If your cat's fur has been looking mangier than usual, it's very possible that it actually is mange. Also called scabies, mange is a skin disorder caused by an infestation of mites. These practically microscopic organisms chew their way across your cat's skin, causing all sorts of visible damage.
Signs of Infestation
Mange develops gradually as the mite infestation gets worse. Your kitty simply may act agitated and scratch frequently at his skin as the first mites appear. Localized itching spreads across the body over the first few days. You also may notice a series of small red bumps on your hand after holding or petting your cat. The mites can bite humans, although they can't truly infest them because they require felines to reproduce, according to the ASPCA. Mites are less than 1 mm long, so just because you can't see them doesn't mean they aren't there.
The real damage starts as the mites multiply and your cat continues to scratch at the same areas over a period of days or weeks. Small portions of the infested cat's skin, called primary lesions, become hard and crusted as he damages his skin by scratching the itch, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. Mange mites prefer hairless patches of skin, so the first lesions often develop along your kitty's belly or around his ears.
Between the mite bites and your cat's sharp claws, you should expect your cat's appearance to change a bit in the short-term. Mange leads to hair loss and localized balding, and the only way to stop the shedding is to treat the mite infestation. Mange mites live in hair follicles and a significant infestation can make a good portion of the fur fall out. The visibly reddened and scaly skin caused by the mites is easy to confuse with other common feline skin problems, including allergies, according to Mar Vista Animal Medical Center.
Mites have a lot in common with fleas and other common parasites, but they aren't a problem you can deal with on your own. If your cat really does have mange mites, there's a good chance he needs prescription medication to get better. Your vet may recommend an ointment that you can apply at home if the condition isn't severe, but an injection or mite-bath is needed for bad infestations, according to the ASPCA.
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.