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Feline Scabies: Causes, Signs, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Feline scabies, or notoedric mange, is a highly contagious skin disease caused by the mite Notoedres cati. This parasitic mite burrows into the skin of cats, causing intense itching, inflammation, and a characteristic crusty rash.

Causes of Feline Scabies

Feline scabies, or notoedric mange, is caused by an infestation of the parasitic mite Notoedres cati. Here’s a detailed look at the causes:

Primary Cause

  • Notoedres cati Mite: The specific cause of feline scabies is the Notoedres cati mite. These microscopic mites are highly contagious and can spread rapidly among cats. The mites burrow into the skin’s surface, causing intense itching and irritation.


  • Direct Contact: The most common way cats contract scabies is through direct physical contact with an infected cat. This can occur in multi-cat households, shelters, or outdoor environments where cats interact closely.
  • Indirect Contact: While less common, cats can also become infected through indirect contact with contaminated environments or objects, such as bedding, grooming tools, or furniture. The mites can survive briefly off the host, facilitating indirect transmission.

Ticks on Cat's Skin

Risk Factors

  • Crowded Living Conditions: Cats living in crowded or unsanitary conditions, such as animal shelters or stray populations, are at higher risk due to the increased likelihood of close contact with infected animals.
  • Outdoor Access: Cats that spend time outside are more likely to encounter infected animals or contaminated environments.
  • Weakened Immune System: Cats with a weak immune system may be more susceptible to mite infestations due to illness, malnutrition, or age.

Life Cycle of the Mite

  • Eggs: Female mites lay eggs within the burrows in the skin.
  • Larvae: Eggs hatch into larvae within a few days.
  • Nymphs: Larvae mature into nymphs, which continue to burrow and cause skin damage.
  • Adults: Nymphs develop into adult mites, reproducing and perpetuating the infestation.

Understanding feline scabies’ causes and transmission routes is crucial for preventing and controlling outbreaks. Regular veterinary check-ups, proper hygiene, and minimizing contact with potentially infected animals are critical strategies in managing the risk of scabies in cats.

Clinical Signs of Feline Scabies

Feline scabies, or notoedric mange, manifests with several distinctive clinical signs. These signs can vary in severity but typically include the following:

Early Signs

  1. Intense Itching (Pruritus): One of the first signs is severe itching. Cats will frequently scratch, bite, or lick affected areas.
  2. Redness and Inflammation: The affected areas of the skin become red and inflamed due to the mites burrowing and the cat’s scratching.

Progressive Signs

  1. Crusty Lesions: As the infestation progresses, thick, crusty, and scaly lesions develop. These typically start on the ears and then spread to the face, neck, and other body parts.
  2. Hair Loss (Alopecia): Hair loss occurs around the affected areas due to scratching, licking, and the direct impact of the mites.
  3. Thickened Skin: Due to chronic inflammation and scratching, the skin can become thickened and wrinkled, known as lichenification.

Advanced Signs

  1. Secondary Infections: Open sores from scratching can become infected with bacteria, leading to further complications such as boils, abscesses, and increased inflammation.
  2. Foul Odor: Secondary infections can sometimes produce a noticeable foul odor from the affected skin areas.

Behavioral Changes

  1. Restlessness and Agitation: Cats may become more restless and agitated due to the intense itching.
  2. Decreased Grooming: Cats may reduce their grooming behavior due to the discomfort.

Distribution of Lesions

  1. Initial Sites: Lesions often begin at the edges of the ears and then spread to the face, including around the eyes, nose, and mouth.
  2. Spreading: If untreated, the infestation can spread to the neck, shoulders, and other body parts.

Additional Signs

  1. Weight Loss: In severe cases, affected cats might lose weight due to stress and discomfort.
  2. General Malaise: Cats may appear unwell, with decreased appetite and lethargy.

Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent the spread of the infestation and secondary complications. If you suspect your cat has scabies, taking veterinary care promptly for proper diagnosis and treatment is essential.

Diagnosis of Scabies in Cats

Diagnosing scabies in cats, specifically notoedric mange, involves several steps to confirm the presence of the Notoedres cati mite and rule out other potential causes of similar clinical signs. Here’s a detailed overview of the diagnostic process:

1. Clinical Examination

  • Visual Inspection: A veterinarian will examine the cat for signs such as intense itching, crusty lesions, and hair loss, particularly around the ears, face, and neck.
  • Behavioral Observation: The vet will note the cat’s scratching and grooming behavior, which can provide clues about the severity of itching.

2. Skin Scraping

  • Procedure: The vet will perform a skin scraping, which involves gently scraping the surface of the affected skin to collect a sample of skin cells and debris.
  • Microscopic Examination: The collected sample is examined under a microscope for Notoedres cati mites, their eggs, or fecal matter. This is the definitive method for diagnosing scabies.

3. Additional Diagnostic Tests

  • Acetate Tape Test: In some cases, an acetate tape test might be used, where clear tape is pressed against the skin to collect mites and debris for microscopic examination.
  • Skin Biopsy: A skin biopsy might rarely be performed if the diagnosis needs clarification. This test involves removing a small piece of skin for histopathological examination.

4. Differential Diagnosis

To ensure an actual diagnosis, the veterinarian will also consider and rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms:

  • Other parasitic infections, such as fleas, lice, or demodectic mange, are caused by Demodex mites.
  • Allergic Reactions: To food, environmental allergens, or contact irritants.
  • Fungal Infections: Such as ringworm.
  • Bacterial Infections: Secondary bacterial infections or primary skin infections.

5. Response to Treatment

  • Therapeutic Trial: In some cases, a veterinarian may initiate treatment for scabies and monitor the cat’s response. Improvement in clinical signs following treatment can support the diagnosis.

6. Owner and Environmental Assessment

  • History Taking: The vet will take a detailed history, including recent contact with other cats, environmental changes, or exposure to potentially infected animals.
  • Environmental Examination: Assessment of the cat’s living environment might be recommended to identify potential sources of infestation.

Prompt and accurate diagnosis is crucial for effectively treating and managing cat scabies. If you suspect your cat has scabies, consult a veterinarian for a thorough examination and appropriate diagnostic tests.

Treatment of Feline Scabies

Treating feline scabies, or notoedric mange, involves eradicating the Notoedres cati mites and alleviating the cat’s symptoms. Here are the main steps and methods used in the treatment process:

1. Topical Treatments

  • Medicated Shampoos and Dips: Shampoos containing sulfurated lime (Lime-Sulfur) or amitraz are commonly used. These must be applied per the veterinarian’s instructions, usually every 5-7 days for several weeks.
  • Spot-On Treatments: Products such as selamectin (Revolution) or moxidectin (Advocate) are applied directly to the skin and effectively kill mites. These treatments are typically applied monthly.

2. Oral Medications

  • Ivermectin: An antiparasitic medication given orally or by injection. It is effective but should be used under veterinary supervision due to potential side effects.
  • Milbemycin Oxime: Another oral antiparasitic used to treat mite infestations.

3. Environmental Control

  • Cleaning and Disinfection: Thoroughly clean and disinfect the cat’s living area, including bedding, carpets, and furniture, to remove any mites that may have fallen off the cat.
  • Regular Washing: Wash all bedding, blankets, and toys the cat has been in contact with in hot water.

4. Treating Secondary Infections

  • Antibiotics: The veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics if there are secondary bacterial infections due to scratching and open sores.
  • Anti-inflammatory Medications: Corticosteroids might be prescribed briefly to reduce itching and inflammation.

5. Isolation and Prevention

  • Isolating Infected Cats: To prevent mites spread, infected cats should be kept separate from other pets until the infestation is fully resolved.
  • Regular Vet Check-ups: Follow-up visits to the veterinarian are essential to ensure the treatment is effective and to monitor for any signs of re-infestation.

6. Supportive Care

  • Nutritional Support: Ensure the cat receives a balanced diet to support overall health and recovery.
  • Hydration: Ensure the cat stays well-hydrated, especially if secondary infections or other health issues are present.

7. Monitoring and Follow-Up

  • Regular Monitoring: Watch for signs of improvement or any adverse reactions to treatments.
  • Follow-Up Skin Scrapings: The vet may perform additional skin scrapings after treatment to confirm that the mites have been eradicated.

Important Considerations

  • Veterinary Supervision: To avoid complications, all treatments, especially those involving medications like ivermectin, should be carried out under veterinary supervision.
  • Zoonotic Potential: While feline scabies primarily affect cats, they can cause temporary itching and mild skin irritation in humans. Therefore, handling infected cats and their environment with care is essential.

If you suspect your cat has scabies, prompt veterinary care is crucial for effective treatment and preventing the infestation spread to other animals and humans.

Prevention of Scabies in Cats

Preventing scabies in cats, or notoedric mange, involves a combination of strategies to minimize the risk of mite infestations and maintain overall health. Here are essential preventive measures:

1. Regular Veterinary Check-Ups

  • Routine Examinations: Regular veterinary visits help detect early signs of skin issues and allow for prompt treatment if needed.
  • Preventive Treatments: Discuss preventive treatments with your vet, especially if your cat is at higher risk due to frequent outdoor activity or contact with other animals.

2. Environmental Hygiene

  • Clean Living Spaces: Regularly clean and disinfect areas where your cat spends time, including bedding, carpets, and furniture.
  • Frequent Washing: Wash your cat’s bedding, blankets, and toys in hot water to kill potential mites.

3. Avoiding Contact with Infected Animals

  • Isolation: Keep your cat away from animals known to be infested with mites. If you bring a new cat into your home, quarantine it until a veterinarian clears it.
  • Care in Multi-Cat Households: In homes with multiple cats, monitor all cats for signs of mites and treat them promptly if an infestation is detected.

4. Regular Grooming

  • Frequent Brushing: Regular grooming helps you notice early signs of skin issues and reduces the likelihood of mite infestations.
  • Bathing: Bathing your cat occasionally with a vet-recommended shampoo can help keep their skin healthy.

5. Immune System Support

  • Balanced Diet: Provide a well-balanced diet to strengthen your cat’s immune system and better resist infestations.
  • Stress Reduction: Minimize stress for your cat, as stress can weaken the immune system.

6. Preventive Medications

  • Topical Treatments: As your vet recommends, use preventive spot-on treatments like selamectin (Revolution) or moxidectin (Advocate). These treatments can help prevent a variety of parasitic infestations, including mites.
  • Oral Medications: Some can also help prevent mite infestations; consult your vet for recommendations.

7. Monitoring and Early Intervention

  • Regular Skin Checks: Regularly check your cat’s skin, especially around the ears, face, and neck, for early signs of scabies, such as redness, crusting, or hair loss.
  • Prompt Treatment: If you notice any signs of skin irritation or discomfort, seek veterinary advice promptly to address potential issues before they escalate.

8. Handling New Animals

  • Quarantine New Pets: When introducing new pets to your household, keep them separated and have them checked by a veterinarian before allowing them to contact other animals.
  • Vet Checks for Strays: If you adopt a stray cat, thoroughly examine and treat it for parasitic infestations before integrating it with other pets.

Following these preventive measures can significantly reduce your cat’s risk of contracting scabies and ensure its overall well-being.

Concluding Remarks on Feline Scabies

Prompt recognition and treatment of feline scabies are essential to alleviate the cat’s discomfort and prevent the spread of the infestation. By adhering to preventive measures, pet owners can protect their cats from this distressing condition and ensure a healthy, parasite-free environment. If you suspect your cat has scabies, seek veterinary care immediately to confirm the diagnosis and begin appropriate treatment. Feline scabies can be effectively managed and controlled through diligent care and preventive strategies.

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