Sarcoptic Mange in Cats
Written by Small Door's medical experts
Sarcoptic mange is a skin disease caused by tiny mites known as Notoedres cati (also known as feline scabies). Cat mange causes extreme itching and scratching, discomfort, hair loss, sores, and more.
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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.) Female mites burrow beneath the skin, causing your cat to continually scratch themselves in an attempt to stop the itching sensation. Despite the rarity of sarcoptic mange, it can affect both indoor and outdoor cats. Mange spreads quickly in groups of stray cats, due to their unsanitary living conditions.
A cat suffering from mange is easy to spot. It can be extremely uncomfortable, resulting in intense itching and scratching, which are the main symptoms. Other signs to look for include:
Persistent licking or biting of the skin
Patchy hair loss
Small red bumps on the skin (first appearing on hairless or lightly furred areas—mites prefer these spots—then spreading with time)
Skin sores with a crusty appearance
Repeated licking, scratching, and biting can lead to skin breakage, which leaves your cat vulnerable to secondary bacterial infections.
Contact your veterinarian at the first sign of persistent itching or restlessness in your cat, to get a diagnosis before the mange has a chance to spread from one pet to another, or even to humans.
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.
Mites are invisible to the naked eye, so diagnosing sarcoptic mange can be challenging. Your vet will likely take a superficial skin scraping that they will examine under a microscope. 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. The vet will remove a small sample of your cat’s skin to check for mites that have burrowed beneath the surface.
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.
Sarcoptic mange is treatable, and 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.
It’s important to isolate a cat with mange indoors away from any of your other pets. This will prevent the mange from spreading to additional pets and households.
Mange can be eliminated with topical medication, lime dips, and other treatments. However, keep in mind that if your cat visits the same areas or animals that transmitted mange to them, they could become reinfected.
Is sarcoptic mange contagious for humans or other pets?
Yes, sarcoptic mange is highly contagious and can be passed from one animal to another, as well as to humans. The only difference is that cat mites on humans can’t continue to reproduce as they would if they were living on a cat or dog. Once a mite leaves its host, it can’t survive longer 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 in cats?
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.
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.
There are a few ways to try to prevent feline scabies.
Feed your cat a healthy diet to keep their immune system healthy.
Provide consistent grooming and brushing, which will help redistribute the protective oils on a cat’s skin.
Bathe your cat regularly.
Don’t let your cat spend the bulk of their time outdoors.
Keep your cat away from stray animals.
Practice good hygiene and keep your cat’s surroundings clean. Mites can’t live long away from a host, so keeping both your cat and their environment clean limits opportunities for infestation.
Is there a vaccine for sarcoptic mange in cats?
No, there is no vaccine to prevent mange in cats.
While it is possible for a cat to die from mange, it’s unlikely. In instances where the mange has gone untreated for long periods, especially in cats that are malnourished or suffering from an immune disorder, it can result in additional infections and may even be fatal.
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 subsequent skin problems.