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Demodicosis (Red Mange) in Cats

By: Dr. Rosanna Marsalla

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Demodicosis (red mange) is a rare skin disease of cats. There are two species of mites responsible for feline demodicosis, Demodex cati and another species which is currently unnamed.

Since feline demodicosis is rare, there is limited information available on genetic or other predisposing factors. Of the reported cases, most cats had underlying diseases that required multiple doses of steroids. It is theorized that this resulted in a weakened immune system and the mites proliferated and resulted in clinical disease. It is thought that Burmese and Siamese cats may have a higher incidence of disease.

Demodex is part of the normal flora of the skin. It is currently suspected that this disease is not contagious among cats. Typically, demodicosis manifests with patches of hair loss and secondary bacterial infections of the skin (superficial and deep pyoderma). Signs of skin infections include red bumps (papules), pustules, draining nodules and ulcerated areas. Itchiness is not a consistent finding. Feet and face are commonly affected areas.

What to Watch For

  • One or several areas of hair loss on the head and neck
  • Hair loss affecting the entire body
  • Crusty sores
  • Occasional pruritis (itchiness)

    Diagnosis

    Demodicosis is diagnosed by the presence of symptoms and by performing deep skin scrapings on affected areas. The mites can be seen with the aid of a microscope. The mites are present on all cats, so alone they do not constitute a diagnosis of mange.

    Treatment

    It is recommended that all cats diagnosed with demodicosis undergo treatment. Spontaneous recovery, such as in canine juvenile demodicosis, is unlikely. In addition to treatment for demodicosis, treatment of secondary bacterial infections may be necessary.

  • Eradication of the mites can be accomplished by using 2 percent lime sulfur dip (LymDyp®) every 5 to 7 days for at least 6 dips. It is very important that you follow the instructions of your veterinarian closely to minimize the likelihood of adverse effects.

    Prior to using the dip, your cat may need to be clipped to increase penetration and efficacy of this treatment. Adverse effects of the dip are uncommon, if properly used. To avoid grooming and ingestion of the dip, an Elizabethan collar should be placed on the cat until the hair coat is dry.

  • Amitraz is typically used in dogs but is considered toxic to cats and should only be used if other treatments fail.

  • Your cat should be re-scraped every two weeks to monitor the disease. Three consecutive biweekly negative skin scrapings should be obtained before discontinuing therapy.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Some cats will have a secondary bacterial infection and antibiotics may be required for several weeks (four weeks if the infection is superficial, eight to 10 weeks if the infection is deep).

    After dipping, it is important that your cat does not get wet between dips to maximize efficacy of the treatment. Some owners will be able to dip their cat at home. Be aware that the dip has a sulfur base and therefore, has a potent odor of rotten eggs. It also has the ability to stain fabric, clothing, and carpet.

    After dipping, light colored cats will retain a yellow tint until treatment is discontinued. Always use gloves and keep your cat in a confined area with an Elizabethan collar to prevent grooming and staining fabrics, carpet.

    Since the mites normally live on the skin, prevention is difficult.

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