Scabies Treatment for Cats: Scabies is a highly contagious skin disease in cats caused by tiny mites called Sarcoptes scabiei. These mites burrow into the outer layer of skin, laying eggs and feeding on skin and tissue fluids. This causes severe itching, irritation, and infection.
Cats pick up scabies mites through direct contact with an infected animal. The mites spread easily between cats, especially in overcrowded, poorly ventilated living conditions. Kittens and cats with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible.
If your cat is scratching, biting, or licking excessively, especially around the ears, elbows, and hocks, it could indicate scabies. Other signs include:
- Bald spots or crusty sores from constant scratching
- Visible mites, mite eggs (white specks), or mite feces (black specks) on the skin
- Scaly, thickened, or darkened skin
- Ear infections or crusts in and around the ears
- Weight loss or lethargy due to discomfort
Diagnosing and Treating Scabies in Cats
To diagnose scabies, your vet will examine your cat’s skin and may take skin scrapings to view under a microscope to spot mites, eggs or feces. The most effective treatment is medication to kill the mites, typically ivermectin or moxidectin. Your vet will also provide antibiotics if infection is present.
Signs Your Cat May Have Scabies
If your cat is scratching, biting, or licking excessively, it could be a sign of scabies. This highly contagious skin parasite can make your feline companion miserable. Watch for these telltale signs that your cat may have scabies:
1. Excessive scratching, biting or licking
Scabies mites burrow into the skin, causing severe itching and irritation. Your cat may scratch, bite or lick the affected area obsessively trying to relieve the discomfort. Pay attention if your cat seems to be scratching more than usual or if the scratching is intense.
2. Bald spots or rashes
The constant scratching and irritation can lead to hair loss, rashes, scabs or crusty skin on the ears, elbows, hocks or belly. The mites tend to infest these areas, especially the ears. Inspect your cat regularly for any abnormal skin changes or bald spots.
3. Restlessness or skin twitching
The incessant itching may make it difficult for your cat to rest or sleep. You may notice skin twitching, especially around the ears or scratching that seems involuntary. Some cats may whimper or cry due to the discomfort.
4. Ear inflammation
Scabies mites love to burrow into the ear canals. Check your cat’s ears for redness, crusts, discharge or debris. Ear mites can cause similar inflammation but will often also include a dark, waxy discharge. Have your vet examine a swab of the ear discharge to determine the cause.
If your cat is exhibiting multiple signs of scabies or the symptoms seem severe, it’s best to have your vet examine your cat. They can check for mites under the microscope by doing a skin scraping. Early diagnosis and treatment is key to curing your cat of this itchy infestation and preventing it from spreading to other pets.
Treating Scabies in Cats With Medications
Treating scabies in cats typically requires medication to eliminate the mites. There are several options for treating feline scabies, including:
1. Topical Medications
Topical medications, like lime sulfur dips, are applied directly to the skin. Lime sulfur dip is a natural pesticide that kills the scabies mites and eggs. You’ll need to dip or spray your cat with the solution, then repeat in 7-10 days. Lime sulfur can irritate the skin, so do a patch test first and follow all instructions.
2. Oral Medications
Oral medications, such as ivermectin or milbemycin, are given by mouth, either in tablet, liquid or injection form. Ivermectin kills the scabies mites and eggs and provides relief from symptoms like itching. It may require multiple doses to fully eliminate an infestation. Milbemycin, found in Interceptor or Sentinel flea medications, can also treat scabies when given orally in higher doses. These tend to be very safe but may cause side effects like vomiting or diarrhea in some cats.
Steroids, such as prednisone, may be used to reduce inflammation, swelling and ease discomfort as the mites are being treated. Steroids can provide quick relief from symptoms but do not kill the mites themselves. They are often used in combination with other medications. Long term use or high doses of steroids may have side effects, so they are usually only used short-term.
Your vet can prescribe medication specific to your cat’s condition and age. Be very careful not to use dog medication on cats, as the dosages and formulations are different and could be toxic. Treat all animals in the household to avoid re-infestation.
It’s important to quarantine affected cats during treatment and thoroughly clean the environment. Wash all bedding, towels, clothing, and vacuum frequently. Scabies mites can survive for several days in the environment, so cleaning is critical for successful treatment and prevention.