Feline Mange, also called Demodex, Scabies, Demodectic Mange, and/or Demodecosis, is an inflammatory skin ailment caused by the head mite Notoedres cati.
The first symptom is intense itching around the head and neck, along with hair loss and the appearance of bald spots. Due to the cat’s incessant scratching, the skin becomes red, raw, and very sensitive to the touch. Typically, you will see thick gray to yellow crusts around the face, neck, and edge of the ears.
The other most common areas infected may also involve the skin of the paws and genitalia. Demodex mites are commonly found on the skin of mammals, and in most cases animals are not symptomatic. However, when the immune system is compromised by stress or illness, or the body is producing excess oil or hormones, the Demodex population can become excessive, leading to skin and hair problems.
When the number of mites inhabiting the hair follicles of a cat become excessive, skin lesions, genetic disorders, problems with the immune system, and severe hair loss (alopecia) may follow.
Demodectic Mange is not very common, but it classically affects young kittens, geriatric cats, and cats that have a compromised immune system (such as cats undergoing Chemotherapy, or cats who have been diagnosed with Feline Leukemia or FIV).
This is not to say that this excludes all other cats however- it can infect cats of all ages, breeds, and colors.
Because this mite is transmitted directly from cat to cat, it is more common in outdoor cats that come in contact with strays. The mite only lives a few days off of the cat, but transmission through grooming, boarding, and sharing bedding is possible.
Demodectic Mange can also infest foxes, dogs and rabbits.. It is transmitted primarily by direct animal-to-animal contact. Dogs and even people can be infested, but only for short periods. Infestation in people produces an itchy skin condition that resolves spontaneously in two to six weeks, if all mites have been eliminated from the cat.
Severe itching is caused by female mites tunneling a few millimeters under the skin to lay their eggs. Mite eggs hatch in 5 to 10 days. The immature mites develop into adults and begin to lay eggs of their own. The whole cycle takes three to four weeks. In severe or untreated cases the skin forms scabs, crusts, and thickened wrinkled skin on the head that gives the cat an aged look. With intense scratching, the wounds become infected.
If you suspect your cat has mange, the only way to truly diagnose is to see your veterinarian and have them do what is called a skin scraping. The veterinarian will take a scalpel blade and scrape it along the top layer of the skin that looks the most infected.
This will (unfortunately) irritate the skin – since the mite lives below the top layer of skin, the only way to truly diagnose Demodectic Mange is to scrape deeply enough to get to where the mites are living. The vet will then put the scrapings on a slide and look under a microscope to see if there are any mites present. In severe, persistent cases, sometimes a biopsy of the skin needs to be done as well.
Once there is a definitive diagnosis for Demodectic Mange, your veterinarian will set up a treatment protocol. Typically, the recommended treatment is to clip the hair short on the affected areas and bathe the entire animal in warm water and a mild shampoo to loosen any seborrhea or crusts on the skin.
Side Note: Always use an electric razor or clipper when trimming your cats’ fur, never use scissors! Using scissors to trim close to the skin could result in clipping the skin itself, which could cause your cat to need an emergency trip to the vet to have your cat sedated and the skin sutured back together.
It is then recommended to dip the cat in a lime sulfur dip weekly. Continue for two weeks beyond apparent cure. Lime sulfur dips are safe for use on pregnant queens, and kittens over 6 weeks of age. Other cats on the premises should be dipped once a week for three to four weeks, since they may harbor the mite and act as a reservoir for reinfestation.
An alternative to dips is using a product called Revolution every 2 weeks for 2-4 treatments (see our guide below for some ideas). Ivermectin is also used by some veterinarians as well.
Once you have finished treating your cat, your veterinarian will recommend additional skin scrapings, and microscopic examinations of the hair. Your veterinarian will most likely want to have 2 negative skin scrapings over the course of a month or two to confirm that the mites have been eradicated.
To prevent future outbreaks of Demodectic Mange, you will want to keep your cat clean and in optimal health. This will help to keep the Demodex mite population in balance. It is also advised that cats with generalized chronic mange not be bred, as the condition may be genetically based in some breeds and may be passed to offspring. Also, keeping your cat indoors will prevent your cat from coming in contact with stray or infected cats.
Indoor cats are much less likely to contract this disease. Avoid boarding or grooming your cats at locations that do not provide good sanitation and insist that all grooming tools be disinfected between uses. At the first signs of infection, seek prompt treatment and isolate the infected cat from other cats in the household.
We think about treatment like going to the hairdresser – cut, shampoo, wash.
Step 1 – Haircut
Never use scissors on your pet! We use the outstanding Wahl Pet-Pro Dog Grooming Clipper Kit.
Note it says this one is for dogs, but it actually works great on cats.
Step 2 – Shampoo
For this step we use and recommend Earthbath’s All Natural Cat Shampoo and Conditioner. It’s not expensive, plus it’s biodegradable and cruelty-free. Apart from those good things, it’s also just one of the best products out there for pets with allergies, and if your cat is suffering from mange, she’s going to be grateful you got her this.
Step 3 – Wash
Finally you want to ‘wash’ your cat in that Lime Sulfur Dip we talked about. This one is from Vet Basics.
It smells like the end of the world, but it really works and that’s what counts.
Last update on 2021-04-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API