How to Care for a Healthy Cat: HEAD MITES

The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care: HEAD MITES


Head mites, Notoedres cati, are microscopic mites that infest cats and that can transiently infest human beings and dogs. These mites burrow beneath the horny layers of the skin causing intense signs of itching followed by hair loss. Because these mites seem to prefer the skin of the head and ears, thickened, wrinkled skin and gray crusts and scales are usually first seen in these areas and on the back of the neck. In neglected cases lesions of this appearance may be found on the feet and under the tail. Notoedres infestation is easily spread from cat to cat.


If you suspect that your cat has head mange, infection can only be confirmed by microscopic examination of a skin scraping. Therefore, it is advisable to have your cat examined by a veterinarian before beginning treatment for the mites. Not only can he or she confirm the presence of mites and give you detailed information on the use of a proper insecticide to prevent toxicity to your cat, but a veterinarian can also administer corticosteroid drugs, if necessary, to help relieve the itching until the mites are completely gone, and antibiotics in cases of secondary bacterial infection.


If you cannot obtain the services of a veterinarian and choose to begin treatment yourself, be sure to pick an insecticide marked clearly as safe for cats and follow the directions on it carefully. Treatment must include all cats in contact with the infected one. It consists of clipping hair on affected areas on long-haired cats, bathing, and applying a dip which kills Notoedres at least twice at 7- to 10-day intervals. Dips reported effective against Notoredres and safe for cats include 2.5% dilution of lime sulfur (orchard spray available at garden stores), and 0.2% malathion. Dipping must often continue for four to eight treatments. Veterinarians may treat cases of head mite infestation with antimite drugs administered by injection.