How to Treat Sarcoptic Mange in Cats

Keeping your cat indoors minimizes her risk of contracting mites.
Keeping your cat indoors minimizes her risk of contracting mites. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Scabies is a nasty word, associated with tiny mites you can't see with your naked eye. You'll know they're around if your cat has them, as she'll feel them making her itch and scratch. Though dogs are prone to sarcoptic mange, cats have their own type of scabies, known as notoedric mange. Treatment usually includes baths and dips.

Sarcoptic Mange: Canine Scabies

You can't see them, but there they are, microscopic mites, burrowing into your cat's skin to continue their reproductive cycle on your cat. It's no surprise that a mite infection would cause your cat to itch and scratch, resulting in crusty, red skin, usually starting in the area around her ears, though her whole body can be affected. It's possible for a cat to become infected with the Sarcoptes scabiei mite, however it's more common for dogs to develop sarcoptic mange, which is why it's referred to as "canine scabies." Cats are typically infected with Notoedres cati, the bearer of notoedric mange, also known as "feline scabies."

Notoedric Mange: Feline Scabies

Notoedric mange typically presents with itching and hair loss on the ear, spreading quickly to the face, neck and eyelids, and eventually, to the feet and lower abdomen. The cat's skin becomes wrinkled and thickened with yellow-gray crusts. The intense itching often gives rise to secondary infections. A skin scraping can help confirm the diagnosis. A long-haired cat should be clipped for easier bathing in a gentle shampoo, followed by a lime sulfur dip applied all over the cat's body. This treatment protocol requires weekly application for six to eight weeks. Other medications may be used by the vet, including ivermectin and selamectin, however these aren't approved for use in cats and must be used with caution.

Demodectic Mange

Demodex mites are the culprits behind demodicosis, or demodectic mange. Two types of mites are behind demodicosis: the potentially contagious Demodex gatoi and the Demodex cati, associated with immune and metabolic disorders such as diabetes. About 90 percent of the time, demodectic mange will self-resolve, however sometimes lime-sulfur dips are necessary to correct the condition.

Otodectic Mange: Ear Mites

Your cat's more likely to develop otodectic mange, caused by Otodectes cynotis mites. If these mites take up residence in your cat's ears, you'll likely notice lots of head shaking and ear scratching, potentially progressing to inflammation and pus oozing from his scratches. Though these mites are visible, their presence is usually confirmed with a swab of the ears. Milbemycin or ivermectin, formulated for use in the ear canal, are commonly used for ear mites in cats.

Keeping Mites Away

You may be able to keep mites at bay with some good health and hygiene. Keep your cat clean and minimize her risk of picking up mites by keeping her indoors. If she's professionally groomed, make sure your groomer is using disinfected tools. In the event of infection, isolate her from other cats and wash her bedding, in addition to following doctor's orders.

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