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Sarcoptic Mange in Cats

By: Dr. Rosanna Marsalla

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Sarcoptic mange (also known as scabies) is a highly contagious parasitic disease caused by a microscopic mite called Sarcoptes scabiei that affects animals and people. These mites invade the skin of healthy cats and kittens and create a variety of skin problems. Humans exposed to infested cats commonly are affected.

Cats of all ages may be affected, but sarcoptic mange is more common in young animals. Cats living in close contact with affected dogs may develop the disease. The mite prefers to live lives on the surface of the skin, and does not survive for very long off the host.

The hallmark of the disease is intense pruritus that does not respond to symptomatic treatment; the cat scratches and chews at himself. There may also be papules (small red bumps) located on the margins of the ears, elbows, hocks (ankles), chest and abdomen. These lesions may become generalized. Other symptoms may include patchy hair loss, and crusty sores.
Symptoms are thought to be the result of a severe allergic reaction to the mite. Just a few mites can cause severe generalized pruritus (itchiness), which sometimes persists after therapy due to the allergic component of this disease. The incubation period (time until clinical symptoms become apparent) can be as long as 3 weeks after exposure.

If left untreated, chronic skin lesions develop including increased pigmentation, thickening and wrinkling of the skin, ulcerations and draining tracts. Secondary bacterial infections are common due to self-trauma.

Pruritic (itchy) papules (small red bumps) can be found on the arms, neck and waistline of affected humans. The sarcoptic mange mite of cats cannot reproduce on human skin, and lesions on humans regress spontaneously in 12 to 14 days.

What to Watch For

  • Intense itching
  • Presence of papules
  • Patchy hair loss
  • Crusty sores

    Diagnosis

    The diagnosis of sarcoptic mange is based on three things:

  • Suggestive clinical signs. The rapid onset of pruritis and the rapid progression of lesions should suggest scabies.

  • Microscopic examination of skin scrapings. Mites are occasionally found on microscopic examination of skin scrapings, but failure to find the mite should not eliminate the diagnosis of scabies.

  • Response to treatment. Treatment for scabies improves the condition.

    Treatment

    Treatment should be carried out for the entire life cycle of the mite, which is 3 weeks. All animals in the household should be treated to reduce the possibility of re-infestation.

    There are several ways to treat scabies.

  • You may be asked to bathe your animal weekly and use an anti-parasitic lime sulfur dip (LymDip).

  • An alternative treatment consists of the administration of the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin once every 2 weeks for 3 treatments. Some breeds (especially collies, shelties, and Australian shepherds) are extremely sensitive to the adverse effects of ivermectin.

  • Revolution, a topical product applied monthly for flea control and heartworm prevention, also is a safe and effective treatment for sarcoptic mange.

  • Treatment with antibiotics may be necessary if your cat has developed a secondary bacterial infection.

  • Regular cleaning, vacuuming and washing of bedding usually are sufficient to rid the household of the mites.

    Home Care

    At home you may be asked to bathe your animal weekly and use an anti-parasitic lime sulfur dip (LymDip). The dip preparation is very safe, but may damage jewelry and porcelain. It produces a yellow stain on the hair coat and skin due to its sulfur content. The sulfur content also imparts a strong odor of "rotten eggs." Gloves should be used when applying the dip.

    Ideally, the dip should be applied outdoors and the animal not allowed back into the house until it is completely dry. This precaution will prevent staining of furniture and carpeting by the dip.

    Mites do not survive for long in the environment. Regular cleaning, vacuuming and washing of bedding usually are sufficient to rid the household of the mites. Remember, mites can be transmitted to humans, so care must be taken when handling an infested cat.

    Preventative Care

    Prevention consists of avoiding contact with infected animals. Mites do not survive very long in the environment, and direct contact is necessary to become infected. All animals in the household should be treated to reduce the possibility of re-infestation.

    Regular cleaning, vacuuming and washing of bedding usually are sufficient to rid the household of the mites.

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