Walking Dandruff (Cheyletiellosic Mange) in Cats

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4 min read

Key takeaways

Cheyletiellosis in cats is a form of mange commonly known as ‘walking dandruff’.

  • Caused by parasitic Cheyletiella species of mites living on the skin of many animals including cats, dogs, and rabbits
  • Cats with cheyletiellosis present with persistent dandruff with small white flecks in it, and itchiness or overgrooming which gets worse over time
  • More common in young cats, cats with an underlying illness, or those who have spent time in crowded cat housing, such as in boarding or at a breeding facility
  • Diagnosis of cheyletiellosis involves physical examination and identification of Cheyletiella mites on microscopy
  • Treatment includes multiple medications to treat the mites and manage any secondary skin infection
  • Prognosis is excellent, most cases respond to treatment but reinfestation is possible if treatment length is insufficient
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A closer look: Walking Dandruff (Cheyletiellosic Mange) in Cats

In infested cats, the Cheyletiella mites burrow down under the skin to feed, resulting in loss of the top layer of skin cells, which presents as dandruff. As the mites move around, the skin cells appear to move as well. This is known as walking dandruff. Cheyletiella mites are sometimes visible to the naked eye as small white flecks in the dandruff.

The underlying trigger of symptoms is an allergic reaction to the saliva of Cheyletiella mites. Severity of symptoms varies according to the strength of the individual immune response and mite burden. Grooming behavior reduces the mite burden and some cats persistently overgroom, rather than scratch.

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Risk factors

Cheyletiellosis is a contagious, uncomfortable condition in cats and requires prompt veterinary treatment. Cheyletiellosis can spread to other animals in the house. It normally responds well to treatment and carries an excellent prognosis. Humans exposed to cats with cheyletiellosis may experience transient skin irritation from mite bites.

Most healthy animals, including humans, have immunity to symptomatic infection from Cheyletiella mites. Symptoms are more common in cats with reduced immunity such as young cats and cats experiencing stress or underlying illness, like Feline Leukemia Virus or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.

Possible causes

Cheyletiellosis is caused by three species of Cheyletiella mite. Each type of mite has a preference for its host species (cat, rabbit, and dog), but all are able to survive on any host, including humans.

Main symptoms

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosis of cheyletiellosis involves:

  • Physical examination
  • Identification of Cheyletiella mites or eggs on microscopy, either from the skin or in the feces

Identification on microscopy is a definitive diagnosis, however, absence of mites does not rule out cheyletiellosis. Cats that are overgrooming are more likely to have negative microscopy results as the grooming removes the mites closest to the skin surface.

Steps to Recovery

Treatment focuses on:

  • Medication to eliminate Cheyletiella mites from the skin
  • Medication to treat itchiness, and secondary bacterial skin infections

Cheyletiellosis carries an excellent prognosis. Many common flea control medications successfully resolve infection with Cheyletiella mites and cats improve rapidly on administration of treatment. Note: always consult a veterinarian before administering topical medication to cats. Many topical medications are toxic to cats and can be fatal if used incorrectly.


Cheyletiella mites transfer readily to in-contact animals. While there are no licensed products for prevention, most routine parasite treatments for cats are effective for treatment and prevention.

Prevention focuses on:

  • Routine parasite treatment
  • Treatment of in-contact cats in confirmed cases
  • Environmental treatment with insecticides as Cheyletiella mites are able survive in the environment for 10 days

Is Walking Dandruff (Cheyletiellosic Mange) in Cats common?

Cheyletiellosis is uncommon in adult cats or cats that routinely use topical insecticides. The condition is more common in young cats and cats in multicat households.

Typical Treatment

Anti-parasitic medication

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