Mites are a part of life for your kitty. They aren't always a problem, however. Some are natural residents of your cat's hair follicles. They are normally harmless, but they can get out of hand if your cat has a weakened immune system. Not all mites are as gentle though.
Demodex mites live on all cats. In healthy cats, they spend their entire life eating dead skin from the safety of their host's hair follicles. Your cat's immune system keeps their population in check. If your pet is weakened from an immune disorder or disease, then the mites may overstep their boundaries and attack living cells. When this happens, they cause standard symptoms of a mite infestation, including shedding, itching and inflamed skin. These mites are not contagious between cats and can't be transmitted from a cat to a person or other animal, according to the ASPCA.
Unfortunately, even healthy cats can fall victim to contagious mites. These invaders cause mange or scabies, which are widespread skin disorders that make your pet miserable. These burrowing mites dig through the upper layer of your cat's skin, leaving trails of itchy bumps in their wake. The sarcoptes mite responsible for scabies targets exposed areas, like your kitty's face, jaw and legs, according to Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Services. Scabies mites can bite you if they jump on your hand as you stroke your cat, but they can't reproduce on humans.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Mites aren't visible to the naked eye, so don't rely on a quick inspection of your pet's skin to determine if he has mites or not. If your cat's been itching for several days without letting up, then schedule an appointment with your vet. Your vet can take a few tests and examine your pet's skin cells under a microscope to confirm an infestation of mites. If your pet does have mites, keep him isolated from the other animals and people in your household until the infestation clears up.
Treatment and Itch Relief
Your vet will prescribe a medication appropriate for the type of mites your kitty has. Medication comes in various forms, including shampoos, dips and ointments, according to the ASPCA. He also may shave the area around damaged skin and clean it if your pet has mange or scabies from scratch wounds. Ask your vet about soothing shampoos and other products to ease your cat's itching. Some aren't appropriate for animals with open wounds, so make sure you get clearance before using them. Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.