Mange in Cats: Symptoms and Natural Treatment
Mange is a skin condition that more commonly affects dogs, but it can affect cats, especially those with compromised immune systems. If you've noticed your cat scratching furiously but you can't spot any fleas (which are reddish to black and wingless), you may have a case of mange on your hands. But not to worry — when you catch and treat mange in a timely manner, it's easily resolved.
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Mange is the term used for a proliferation of mites. There are always microscopic mites living on your cat's skin and hair, and while that's not exactly a comforting thought, it's completely normal. However, undernourishment or a weak immune system can allow the mites to increase their numbers and cause unpleasant symptoms.
There are various species of mites, but the most common species affecting cats is otodectes cynotis, or ear mites. Ear mites live inside the ear canal but can also make their way outside the ear, causing itching on the face and other areas as well. They're highly contagious and can spread to dogs as well.
Notoedres cati causes what's called “feline scabies” because the effects are similar to sarcoptic mange in dogs. This type of mange starts on the face and ears and spreads to the rest of the body, where it can cause infections. The condition is highly contagious, so if you have other cats living in your home, you'll want to act quickly.
Demodex mites are less common. There are two types: demodex cati and demodex gatoi, which can cause demodectic mange. This type cannot spread from cat to cat and does not cause as severe of itching. But considering demodex mites usually reside in healthy numbers on your cat's skin, a proliferation may be cause to ask questions about an underlying disorder.
Cheyletiella mites, otherwise known as “walking dandruff,” live on the outer layer of skin rather than burrowing underneath it.
The general symptoms of mange include:
But let's talk about what unique symptoms different species of mites cause so you can better identify the pesky creatures giving your cat a hard time.
Ear mites - Different types of mites can cause irritation to the ears, head, and neck. To complicate matters, ear mites can spread to the rest of the body with time. Thankfully, they're easy to identify by the red-brown or black crust that forms inside the ear and little black bumps that look like coffee grounds. Other symptoms of ear mites include frequent head shaking, excessive ear and head scratching, abrasions and scratches on the back of the ear, and crusting and scaling of the skin.
Notoedres cati - “Feline scabies” is characterized by hair loss starting at the face and neck, which spreads rapidly down the body. As the mange progresses, the skin will thicken and form a grayish-yellow crust. Serious cases usually involve sores and secondary infections caused by the cat scratching and grooming.
Demodex mites - Symptoms of demodectic mange are similar to feline scabies, but demodex mites are less common. Treatment for these two types of mites will be similar.
Cheyletiella - Cheyletiella mites are more like fleas in that they only live on the surface, and the way you spot them is by looking for little flakes of dandruff that look like they're moving on their own. Those are the mites moving through your cat's hair. Upon closer inspection, you may see a tiny yellow mite. The most characteristic symptom of this type of infestation is dandruff flakes.
If your cat has open sores or significant hair loss, be sure to visit a holistic veterinarian for treatment. Your cat may need a medication to fend off a secondary infection. Also visit a veterinarian if there's prolong, excessive head shaking.
Mites are communicable, so if your cat has recently visited a boarding or grooming facility, there's a logical explanation for the presence of mites. Mange also more commonly affect kittens due to their vulnerable immune systems and proximity to other cats (including their mothers) at a young age. However, if you can't think of a ready explanation for why your cat has mange, you may want to visit a holistic veterinarian and make sure there are no underlying immune system issues.
You may want to consider whether a skin reaction that looks like mange could potentially be allergies. Your cat may be sensitive to a new food or cat litter, so if you've made any changes lately, big or small, you may want to try removing the new item for a week or two to see if symptoms subside. Many symptoms of allergies and mange look similar, but allergies will often be accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms like gas, bloating, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you're not sure, consult a veterinarian.
Mild cases of mites/mange in cats can be remedied at home. Here's what you'll need to do:
First, wash your cat's bedding and anything the mites may have come in contact with in hot water. If your cat is a good sport about baths, use a gentle soap, such as this Oatmeal & Honey Shampoo Bar and warm water. Comb through the hair. Use soothing Skin Tonic spray to hit those itchy hot spots. Organic neem oil is a natural remedy for dry, irritated skin, and is gentle enough to spray anywhere on your cat's hair and skin. It's also a natural antibacterial and antifungal so, in addition to easing your cat's discomfort, it will help skin heal and prevent secondary infections. You can use it several times a day until the symptoms have cleared up.
It’s also important to clean your cat's living environment. Vacuum your rugs, carpets, and fabric furniture, and wipe hard surfaces with cleaner. Continue to treat irritated skin as needed. Symptoms of mites should clear up completely within a couple weeks.
Solutions for treating ear mites will look a little different. You should still clean the cat's environment and soothe irritated skin. However, actually getting rid of the mites will involve a natural treatment like All Ears. This ear wash does not contain alcohol or harmful chemicals. Instead, it relies on organic cedar oil and neem oil to kill the pests and alleviate itching. After administering a few drops into the ear canal, massage the base of the ear and gently wipe dry with a cotton ball. This remedy can be used safely on young kittens. Meanwhile, Cheyletiella mites can be treated like fleas with Flea & Tick Control.
Feline skin is very sensitive, so it's best to stay away from harsh chemical insecticides, which can do more harm than good by irritating already raw and itchy skin. These sprays and dips may kill the pests behind the mange, but gentler remedies can also kill them without the bad side effects.
If you need a home remedy in a pinch, an apple cider vinegar rinse is a gentle way to cleanse and soothe skin irritation. The acidity helps kill parasites, so if you've got nothing else on hand, don't hurry to the pet store to buy lime sulfur spray — just dilute apple cider vinegar with water!
It's easier for both you and your cat if you're able to prevent mange and other skin conditions. But in order to do that, it's best to look not just at your cat's skin, but at its health on the whole. Every choice you make on its behalf can have an effect on overall health and wellbeing. Here are some of the ways you can keep your cat healthy everyday so that health crises like mange are less likely to crop up:
Healthy diet - An organic diet that meets your cat's nutritional needs is the foundation of health. Your cat should be eating protein-rich food with some fat and a minimal amount of carbs — in fact, cats have no dietary requirements for carbs. Cats' digestive systems aren't meant to process ingredients like wheat, soy, corn, or dairy, and these fillers may even cause inflammation. If the immune system is busy dealing with food it can't easily process, it has less energy to spare for fighting off mites that cause mange. Choose food that provides nourishing ingredients in the right amounts. If you give your cat treats or table scraps, make sure these match with dietary needs and tolerances. For example, all-meat jerky treats for cats and dogs are grain-free and contain no fillers like wheat or corn.
Immune-boosting supplements - The healing power of neem bark can also be ingested in powder form to boost your cat's immune system from the inside out. This neem bark powder supplement promotes the body's innate response to pathogens and provides antioxidants.
Clean cat environment - An unsanitary environment contributes to the spread of mites that cause mange. Be sure to regularly cleaning your cat's living environment, especially if you have multiple cats, and wash bedding and litter boxes frequently. If you have an outdoor cat that has a frequent problem with mites and other unsavory critters, you may want to consider transitioning her into an indoor environment. Indoor cats are less likely to contract pests. Be sure to thoroughly vet boarding facilities, groomers, and housesitters, and make sure the environment is sanitary before leaving your cat in their care.
Use all-natural remedies - Traditional medications for mange and other conditions often contain chemicals and fragrances that cause irritation to already irritated skin. Use products that are safe for your cat, you, and the environment. Keep your cat's ears clean with All Ears Wash and rely on the effective power of cedar oil to keep fleas, ticks, and other pests at bay.
Choose a trusted, holistic veterinarian - A holistic veterinarian will look at your cat's health on the whole and try to implement natural, safe, and affordable remedies. They're not typically interested in short-term fixes that may mask symptoms without preventing recurrence. Harsh lime sulfur dips and oral medications are often a last line of defense for holistic veterinarians, who prefer to combine homeopathic remedies and traditional medicine to provide your pet with the best long-term health outcome.