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Scabies, or sarcoptic mange, is a skin condition that infects canines and humans, although it occasionally affects felines as well. Although the condition is uncommon in cats, scabies can cause mild to severe skin irritations and infections if left untreated.
Scabies Mites and Symptoms
Canine scabies is caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite, a microscopic parasite closely related to spiders. After mating, an adult female burrows into the host's skin to lay eggs. The burrowing action causes severe itchiness and results in constant scratching. The scratching can cause patchy hair loss, redness, scabs and sores. Although canine scabies can occur anywhere on the body, the mites prefer to attack a host animal's ears, abdomen and elbows.
Scabies Mite Transmission
Mites are generally host-specific: Certain mites are attracted to only certain types of creatures to live on. Despite this, canine mites sometimes infest kitties that have continuous direct contact with an infected doggy housemate. The good news is that because felines aren't natural hosts for these mites, the infestations, extreme itchiness and frantic scratching should last for a just a short time before the condition resolves on its own.
Veterinarians often first try to diagnose scabies via skin scrapings examined under a microscope. However, the mites can burrow deep, and your pet's scratching can kill the tiny pests, both of which make the scabies condition hard for vets to confirm. Because of this, vets often treat for sarcoptic mites and simply wait to see if the treatments work.
Although scabies can be hard to diagnose, it is relatively easy to treat. Medicated lime-sulfur dips have proved to be very effective for killing mites on both dogs and cats, but vets often recommend trying other treatments first, since most cats have a natural aversion to getting wet. Injections of medications containing ivermectin often allow for a quick recovery, but cats easily become reinfected if they stay around animals still infested with the mites.
Ask your vet about treating your cat with a selamectin- or moxidectin-based medication designed to control fleas. Although approved to treat sarcoptic mange on dogs, they have yet to be approved to treat scabies on cats, as of September 2013. The Mar Vista Animal Medical Center website notes that using these medications can effectively control future infestations while preventing the mites from infecting your other cats. Carefully follow your vet's prescribed treatment plan, or you might have to start treatment all over again.
A Few Precautions
Not only can canine scabies mites affect kitties, but they can also affect humans. People, like felines, aren't preferred hosts, but the pests can still cause uncomfortable itching and a red. mosquito bite-like rash might appear on your arms and torso. (ref 4, ref 1) Wearing protective gloves when handling infected pets can help you avoid catching this condition. Consult your doctor if you do develop any scabies symptoms.
Because mites are very contagious, treat all of your pets once a dog or cat has been diagnosed with scabies. Wash or replace all pet bedding, harnesses and collars; vacuum the carpets; and keep infected pets indoors and isolated to avoid spreading the mites to other animals and family members.