Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Beauty and Demodex are only skin deep

A litter of kittens was recently born in the basement of one of the local paper mills in  town .  I am not quite clear how the pregnant mom got inside the building , probably a kind-hearted soul that  brought her in from the Wisconsin winter. One of the kittens from the litter,  now a 12 week old kitten called Mittens, a fluffy black and white girl, was adopted by a New London family with two adult indoor cats, Cyrus and Grizz.   Here is where the story begins.  Cyrus and Grizz are pampered indoor family pets.  They live in a safe, healthy, controlled environment until now.  Enter Mittens….  an itchy stray kitten…

“Mittens” came in for her first wellness visit this week.
 Mittens, although cute, had a checkered past.  Born to a mom of questionable health, Mittens had acquired a highly contagious, although microscopic, skin parasite from her mama.   This parasite is called Demodex Gatoi.  (see picture for graphic depiction).  This skin parasite is smaller than the tip of a needle.   Demodex Gatoi is considered a fairly recent bug, having been first discovered and documented in 1981 in Finland.   Since then it has gradually become more prevalent in other countries, and is now considered a common cause of feline skin disease in the Southern United States, and I have seen several cases in my practice .   It  is not easily found on the skin or fur, because it lives and burrows deep into the keratin layer of the epidermis,  causing  itchy skin, and leading to severe inflammation and ulcerations.  And it is very contagious to other cats.

Luckily for Mittens, the owners brought a fresh stool sample in for analysis at their first appointment.  Now a stool sample is usually evaluated for parasites that live in the gastrointestinal tract, right?  So how did the skin mite end up in the stool, you ask???  (this is the cool part).  Remember that Mittens had been itchy.  Itchy cats chew at their skin.  Chewed hair  (including the mite that is hanging around under the skin) gets swallowed when cats chew their skin.  A skin mite that is swallowed has entered the  GI tract, and is waiting for the eyes of my skilled technician Kim to identify it (as she did  in Mitten's case) in a stool analysis.  

The spotlight is on Mittens and Demodex Gatoi  , but this story is really about the importance of a stool sample examination.  Preventative testing like a fecal analysis can be an invaluable diagnostic test, one that we strongly recommend for all cats on an annual basis.     Without  the foresight and concern of Mitten’s owner this contagious parasite  would have gone undiagnosed and Mittens, Grizz and Cyrus’s health would have been put at risk.    The take away lesson is that  important health information can be found in that smelly, not-to-fun to collect stool sample.  Bring one along on your cat's next wellness visit.  

If you are interested, here is more information about this fascinating feline specific skin parasite:  FELINE DEMODEX INFORMATION

As always, thanks for listening.

Dr. Maureen Flatley
Fox Valley Cat Clinic