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What is Mange in Cats? Is Your Cat at Risk?

Mange in cats is caused by a mite infestation; there are two major varieties, but fortunately neither are particularly common in house cats.

 |  Aug 21st 2014  |   1 Contribution


Mange is much more common in dogs than in cats. Even so, full-blown symptomatic mange is rare in pet dogs, so for your feline friends, it is not a condition that requires too much concern. When we talk about mange in cats, we're referring to two distinctly different conditions -- demodetic mange and sarcoptic mange -- that arise when a cat's immune system is too weak to manage its natural mite population.

It may be somewhat unsettling to read, but the mites that cause the most common form of mange, Demodex mites, are perfectly normal parasites. As a kitten grows into a cat, his immune system develops in such a way that the population of naturally occurring mites is kept in check. Mange in cats occurs when the balance is upset and an infestation begins, either through illness, weakness, age, poor hygiene, or malnutrition.

Mange occurs when an infestation of mites overwhelms a cat's immune system. Stray cat sleeping by Shutterstock.

The mites that cause mange in cats are opportunistic parasites. This means that given the right conditions, they can reproduce quickly enough to give rise to an infestation. A mite infestation leads to the typical symptoms of mange in cats: repetitive and insatiable scratching, red lesions, scaly skin, and hair loss. Mange in cats is observed most frequently among cats who are neglected, like strays and street cats, and those with compromised immune systems.

Types of mange in cats: demodetic and sarcoptic

Demodetic mange is the most common form of mange in cats. It is caused by two different kinds of mite, Demodex gatoi and Demodex cati, which afflict the skin and hair follicles, respectively. Left untreated, demodetic mange in cats can cause some hair loss, along with the appearance of scales on the skin and lesions caused by excessive scratching or biting.

Even demodetic mange, the most common form in cats, is relatively rare in domestic cats. Two cats by Shutterstock.

Sarcoptic mange, also called feline scabies, is caused by an infestation of mite known as Notoedres cati. Once these mites gain a foothold around the head and neck, lesions and hair loss can spread quickly over the rest of the body. When allowed to thrive, sarcoptic mange can cause areas of a cat's body to become scaly and crusty. The infestation spreads easily as the cat continues to groom himself during the infestation, providing transport for mites to the abdomen, legs, and feet.

Since sarcoptic mange is the nastiest and most contagious forms of mange in cats, thankfully it is also the rarest. Sarcoptic mange tends to flourish in strays and street cats, and in unsanitary environmental conditions.

Preventing mange in cats

The best ways to prevent the development of mange in cats is simply to be a conscientious cat owner. Make sure your cat has a healthy diet, consistent grooming, and a regularly maintained living environment. A bath may not be your cat's favorite activity, nor yours, but an occasional wet-down will allow your cat to maintain his coat and skin, and give the cat's defenses a chance to regroup and stay in balance with its natural parasites.

Mange in cats is most common in strays and street cats. Stray cats eating scraps of chicken on a cobblestone street by Shutterstock.

Aside from bathing, regular brushing and grooming can help redistribute the protective oils on a cat's skin. Proper hygiene also includes keeping indoor cats' surroundings clean and tidy. This involves keeping carpets and furniture vacuumed, and food dishes and other surfaces cleaned. None of the mites that cause mange in cats can live very long away from a host, so keeping your cat and her surroundings clean limits opportunities for infestation.

Even if your cat develops a problematic infestation, the only real risk of contagion is in multi-cat households. Typically healthy house cats who develop milder forms of mange will find, with normal grooming and house cleaning, that mite infestations and symptoms are self-limiting. This means that once the immune system's balance reasserts itself, the symptoms will go away on their own without need of special treatments, dips, or veterinary assistance.

Sarcoptic mange in cats is rare, but highly contagious and zoonotic. Sad street cat. Photo toned style instagram filters by Shutterstock.

You are not at risk from the common form of mange

Demodetic mange in cats is caused by species-specific mites. The most common form of mange in cats, demodetic mange, is not zoonotic. While demodex mites can pass between cats, they have very little effect on humans. All the same, it is best to refrain from touching strange stray cats, or to wash your hands thoroughly after doing so, or you might run the risk of inviting infective mites home to your own cats.

Sarcoptic mange can afflict humans for a limited amount of time, but since it is the least common form of mange in cats, it is also the one to be least concerned with. In the main, the vast majority of healthy domestic cats and, you, their owners, have very little to fear from mange. Steer clear of strange, stray, and street cats; make sure to clean any part of you that does come into contact with the feral members of the species, and the minor threat posed by these parasitic mites can easily be avoided.

Keep your pet cats clear of contact with stray and feral cats to minimize the spread of mange. White cat resting outside by Shutterstock.

Have your cats experienced mange?

Rare though it is, of course, mange in cats does occur. Did you adopt an immuno-compromised cat or take in a stray and find that part of your vocation was to help them through a case of mange? If you have experiences with mange in cats, please share them in the comments!

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