Have a Mangy Cat? 5 Mites That Can Frustrate Your Feline
Mangy old cat. That’s often our first thought when we see a cat with bare patches on his head, neck and ears, or elsewhere on his body.
Mange is a catchall term for several skin conditions caused by various types of mites — tiny, spiderlike critters that make themselves at home on a cat’s skin or inside the ear canals. If your cat is missing patches of fur, is miserably itchy and has dandruff, he might be hosting a colony of these troublesome parasites.
Anything that causes cats to itch is a real problem. They don’t feel good, they don’t sleep or eat well and they get downright grouchy. You would, too, if you were constantly scratching an itch. Itchy cats can scratch and bite themselves so badly that they develop infected sores.
While most mites are more likely to infest dogs, our feline friends can acquire them in certain situations. The cat most likely to earn the moniker of "mangy" lives with dogs or other cats who have mites, lives in certain regions where particular mites are common — primarily the southern and Gulf Coast areas of the United States — and doesn’t receive a regular external parasite preventive that is labeled for mites.
Types of Mites
There are five types of mites that give cats the big itch:
- Otodectes cynotis (ear mites), the most common mite to infest felines.
- Demodex cati, which seems to prefer Siamese and Burmese cats.
- Cheyletiella blakei, nicknamed “walking dandruff” for its appearance.
- Notoedres cati, more commonly known as feline scabies.
- Demodex gatoi, which is usually limited to the southeastern United States.
We veterinarians most commonly see Otodectes inside the ear canal, but the mites can also live and feed outside the ear, causing itching elsewhere on the body. Suspect them if the inside of your cat’s ears look as if they’re lined with dark brown, bad-smelling coffee grounds and your cat is scratching like crazy at both ears or frequently shaking his head.
Because ear mites are spread by contact, kittens are especially likely to harbor the itchy foes, but any cat (or dog) can get them. Your veterinarian will diagnose ear mites by taking a sample of the discharge and examining it microscopically or using an otoscope to check for the presence of the white, pinhead-size mites. If one pet in your household has them, they’ll all need to be treated.
Treatment begins with a thorough ear cleaning and medication to kill the mites. Your cat may also need antibiotics if he has a bacterial infection from scratching the skin raw around the ears and something to kill any mites that have spread to other areas of the body.
Outside the Ears
Demodex cati lives normally on a cat’s skin, causing no problems unless an underlying metabolic disease such as diabetes or an immunosuppressive disease such as feline leukemia virus allows it to overpopulate. Cats with D. cati may experience itching, hair loss and tiny bumps on the skin known as miliary dermatitis. If signs are limited to the head, neck and ears, you might hear this condition referred to as localized demodicosis. This particular mite isn’t contagious between cats and may cause less itching than other mites. Managing any underlying disease helps keep it under control, but cats may also need a medication prescribed by a veterinarian to kill the mites.
If you notice that your cat’s dandruff flakes appear to be marching along his back, he might have Cheyletiella. The mite that infests cats is contagious to other cats. It can also spread to people, causing a rash. Luckily, it’s not very common in felines. Some products that kill fleas and ticks will also keep Cheyletiella from inhabiting pets.
Another mite that spreads through contact with infested pets or their bedding or environment is Notoedres cati, better known as feline scabies or head mange. Signs include severe itching on the head and neck, hair loss, and thickened, raw or scabby skin. Rarely, cats can also get dog scabies, which causes the same signs. A skin scraping or skin biopsy reveals the presence of the mites, which are treated with lime sulfur dips or other medications over a period of several weeks.
Cats who live in the southeastern United States may encounter Demodex gatoi. It’s uncommon and may be mistaken for allergies. Sometimes multiple skin scrapings are necessary to identify the mites. Cats itchy from D. gatoi typically need multiple lime sulfur dips to rid them of the mites. These mites are also contagious between cats, so if one cat in the household has them, all should be treated.
Treatments for most mites are effective. Your cat may be mite-free in four to six weeks. Mites don’t live long in the environment, but you’ll want to wash pet bedding in hot water to make sure you rid your home of them.
More on Vetstreet.com :
* What Does My Cat's Skin and Fur Say About Her Health?
* 10 Strange Cat Behaviors Explained
* 6 Signs Your Cat Owns You
* Why Does My Cat… Lick Herself When I Pet Her?