Demodicosis, or mange, is an inflammatory skin disease in cats that is caused by various types of Demodex mites not visible to the naked eye. Demodex mites are commonly found on the skin of mammals, and in most cases are not symptomatic of an abnormal condition, but when the immune system is compromised, by stress or illness, or the body is producing excess oil or hormones, the Demodex population may become excessive, leading to skin and hair problems. When the number of mites inhabiting the hair follicles of a cat become excessive, skin lesions, genetic disorders, problems with the immune system, and hair loss (alopecia) may follow.
The severity of symptoms depends upon the type of mite inhabiting your cat. Although mange is rare in cats, Siamese and Burmese breeds appear to be at a higher risk.
Symptoms and Types
Symptoms may include hair loss around the eyelids, head, neck, and flank. Additionally, lesions on the skin, scales, and crusty patches may occur.
Mite disorders in cats are rare, thus there is little known about them. However, two of the species of mites that cause mange in cats have been identified. The first, Demodex gatoi, is potentially contagious and may be transmitted between cats in the same household. The second, Demodex cati, is associated with diseases of the immune and metabolic systems, such as diabetes. It has been found in some cases that in impaired immune system or hormone imbalance will allow the Demodex mite to over populate.
Skin scrapings are used to find and diagnose demodicosis. Hair samples may also help identify the specific mite responsible for the condition.
A urine test may identify other possible causes for the skin conditions, namely those caused by a disorder in your cat’s metabolic system. Alternative diagnoses may include scabies or allergies.
In approximately 90 percent of the cases, the problem is likely to resolve itself spontaneously. For severe generalized cases, long-term medication may be necessary for controlling the condition. Lime-sulfur dips to the affected areas may help relieve symptoms. In either case, the general health status of your cat should be evaluated.
Living and Management
Follow-up care should include additional skin scrapings, and microscopic examinations of hairs. The latter process is known as a trichogram, a diagnostic tool which uses hairs that have been plucked for examination so that appropriate treatment can be prescribed. With chronic long-term cases, regular medication may be necessary.
General good health may help prevent some cases. Keeping your cat clean, without drying the skin, and in optimal health, will help to keep the Demodex mite population in balance. It is also advised that cats with generalized chronic mange not be bred, as the condition may be genetically based in some breeds and may be passed to offspring.