Symptoms of Sarcoptic Mange in Cats

A cat fur coat is often a good indicator of a cat's health; this applies to mange in cats. Cats losing hair or with patchy, matted fur may have sarcoptic mange, also known as scabies. The tell-tale signs of mange in a cat are severe scratching, hair loss and head shaking. Recognizing early signs in the localized stage is important to start treatment and prevent more serious, generalized problems.

The condition begins when a mite called Sarcopter scabiei, which can also affect people and dogs, attaches itself to the skin of the cat (the specific mite that bites cats is called Notoedris cati). After mating with a male mite, female mites burrow beneath the skin of the host. Those cats who are allergic will develop visible symptoms within three weeks which, left untreated, will nearly always worsen.

There are two forms of scabies: Localized, affecting a limited amount of the cat's fur and skin, and generalized, when the entire body is affected and which can lead to further complications. While patchy hair loss in the cat is a classic sign of mange, there are other signs to look for.

Early Signs of Sarcoptic Mange

In the early, localized form of mange, the cat usually exhibits changes in both appearance and behavior. In response to intense itchiness, cats will constantly and vigorously scratch themselves and even chew out their fur to relieve their irritation. This may cause the cat to lose hair or develop matted fur. The hair loss is often in a patchy pattern and generally begins at the tips of the ears, spreading down and around the ears and onto the head and neck.

The areas being scratched will develop red papules like small pimples. These will then turn into raw, yellow-gray crusts. Overall, the cat's skin will become thickened and wrinkled.

Because of the intense itchiness, the cat will constantly scratch, especially around the head. He will also frequently shake his head. The distress of the skin irritation can also change behavior. The cat is often restless and may become aggressive towards other animals or people. These behaviors are due to his physical suffering and will subside once treatment is applied.

Later Stages of Mange in Cats

If the localized form of scabies, which centers around the head and neck, is not treated, the cat's hair loss and crusted areas will spread throughout the rest of the body. Loss of hair, matted fur, and crusts will be seen particularly on the forelegs, paws, and lower stomach. The scratching, head shaking and nervousness will increase as the mange progresses.

At this point, some cats also begin acting mildly ill, such as becoming sluggish and refusing to eat. This may indicate that a more systemic bacterial infection has taken hold. Enlarged lymph nodes may also be felt in the cat's body.

There are also two rare forms of mange. In scabies incognito, well-groomed cats may exhibit intense scratching but have no visible physical signs such as hair loss or crusts. In Norwegian scabies, on the other hand, there will be severe crusting and many mites but little scratching. This usually occurs in the youngest, oldest, and most immunocompromised felines who do not have the normal hypersensitivity to mites.

Because scabies is highly contagious among both animals and humans, and can cause a cat intense distress, if a cat is losing fur or frequently scratching himself, the possibility of the presence of mange should always be considered.