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How to Tell if a Cat Has Mange

Brooke Billingsley

By Brooke Billingsley

allergic skin diseases in a domestic cat

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Mange is an uncomfortable disease for a cat to have. It can cause itching and pain, as well as secondary infections. It’s important to know how to identify if a cat has mange, especially if you rescue cats or keep outdoor cats. Here are the things you need to know about mange in cats.

What is Mange?

Mange is a set of skin diseases that are caused by mites. There are three types of mange that occur in cats. It is more common in dogs than in cats, but it does occur in cats from time to time.

Demodectic mange is the most common form of mange and is not typically contagious, depending on the species. Demodex mites live on the skin of multiple mammals and are part of the healthy ecosystem of the epidermis. However, cats with compromised immune systems due to age or medical conditions are at risk of an overgrowth of Demodex mites, leading to demodectic mange. There are two types of Demodex mites that affect cats, Demodex cati and Demodex gatoi. Demodex gatoi can be spread between cats while Demodex cati can not.

Sarcoptic mange is an infectious type of mange that can be transmitted to humans caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite. Although the Sarcoptes mites do not live on human skin very long, they can be transmitted to humans and survive long enough to lead to itching, discomfort, and rashes. Sarcoptic mange is very uncomfortable and can lead to serious itching, pain, and large areas of raw, broken skin.

Notoedric mange is caused by Notoedres mites and only impacts cats. It is also sometimes referred to as feline scabies. It is contagious between cats and tends to start at the head and move downward, spreading across a cat’s body.

Allergic skin diseases in domestic cat
Image Credit: eremeevdv, Shutterstock

How to Tell if a Cat Has Mange

1. Watch for itching and behavior changes.

Cats with mange will exhibit some level of itchiness. In more severe mange cases, some cats may violently bite at their skin. Some cats may show other signs of discomfort, like lethargy, poor sleeping, hiding, inappetence, yowling, and even aggression.


2. Look for skin lesions and hair loss.

Since mange causes cats to be itchy, they will typically have some form of skin lesions or hair loss. With demodectic mange, there are usually patches of hair loss with scaly skin. With sarcoptic mange, the hair loss is typically patchy, but the skin may show signs of rashes, and there are often crusty, painful sores on the skin. Notoedric mange leads to hair loss and thickened, scaly skin, starting with the head and moving down the body.

Cat skin and hair on brush
Image Credit: photong, Shutterstock

3. Go to the vet.

If you suspect your cat has any form of mange, a trip to the vet is necessary. There are multiple skin conditions that can lead to mange-like symptoms, including everything from bacterial and fungal infections to cancers and allergies. Your cat’s vet will be able to get a sample of skin cells from your cat and view them under a microscope, allowing them to see the mites if mange is present.

Demodectic mange mites are cigar-shaped mites that are almost worm-like in their appearance. Sarcoptic mange mites are oval-shaped mites that are light in color. Notoedric mange mites are more rounded than the other two types of mites. All three mites are relatively easy to identify under a microscope. Sarcoptic and notoedric mites are closely related and have a somewhat similar appearance, but your vet is likely to be able to detect the subtle differences.

How to Care for a Cat with Mange

Once your vet determines which type of mange your cat has and ensures no other medications are needed for secondary infections, they’ll provide you with a course of treatment. There are different types of mange treatments depending on the type of mange your cat has, so it’s important for your vet to be involved in the diagnosis and treatment process.

Sometimes, the broken skin caused by scratching and rashes can lead to secondary infections. Your cat’s vet will be able to determine if a secondary bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infection has settled into the skin and prescribe appropriate medications to treat it. It’s possible for cats to have multiple types of mange at the same time, but it is uncommon.

In Conclusion

If you suspect your cat may have mange of any kind, it’s important to have your cat seen by a veterinarian. They will be able to provide an accurate diagnosis and prescribe an effective treatment for the care of your cat. If you attempt to diagnose and treat mange on your own at home, you may do more harm than good by further interrupting the natural functions of your cat’s skin and immune system.

By keeping your cat indoors, you greatly reduce the risk of your cat developing mange in their lifetime. If you suspect your cat may have mange, you should wash your hands well after handling or medicating your cat. You should also thoroughly wash or even replace items like bedding and toys that may be harboring mange mites. This is especially important with contagious forms of mange.

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Featured Image Credit: eremeevdv, Shutterstock

Brooke Billingsley

Authored by

Brooke Billingsley spent nine years as a veterinary assistant before becoming a human nurse in 2013. She resides in Arkansas with her boyfriend of five years. She loves all animals and currently shares a home with three dogs, two cats, five fish, and two snails. She has a soft spot for special needs animals and has a three-legged senior dog and an internet famous cat with acromegaly and cerebellar hypoplasia. Fish keeping...Read more

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