Cat skin mites can be cat-astrophic for our feline friends, causing everything from intense itching and inflammation to bare patches of skin ... so not the look your regal cat is going for!
Mites require swift action on your part to get your cat happily purring and strutting their stuff again. Read on to learn all about cat skin mites and how to send these parasites packin’.
Mites on Cats: What Am I Dealing With?!
There are several types of parasitic mites that cause mange, which is a general term for skin disease. Here’s what to be on the lookout for. (And be sure to call your vet for guidance and questions.)
The name alone sounds like our worst nightmare in high school, and unfortunately, the mites that cause walking dandruff – Cheyletiella mites – are very contagious, even for humans. The good news is this type of cat skin mite is rare today because of the prevalence of flea control medications.
Spread most often in shelters and boarding facilities, walking dandruff gets its name from the actual appearance of the cat skin mites. The mites are white in color, and as they move across the cat’s fur, they literally look like, well, walking dandruff.
Other signs of walking dandruff include scaly skin patches, which appear as large flakes on the back and upper part of the cat’s body. You may also notice small bumps along your cat’s back.
If your cat is diagnosed with walking dandruff, your vet will likely recommend a topical insecticide treatment.
Scabies mites in cats are rare and most often caused by regional outbreaks via direct contact with an infected cat. In addition to feline scabies, cats can also get canine scabies from an infected dog.
Crusty, itchy ears are usually the first sign of these cat skin mites. It’s important to get your cat to the vet right away if you suspect your cat has scabies, as skin crusts can spread to the head and neck, and even the cat’s entire body, which can be extremely uncomfortable. Other signs of scabies include hair loss, skin flaking and inflammation.
Treatment of scabies involves an injection of Ivermectin, or you can bathe your cat with a gentle, alcohol-free pet shampoo followed by a lime sulfur dip.
Ear Mites on Cats
Ear mites are the most common type of cat mites. In fact, 90% of cats will get ear mites at some point in their lives. Ear mites are especially common in kittens, shelter cats, and outdoor cats. Cat ear mites can spread to all pets in the home via direct contact or from shared blankets and toys.
The #1 tip for how to tell if your cat has ear mites is to look for debris in your cat’s ear that resembles dark-brown, crumbly coffee grounds. Your cat will also be scratching their ears a lot or shaking their head vigorously if they have mites in their ears.
To confirm ear mites, try this hack: Remove debris from your cat’s ear with a cotton ball, smear the gunk across a dark-colored piece of paper, and then hold it under a bright light while viewing it with a magnifying glass. If you see tiny white specks moving around in the debris, those are (gulp) ear mites! If you don’t have a magnifying glass, do the same steps, but record a video on your phone and then enlarge it.
Over-the-counter medications are available for treating ear mites, though they do require regular use to ensure you eradicate the mites in their three-week lifecycle. For that reason, many people prefer going to the vet for a one-dose medication.
Keep in mind, ear mites often cause ear infections, so be sure to check for redness, swelling or odor in your cat’s ears. Ear infections will require treatment at the vet, as they rarely clear up on their own.
Pro tip: If you treat your cat’s ear mites at home with an OTC medication, clean their ears first. Otherwise, the ear drops will just sit on top of the mite debris and not penetrate through it. Because wounds in the ear are common with mites due to the cat’s intense ear scratching, avoid homemade and store-bought ear cleaners that contain alcohol. Alcohol, along with vinegar, peroxides, and fragrances, can sting the cat’s tender ear tissue. Instead, try a gentle, alcohol-free formula like Oxyfresh Pet Ear Cleaner.
Demodicosis is an inflammatory skin disease caused by two species of mites: Demodex cati, which live within the hair follicles, and Demodex gatoi, which live within the surface layers of the skin. Demodex cati aren’t common, mostly affecting Siamese and Burmese cats. Demodex gatoi are usually found in the southeastern United States.
These cat skin mites generally don’t cause problems for the cat unless the cat is already ill from another disease, such as diabetes, feline leukemia, cancer, or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Cats that are malnourished are also susceptible to problems from these mites.
Signs of demodicosis
- Overproduction of ear wax
- Severe itching
- Large areas of symmetrical thinning hair
- Patchy hair loss on the head, neck and ears
- Crusty patches of skin or fluid-filled sores
- Feline acne
Some cases of demodicosis will resolve on their own, while some cats will need a series of lime sulfur dips, which should quickly clear up the problem. Note: cats that have demodicosis should be tested for ringworm, as they can occur at the same time and present similar symptoms.
This skin infection is caused by the larval stage of mites in the Trombiculidae family. (Store that nugget away for your Jeopardy! tryout.) These parasites are also called chiggers, red bugs or scrub-itch mites. They’re found on decaying vegetation in damp, grassy and wooded areas. Cats can contract these mites by walking or rolling on the ground where these mites are found.
After attaching to the host, the larvae will feed for a few days and then fall off and pass into the nymph stage. (Only the larval form is parasitic to cats.)
What do these mites look like on a cat? Immobile, small, orange-red oval dots. You may see them clustered on your cat’s head, ears, feet or belly. They can cause intense itching, red bumps, crusty skin, and bald skin patches.
Your vet will likely prescribe a medication to kill the mites, and if your cat’s itching has been severe or ongoing, antibiotics may be required to get rid of an infection caused by wounds.
Fur Mites on Cats
Fur mites on cats are uncommon and mostly found in tropical regions like Hawaii, the Florida Keys, and Brazil. Cats get these fur mites by coming into contact with an infected cat or contaminated grooming tools. They are not highly contagious between cats, and unlike other mites, fur mites usually don’t cause itching, unless the cat is having an allergic response to the mites.
Common signs of fur mites on cats
- Dull, dry coat
- Salt-and-pepper-colored coat
- Rust-colored coat
- Hair falling out easily
Most flea and tick medications should be effective against fur mites on cats, or you can do weekly lime sulfur dips. (If your cat has long hair, it will be more effective to trim the hair before bathing.)
Cat Mites on Skin: Can Humans Contract Them?
While it is possible for you to get mites from your cat, deep breath. You may notice some red bumps and itching, but they won’t have the same effect on your body. So unless you’re going on a shower strike, your regular bathing routine should get rid of any cat skin mites.
Home Must-Dos When Dealing With Cat Skin Mites
Most mites have a three-week lifecycle and can survive for up to 10 days without a host. That means you’ll need to embrace your inner clean freak and thoroughly wash bedding on a hot setting, wash any combs, brushes and toys, wipe down surfaces, and vacuum the carpet. Because most forms of cat mites are highly contagious, if one pet in the home has mites, all pets should be treated for mites.
Soothing Your Cat's Ears When They Have Mites
Remember: out of all types of cat mites, ear mites are the most common. As you can imagine, having hundreds of little parasites scrambling around in the ear is itchy and awful for cats. Cleaning out all the mites and debris will give them instant itch relief and help in the mite battle, providing a clean surface for mite medication to penetrate and do its thing.
Oxyfresh Pet Ear Cleaner is the go-to of veterinarians, groomers, and cat lovers everywhere because it NEVER stings and is so soothing for the itch and irritation caused by mites.
It removes debris and stubborn wax like a champ, plus it’s the only ear cleaner with a proprietary oxidizer to stop odors and harmful bacteria on contact, making it an essential defense against ear infections. Try it and see why it’s the cat’s meow!
Cheers to keeping your furry friend healthy and mite-free!