Mite Infestation (Mange, Acariasis, Scabies) of Cats — Cat Owners — Merck Veterinary Manual

Mite Infestation (Mange, Acariasis, Scabies) of Cats


, DVM, PhD, DACVM, Kansas State University

Mange is caused by microscopic mites that invade the skin of otherwise healthy animals. The mites cause irritation of the skin, resulting in itching, hair loss, and inflammation. All forms of mange are highly contagious. Cats are very susceptible to several types of mange, including canine scabies, feline scabies (notoedric mange), ear mites (otodectic mange), walking dandruff (cheyletiellosis), and trombiculosis. Demodicosis is not considered mange, but it is also caused by mites.

Canine Scabies (Sarcoptic Mange)

Canine scabies (also called sarcoptic mange) is caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei var canis. Although the canine scabies most often occurs in dogs, it can also occur in cats that come in contact with infected dogs. The mites are highly contagious and can also infest people and other animals. The entire life cycle (17 to 21 days) of these mites is spent on the infested animal. Females burrow tunnels in the skin to lay eggs. Mange is easily spread between animals by contact. Indirect transmission, such as through infested bedding, is less common, but it can occur. The incubation period varies from 10 days to 8 weeks, depending on how severely the animal is infested, part of the body affected, number of mites transmitted, and the individual pet’s health and hygiene.

Not all animals have signs when they are infested with sarcoptic mange mites. Usually, though, the animal will have intense itching that comes on suddenly. The itching is probably caused by sensitivity to the mites’ droppings. Initially, infested skin will erupt with small, solid bumps. Because the animal scratches or bites itself to relieve the itch, these bumps and the surrounding skin are often damaged, causing thick, crusted sores. Secondary yeast or bacterial infections can develop in the damaged skin. Usually, the sores appear first on the abdomen, chest, ears, elbows, and legs. If the mange is not diagnosed and treated, the sores can spread over the entire body. Animals with longterm, recurring mange develop oily dandruff (seborrhea), severe thickening of the skin with wrinkling and crust build-up, and oozing, weeping sores. Animals affected this severely can become emaciated and may even die.

Scabies incognito is a term used to describe hard-to-diagnose mange. If an animal has a well-groomed coat or is bathed regularly, the mites might be hard to find, even if the animal shows signs of infestation, such as itching. The other typical signs of mange—crusts and scales on the skin—are removed by regular grooming or bathing.

If mange is suspected, your veterinarian will do a physical examination, including collecting skin scrapings and possibly a stool sample. Some clinics might also use a blood test to diagnose mange. If mites are not found, but the signs are highly suggestive of mange, trial treatment is warranted. Because mange can spread easily to humans, you should ask your veterinarian for advice on how to avoid contracting mange from your pet.

Treatment should include all other animals that have been in contact with the infested pet. It may be necessary to clip the hair. The crusts and dirt should be removed by soaking with a medicated (antiseborrheic) shampoo and applying an anti-mite dip. Lime-sulfur is highly effective and safe for use in young animals. Several dips may be required. Alternatively, internal or topical medicines are also effective. Treatment for secondary infections may also be necessary.

Feline Scabies (Notoedric Mange)

Infestation with Notoedres cati mites is a rare and a highly contagious skin disease of otherwise healthy cats. The mite’s appearance and life cycle are very similar to that of the sarcoptic mange mite (see above). Mange is readily transmitted between cats by contact. Notoedric mange causes severe itching. Skin crusts and hair loss first appear on the ears, head, and neck, but can spread over the entire body. Veterinarians diagnose notoedric mange by using a microscope to inspect skin scrapings for mites. Treatment may involve spot-on or injectable therapies, lime-sulfur dips given 7 days apart or a combination of these therapies.

Ear Mites (Otodectic Mange)

Ear mites (otodectic mange) are caused by Otodectes cynotis mites. These mites often infest the external ear, causing inflammation of the ear canal. Although ear mange occurs in dogs, it is especially common in cats. Ear mites are usually found deep in the external ear canal, but they are sometimes seen on the body. The infested animal will shake its head and scratch its ear(s). The external ear may droop. The intensity of the itching varies but may be severe. In severe cases, the external ear may be inflamed and produce pus; a torn eardrum is also possible. Cats with ear mites should be treated with a suitable medication in the ears or for the whole body. Your veterinarian will recommend an appropriate treatment plan that includes medication and ear cleaning instructions. Animals that have contact with infested cats should also be treated.

Ear mange mites cause inflammation of the ear canal and skin disease in cats.

Walking Dandruff (Cheyletiellosis)

Cheyletiella blakei mites are the most common cause of walking dandruff in cats. (The dandruff that is seen “walking” is actually the mites moving about on the skin of the cat.) Cheyletiella mites are very contagious, especially in catteries or multi-pet households. Humans are frequently infested with this mite. Mites that cause walking dandruff have 4 pairs of legs and large hook-like mouthparts. They live on the skin’s surface, and they spend their entire 3-week life cycle on their host. However, female mites can live as long as 10 days off of the animal. In areas that have lots of fleas, this type of mange is rare because regular use of certain insecticides to control flea infestations has a side benefit of often controlling the mites.

Scaling of the skin and infestation along the back are common signs of walking dandruff. Intense itching is frequent among infested cats, though there may be no itching at all. Cats may develop skin crusts and many small bumps along their back called miliary dermatitis. Some cats may show no signs of infestation but carry the mites and transmit them to other pets and humans.

To diagnose walking dandruff, veterinarians use laboratory tests (such as skin scrapes, flea combing, or tape tests) to identify the presence of mites or eggs. Unfortunately, the mites and eggs can be difficult to find. If no mites are identified but an infestation is still suspected, your veterinarian may prescribe treatment to see if improvement is seen. For treatment, your veterinarian may prescribe weekly dipping in an insecticide to eliminate the mites. Other treatment options include spot-ons, sprays, injections, and oral drugs. Do not use an insecticide on your cat without your veterinarian’s approval. Some insecticides are poisonous to cats.

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Treatment may last 6 to 8 weeks to eliminate all mites. This may be difficult in catteries or in multi-cat households. Any animals in contact with an infested pet will also need to be treated. In addition, treating the household is necessary to kill mites that can survive in bedding, carpets, and other areas.

Feline Demodicosis

Demodicosis is caused by Demodex mites. Two species of Demodex mites can cause demodicosis. Demodex cati mites are thought to be a normal resident of feline skin. Demodex gatoi is smaller and rounder than Demodex cati. It is commonly found in younger cats and is contagious.

These mites do not usually bother their host, but they can cause demodicosis in cats sickened by another disease. Demodicosis can be limited to one or several areas on the head and neck, where it causes hair loss, or it can spread over the entire body. When demodicosis is severe enough to affect the entire body, it causes crusting and fluid-filled sores in addition to hair loss. Whole-body demodicosis can be associated with other system-wide diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, feline leukemia virus infection, feline immunodeficiency virus infection, or cancer.

In some cases of demodicosis, the only sign is overproduction of earwax (see Otitis Externa in Cats). The severity of itching can vary; D. gatoi is more likely to cause severe itching than D. cati.

Your veterinarian will diagnose demodicosis by collecting and examining superficial and deep skin scrapings for mites. However, the mites can be very difficult to find, and a response to treatment may be the only way to diagnose the infestation. Cats with demodicosis should be tested for ringworm, because the two conditions can occur simultaneously and have similar signs. Cats with generalized demodicosis should be evaluated by a veterinarian to see if another medical condition (such as diabetes) is present. The outlook for recovery from whole-body demodicosis depends on the cat’s overall health. Some cases resolve without treatment. Treatment with lime sulfur dips once weekly for 4 to 5 weeks is usually safe and effective. Infested cats often have a fast response to treatment.


Trombiculosis is a type of mange caused by the parasitic larval stage of mites of the family Trombiculidae («chiggers»). Adults («harvest mites») and nymphs look like very tiny spiders and live on rotting material. Cats acquire the larval life-stage as parasites when lying on the ground or walking in a suitable habitat. In temperate areas, cats and other animals acquire the larvae during the summer and fall. In warmer areas, infestation occurs throughout the year.

The tiny larvae attach to the host, feed for a few days, and leave when engorged. At this point, they are easily identified as tiny, orange-red, oval dots that do not move. These are usually found clustering on the head, ears, feet, or belly. Signs include redness, bumps, hair loss, and skin crusts. Intense itching, if present, can persist even after the parasites have left the animal.

Diagnosis is based on history and signs. Your veterinarian will want to exclude other skin disorders that cause itching, such as allergies. Diagnosis is confirmed by careful examination of the affected areas. Skin scrapings might also be examined under the microscope for evidence of mite larvae.

Treatment for cats with trombiculosis follows the pattern for the general treatment of mange. Medications to kill these mites may be different than those prescribed for other types of mites. Follow your veterinarian’s treatment program carefully. If the itching has been either severe or extended, antibiotics or other medications may be prescribed to control secondary infections in scratch and bite wounds.

Preventing reinfestation is often difficult. The most useful approach, if feasible, consists of keeping pets away from areas known to harbor mites. You should also avoid bringing your cat into contact with other animals known to have the mites.

Fur Mites (Lynxacariasis)

Fur mites (Lynxacarus radovskyi) infest cats quite commonly, but only in certain areas (Australia, Brazil, Hawaii, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas). These mites cause in inflammation of the skin, and signs include a salt-and-pepper appearance of the hair coat, hair loss, and itching. The amount of itching seen varies between cats. Veterinarians diagnose the mite with laboratory tests (such as skin scrapes or tape tests) or by identifying it on the cat’s fur. Treatment may include sprays, weekly lime sulfur dips, or injections. It is possible, but unlikely, for people to catch fur mites from their cats.

For More Information

Also see professional content regarding mange.

How to Get Rid of Ear Mites

Updated — October 5, 2019 / Julianne Ragland

I used to think pets that walked in circles and attacked their ears were cute, until I did a little bit of research about getting rid of ear mites (Otodectes cynotis). Ear mites are a bit scary if they’re allowed to do enough damage to your pet. As it turns out, cats and dogs can get an infection from ear mites if they aren’t treated, which their middle ear which then throws off their balance and either causes them to not walk straight or to walk in circles constantly. Worse still, ear mites have been implicated as the cause of allergic reactions similar to those of dust mites. In fact, many people who test positive for dust mite allergies also test positive for ear mite allergies. Considering how many people own pets, the potential for chronic allergies to be caused by an ear mite infestation is pretty high…and it’s miserable for your pets.

Luckily for you, ear mites are relatively easy to treat yourself. The only reason you should be taking your pet to the vet because of ear mites is to confirm a diagnosis, or to cure them of a particularly bad ear mite infestation. Otherwise, you should be able to get rid of ear mites with plain old mineral oil. Below is a step-by-step guide for curing your pet of ear mites.

Ear Mite Symptoms

If you observe your dog or pet having behaviors different from the norm, you may want to consider ear mites as the cause. The symptoms are pretty easy to spot, and while they can be caused by other things as well, ear mites are often one of the more common causes.

Here is what to look for:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Shaking Head
  • Scratching Ears
  • Loss of Balance
  • Walking in Circles
  • Buildup of Exudates

Do-It-Yourself Ear Mite Treatment

Vets are expensive and often inconvenient. You can often begin to treat ear mites on your own. Here are a few ways to do it.

Checking your pet for ear mites is the first step to successful diagnosis and treatment.

Things to look for when checking your pet for ear mites would be grey or black spots in the ear, otherwise known as exudates (blood, puss, etc.). Signs of ear mite infestation include persistent and excessive scratching of the ears, repeated shaking of the head (as if they’re trying to shake the mites loose), as well as fever and a generally lethargic attitude. The most prominent “telltale” symptoms of an ear mite infestation are the shaking of the head and the buildup of gunk in the ear.

Applying mineral oil to the pet’s ear with an eye-dropper or a special ear irrigation pump is the best way to get rid of ear mites.

Mineral oil is good for your pet because it does two important things. First of all, it helps to dissolve ear wax and the exudates that may be plugging your pet’s ear. Second of all, it smothers and kills ear mites. Use the mineral oil once a day for about three weeks and use enough to coat as much of the inner ear as possible. It’s more common for people to use too little than too much. If you do use too much, your pet will just shake its head to get rid of the excess. Problem solved and no damage done. If you don’t have mineral oil, it is pretty easy to find and it is not terribly expensive either. We like food-grade mineral oil (here on Amazon) because we think it is purer and safer than some of the rougher stuff which could potentially contain toxins.

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It actually only takes the eggs about 4 days to hatch, but it’s best to be safe and go for too long, especially since there are so many places for potentially pregnant ear mites to hide. It’s hard to get them all quickly. You can get ear syringes to help with this at Amazon.

Once the mineral oil is applied, massage your pet’s ears to help spread the mineral oil while loosening and getting rid of ear mites and ear wax.

This is done by gently grasping the ear with your thumb inside and your fingers on the “furry” outside, giving you the leverage you’ll need to apply a slight amount of pressure to the inside of the ear. Don’t dig into the ear with your thumb nail or push down into the inner ear. Simply rub the thumb as far down as it naturally seems to go, making sure to spread the oil all over.

After massaging the oil into your pet’s ear, simply allow the pet to “shake” the oil out of its ears naturally.

There shouldn’t be any need for Q-tips or cotton swabs in order for the animal to clear the oil out. What you might want to consider is doing this project outdoors because if you don’t, you may end up with a bit of mineral oil, exudates, and ear wax all over your carpet or your furniture.

If you can still see ear wax or the deposits from ear mites in your pet’s ears, you may want to try wiping it away with a cotton ball.

Some people have suggested using Q-tips to briskly wipe away any remaining gunk, but I don’t trust anyone putting anything in my ear besides me—and I imagine your pet will feel the same way. It’s best not to chance doing any more damage to your pet’s ears than the ear mites may already have done.

Instead, read on as you might be a candidate for bringing your dog in to the vet. Better to do that than risk having a bigger problem from a botched invasive ear mite reduction effort.

Veterinary Ear Mite Treatment

You should only be bringing your pet to your vet if you can’t seem to get rid of the ear mites after 6-7 days, or if your pet is suffering from recurrent ear mite infections. You may also want to bring your pet to the vet for eat mite treatment and a check up if they seem to be suffering from the more severe symptoms of an ear mite infestation like a fever, lethargy, walking in circles or loss of balance. If your pet is a dog, your vet is likely to treat them with an oral or intravenous dose of ivermectin. If your pet is a cat, they are most likely to be treated with selamectin. Whatever you do, do not treat a cat with any medication that contains Permethrins. Permethrins are a common mite, flea, and lice treatment that are extremely toxic for cats

More Ear Mite Notes

It is believed that ear mites can last a few months in the environment without a host, so just because your pet is cured of ear mites now doesn’t mean they won’t come back. This also increases the potential for boarded and adopted pets to come home with an ear mite infestation. If you’ve recently treated your animal for eat mites, I would suggest steam cleaning and shampooing your carpets and washing any fabrics your pet has come into contact with in soap & hot water.

Natural Ear Mite Control

Honestly, mineral oil really is the best form of ear mite control, and the only natural remedy I can think of. There are other people who suggest using almond oil, olive oil, or even corn oil or vegetable oil, but I wouldn’t put that stuff in my ears, would you? Mineral oil has been used for quite a while to help loosen and remove ear wax. Go with what works and forget about it. Problem solved. You don’t need a huge jug of it, and Amazon sells Swan Mineral Oil in a 16 oz container.

Ear Mite FAQs

Do Ear Mites Smell?

Yes, they can. Actually, it is not the ear mites themselves that smell, but rather the dried blood in your dog’s ear canal. If you smell a foul odor coming from your dog’s ears, you should be on alert that ear mites might be present.

Are Ear Mites Contagious?

Yes. Dogs can transmit their ear mites to other dogs, from playing together, eating together, sleeping on the same bed or together, and other close-proximity activities. If you have one dog with ear mites, best to keep your other dogs away from it until the problem has been solved.

It is also a good idea to thoroughly clean the living quarters, including giving any fabric a good, thorough heated dry.

Do Ear Mites Bite Humans?

It is very rare, but it has been known to happen. While highly unlikely, it is best to take precautions with a dog that is known to be infected with ear mites, and probably best not to share a bed with it.

How Long Do Ear Mites Live?

Ear mites live for about 2 months. The problem is that while they are alive, they are constantly reproducing. That is really their one job on this earth. As a result, you cannot “wait out” ear mites or wait for them to pass. You need to get rid of them, they will not go away on their own.

Ear Mites in Cats & Dogs – Natural Remedy Treatment – Mite Cure

Ear mite information shares helpful tips for getting rid of ear mites through natural ear mite treatment suggested
by a holistic vet, plus traditional ear mite medicines.

These little parasites are maddening for animals,
causing intense itching and often leading to ear infections if left untreated.

I tried both treatments holistic and traditional treatments, and found the holistic health regimen, was effective.

But I personally had a very hard time fulfilling the 6-week commitment to this comprehensive natural remedy.

I decided to look around on the internet and see if there were some other ways of approaching ear mites that
I could live with, for the health of my cat and the vital ridding of fleas and ticks in my home.

One product that is helpful for keeping the ears in good condition is Ark Naturals Remedy. They make a natural cat and dog ear mite formula formulated by their team of veterinarians, biochemists, and scientists to gently but thoroughly clean your pet’s ears.

This approach is a step in the right direction. The following is a great article that provides another approach.

Holistic Health Remedy for Ear Mites

Brought to you by William Pollak D.V.M. and the Fairfield Animal Hospital…holistic and traditional approaches
to support the best of animal health.

I found this information when I was searching for information on treating ear mites holistically because I
hated using the stuff that they sell at the vet or in stores for ear mites. Yet, my cat Lazarus had a very
stubborn case of ear mites and I had to do something about it before he hurt his ears with all the scratching
(not to mention I felt so sorry for him!)

I happen to have some Yellow Dock tincture that I made myself and used, more or less, the regimen that Dr.
Pollack outlines below. If you don’t have Yellow Dock tincture on hand, you may have trouble finding the
tincture. I sure did. However, you can buy a small amount of Yellow Dock root very inexpensively and make
your own tincture. It’s easier than you may think!

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It’s really tough to think of doing anything like this for six weeks but I guess it’s what it takes. I altered
Dr. Pollack’s recipe a bit by adding a small amount of Ionic
Silver to kill any infection that might be present. (By the way, ionic silver can be mixed with herbs
for a healing poultice, instead of water, and applied to wounds or cuts.) Note that nothing suggested on
this page is intended to replace any needed services of a veterinarian. Treating your animals holistically
is a lot like treating yourself – don’t do it if you won’t be responsible for monitoring the results and
making the decisions. Be honest with yourself. If you are afraid to self-treat, then by all means rely on
a vet for your pet’s health.

Amazingly, Lazarus stopped scratching his ears after only two days on Dr. Pollack’s regimen so I can say that,
at least for my cat, this holistic approach was definitely effective. (Be sure to dilute the tincture since,
at full strength, it can burn a lot).

Tips for getting drops in a pet’s ears: Like most cats, Lazarus simply does not like anything being put on
him or in his ears. I got a great tip from a friend who used to work at a vet’s office. She suggested laying
the dropper across the entrance of the ear so that the liquid first went onto the outside and then drained
down, rather than trying to place the drops directly into the earlobe. Laz liked this better, for sure, but
still wasn’t happy about the whole thing. Good luck with your animal friends.

Making Your Own Natural Remedy For Ear Mites

Ear mites are common in cats and dogs. Cats usually start them and they’re the last to be treated. Direct
physical contact is an important part of transmission from one animal to another. A cat with ear mites will
scratch its ears frequently and a deposit that looks like dried coffee grounds, black, gray or even white
will form down in the ear canals. A dog will scratch and shake its head and its ear canal may look quite
red and inflamed. Bacterial and fungal infections secondary to ear mites is another layer of imbalance. Reducing
redness and inflammation from secondary infection is the first order of business, as medications and remedies
that help kill ear mites can sometimes act as an irritant to a sensitized ear canal. Homemade, natural, Ear
mite treatment suggestion:

Step 1: Make a mixture of 1/2 ounce of almond or olive oil and 400 IU vitamin E in a dropper bottle. Warm
to body temperature and put about 1/2 dropperful in the ear, massaging the ear canal well for a minute or
so. Let your pet shake its head and then gently clean out the opening with cotton swabs. Q-tip type applicators
many times compact material already in the ear canal. Apply the oil every other day for six days. Then let
the ears rest for 3 days. (The oil mixture will smother many of the mites and start a healing process.)

Step 2: Using Yellow Dock Root Extract, dilute it with water, 9 drops to 1 Tblsp of water. Treat the ears
with this mixture, as described above, once every 3 days for 6 weeks. Ear mite eggs are quite resistant to
just about anything after they have already hardened, that is why a 6 week period of treatment is recommended.
The eggs will continue to hatch out in cycles and if medicine is present for 6 continuous weeks (medicine
administered will last for four days) there will be no more eggs present.

You may need to thoroughly shampoo the head and ears (and the tip of the tail), because the mites can leave
the ears; they do like to go for night trips to check out the terrain. and might crawl back in after treatment.
The tip of the tail may have a few mites from when it is curled near the head. Make a tea infusion of Yellow
Dock and use it as a final rinse.

Generally a healthy animal will have less problems with ear mites, so improving the diet will help in both
prevention and recovery. Feeding a natural raw meat diet or a super-concentrated, preservative free commercial
diet like PHD will improve overall health and reduce the likelihood of frequent parasitic infections. Supplementing
with garlic and brewer’s yeast is especially helpful.

Holistic Health Minute – How to Tell if Your Cat Has Ear Mites

Ruling out other problems with the ear will require a visit to your vet but some of the common symptoms of
ear mites include:

Your cat scratches, often furiously, behind the ear and in the ear.

Cat shakes their head as if trying to shake something out of the ears.

A brown substances begins to appear inside the ear. If you look in the cats ear and see this, it’s a good
sign of mites.

What Causes Furballs?

This is one of my “pet” peeves so to speak. Both my cats are long-haired and hairball messes were
not a fun part of my day. It was good to discover there were natural ways of handling this situation. It
appears that the constant grooming a cat does, always cleaning their fur, can cause more hair to be swallowed
than the digestive system can handle. Here’s what Native Remedies has to say about it:

Cats are avid groomers and seem to spend hours preening and licking themselves. Unfortunately this usually
means that they end up swallowing a lot of loose fur which accumulates in their stomach to form matted lumps
called furballs.

These are usually either vomited out or emitted with their feces. Problems arise however if the cat’s digestive
system is weak or if their nutrition is inadequate as the furballs may remain inside the cat and act as a
cork causing a number of problems including constipation, recurrent vomiting and a build up of toxins.

FurBall Dr. has been specifically formulated for cats who suffer from furball problems and contains a combination
of selected herbs and homeopathic ingredients to help with digestion and elimination, thereby preventing
the distressing problems associated with furballs.

More Information about PetAlive FurBall Dr. Naturally Help Prevent FurBalls and Improve Digestion
in Cats.

How Do I Know if My Pet Has Worms?

Symptoms of Parasites in Cats: A number of intestinal parasites will produce no
visible symptoms in your cat at all – or at least not at first. Other parasites such as the tapeworm will
usually be visible in your cat’s feces and in the hair or on the skin around his anus. Other symptoms of
worms in cats may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Anemia
  • Diarrhea
  • Persistent scratching around the anus
  • Weight loss
  • Eating a great deal without putting on weight
  • Breathing problems

Rid of Pet Parasites with PetAlive Parasite Dr. Capsules

Bad breath Symptoms of Parasites in Dogs : In many cases you may not even know that
your dog has worms without having a sample of his feces analyzed. Certain intestinal parasites such as tapeworm
however are usually clearly visible either clinging to the skin or hair around the dog’s anus or in a fresh
feces. Other symptoms of worms in dogs may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Diarrhea
  • Anemia
  • Scratching, particularly around the base of the tail
  • Vomiting
  • Mild to severe coughing
  • Eating a great deal without putting on weight
  • Bad breath

Rid of Pet Parasites with PetAlive Parasite Dr. Capsules: Naturally Expel Internal Parasites Like
Heartworm, Roundworm and Tape Worm in Pets.

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