekly either orally or by injection for 3 to 4 weeks. It should be used with caution though as it can be toxic.

Topical Medication

Since mange is a very uncomfortable condition for your cat, your veterinarian may also provide you with topical medications to soothe their irritated skin.

  • Cortisone can be very helpful in reducing the itching caused by mange.
  • Antibiotic ointments may be used if your cat has any open wounds from scratching at their inflamed skin.

Medicated Shampoo and Dips

Medicated shampoos may be recommend by your veterinarian to help remove mites from the cat. Another option is a lime sulfur dip, which your veterinarian can do for you, or you can do at home if you feel comfortable bathing your cat. A weekly lime sulfur solution dip for 2 to 4 weeks can help kill mites and your veterinarian may advise you to do dip other resident cats if the mange is contagious.

Hair Clipping

Grooming and trimming some of your cat's fur may be necessary if your cat has been scratching and opening wounds on the skin. It also can help with getting all of a topical medication to reach a cat's skin if there's no hair or fur blocking access.

Length of Treatment

Successful treatment can take as long as six weeks to completely eradicate the infestation. Treatment can take longer if a dosage or step in the process is missed and preventative measures are not taken to eradicate the mites.

Mange Treatment and Pregnancy

Pregnant women should not handle a cat that has been dipped, nor should they shampoo the cat with the medicated shampoo. These products contain a powerful pesticide that can be absorbed into the skin. For this reason a pregnant cat shouldn't receive these treatments either.

Preventing Recurrence of Cat Mange

Since feline mange is caused by a parasite, your cat can easily be infected again if you don't clean the cat's environment properly.

  • You can prevent future infestations with a topical product like Revolution® (selamectin), Revolution Plus® (sarolaner) and Bravecto® (fluralaner).
  • If you have not done so during the treatment stage, all bedding should be washed thoroughly.
  • All carpeted areas should be vacuumed carefully and the vacuum cleaner bag disposed of immediately.
  • Upholstered couches, chairs and other items should also be vacuumed to make sure that there aren't any mites left.
  • The vacuuming and cleaning should be kept up with while the cat is being treated for mange and for a week or so afterward.

Complications of Mange

If your cat's mange goes untreated, your cat is at risk for several complications:

  • Secondary infections may develop from open sores due to repeated scratching and skin irritation.
  • Yeast infections can occur if treatment is not effective for ear mites.
  • A cat's skin can become extremely crusted and scaly making it painful for the cat to move and leading to secondary conditions due to a compromised immune system.
A cat with signs of otoacariasis mites

Prognosis for Cats With Mange

While feline mange can cause death for a cat if left untreated, the prognosis for a cat that receives timely treatment is very good. Since allergies and other conditions can also look like mange, it is important to take your cat to the vet as soon as you suspect that feline mange might be a possibility. Not all hair loss in cats is due to mange so other possibilities should also be investigated.

Photos of Cats With Mange

There are a few websites that have images of cats with mange. The images can be disturbing, but they can help give you an idea whether or not your cat has mange. If you suspect she does, you can move on to calling your vet.

  • CatInfo has several pictures of cats from a feral colony before and after treatment with mange.
  • Veterinary Partner has a series of photos of a cat with Notoedres mites before and after treatment with Ivermectin.
  • Urban Carnivores has photos of a Bobcat with a severe case of notoedric mange.
  • Cole and Marmalade has several photos of a ginger cat suffering from mange and his after treatment look.

Dealing With Mange in Cats

Depending on the type of mange your cat has, it's possible it will resolve on its own and is only a temporary irritation for your pet. You should always discuss this with your veterinarian to make sure your cat does not have a more severe type that requires immediate treatment, or a type that is contagious to other pets and to yourself. Always follow your veterinarian's instructions and dosage regimens as one missed treatment can make eradicating these mites more difficult and more unpleasant for your kitty.

Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Feline Mange