Sarcoptic Mange in Cats

Sarcoptic mange in cats is a skin disease caused by tiny mites known as Notoedres cati (also known as feline scabies). It causes extreme itching and scratching, thought to be the result of a severe allergic reaction to the mites.

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Sarcoptic mange is the most unpleasant and contagious form of mange in cats—but, thankfully, it is also the rarest. (It’s more common for dogs than cats.) Despite its rarity, it can affect both indoor and outdoor cats. The condition tends to proliferate in strays, due to their unsanitary living conditions.

Signs and Symptoms of Sarcoptic Mange in Cats

Sarcoptic mange can be extremely uncomfortable, causing intense itching and scratching, which are the main symptoms. Other signs to look for include:

  • Restlessness

  • Patchy hair loss

  • Skin rashes

  • Small red bumps (first appearing on hairless or lightly furred areas—mites prefer these spots—then spreading with time)

  • Skin sores with a crusty appearance

Feline scabies will cause extreme itchiness, which triggers scratching, licking, and chewing that can lead to skin breakage. This leaves the cat vulnerable to secondary bacterial infections.

At the first sign of extreme itching or restlessness in your cat, contact your veterinarian to get a diagnosis before the condition worsens.

How Did My Cat Get Sarcoptic Mange?

Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious and can be spread through both direct and indirect contact with an infected carrier.

Direct, physical contact between animals, and even with humans, can result in the spread of mites.

Indirect contact refers to contact with items such as infected bedding, toys, grooming tools, and so forth. Once a mite leaves its host, it doesn’t live very long, but items such as these can still harbor mites and facilitate an infestation.

Diagnosing Sarcoptic Mange in Cats

Diagnosing scabies can be challenging. Your vet will likely take a superficial skin scraping to analyze microscopically. But as a result of the incessant scratching, cats may inadvertently kill the mites, making this method ineffective. Occasionally, a skin biopsy is necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

Complicating the issue is the fact that a negative test result doesn’t always mean that the mites or their eggs do not exist. So your vet may also perform what’s known as a medication trial to see if treating your cat for sarcoptic mange will cure the symptoms.

Treating Your Cat For Sarcoptic Mange

Successful treatment of scabies includes a few different options.

  • Prescription medication designed to kill the mites (topical or oral). In particular, topical flea preventatives (such as Revolution) are a very effective, very safe way to treat mite infestations.

  • Antibacterial lime-sulfur full-body dips every 7 days until follow-up skin scrapings are negative for mites and all skin lesions have resolved (typically 4 to 8 weeks). Bathing your cat with a medicated shampoo just prior to each lime dip is typically recommended.

  • Antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatory medication to treat skin problems and ease inflammation.

If your cat is sick or pregnant, your vet will take this into consideration before administering any type of medication.

Is There a Cure for Sarcoptic Mange?

Although it can be somewhat challenging to diagnose sarcoptic mange in cats, it is curable with medication (both oral and topical) as well as other treatments.

Is Sarcoptic Mange Contagious for Humans or Other Pets?

Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious and can be passed from one animal to another, as well as to humans. The only difference is that once a person is infested with mites, the mites cannot continue to reproduce as they would if they were living on a cat (or dog). Once it’s off a host, the survival time for a mite is no more than 10 days. However, if you suspect you or a family member may have contracted scabies from a cat, speak with your physician immediately.

Cats diagnosed with mange should be isolated from other animals until they are fully recovered. In the meantime, rid your home of mites to ensure they don’t return and reinfect your cat: cleaning, vacuuming, and washing all bedding (including yours and your cat’s) is usually sufficient to rid your household of mites.

What Is the Cost for Treating Sarcoptic Mange?

When it comes to treatment, there are a few different costs to take into consideration. The cost for a vet visit varies by clinic and location. For prescription shampoos and dips, the cost can run around $30 a bottle. Over-the-counter shampoos are a bit less expensive but may not be as strong.

Additional costs may include antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications, which range widely in price. But the overall cost of treatment should not be astronomical.

Recovery and Management of Sarcoptic Mange

Once treatment has begun, it can take a month or two for your cat to make a complete recovery. If your cat has experienced hair loss, it may take four months or longer for the hair to grow back.

Make sure you thoroughly disinfect your home and any items your cat has come into contact with to prevent re-exposure.

Preventing Sarcoptic Mange in Cats

There are a few ways to try to prevent feline scabies.

  • Feed your cat a healthy diet to keep his immune system healthy.

  • Provide consistent grooming and brushing, which will help redistribute the protective oils on a cat’s skin.

  • Regular baths.

  • Good hygiene. Keep your cat’s surroundings clean. Mites can’t live long away from a host, so keeping both your cat and his environment clean limits opportunities for infestation.

Is There a Vaccine for Sarcoptic Mange?

There is no vaccine to prevent mange in cats.

Summary of Sarcoptic Mange in Cats

Sarcoptic mange in cats is a highly unpleasant skin disease caused by tiny mites. It results in extreme itchiness, scratching, rashes, hair loss and sores. While it can be challenging to diagnose, thankfully there are a number of treatments that can help, including topical medications to kill the mites and antibiotics to help treat the consequent skin problems.

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