What Is Mange?
Mange is a skin disease caused by several species of tiny mites, common external parasites found in companion canines. Some mange mites are normal residents of your dog’s skin and hair follicles, while others are not. All mites can cause mild to severe skin infections if they proliferate.
What Causes Mange in Dogs?
Sarcoptic mange (Sarcoptes scabei) is transferred easily between hosts. Also known as canine scabies, sarcoptic mange is caused by mites that are oval-shaped, light-colored and microscopic.
All dogs raised normally by their mothers possess demodectic mange mites (Demodex canis), which are transferred from mother to pup via cuddling during the first few days of life. Most dogs live in harmony with their mites, never suffering any consequences.
There are three types of demodectic mange that affect canines. Localized cases occur when these mites proliferate in one or two small, confined areas. This results in isolated scaly bald patches—usually on the dog's face—creating a polka-dot appearance. Localized demodicosis is considered a common ailment of puppyhood, and approximately 90% of cases resolve with no treatment of any kind.
Generalized demodectic mange, in contrast, affects larger areas of skin or a dog’s entire body. Secondary bacterial infections make this a very itchy and often smelly skin disease. This form of mange could also be a sign of a compromised immune system, hereditary problem, endocrine problem or other underlying health issue. Treatment depends on the age at which the dog developed the disease.
One of the most resistant forms of mange, demodectic pododermatitis is confined to the foot and accompanied by bacterial infections. Deep biopsies are often required to locate these mites and make a proper diagnosis.
Is Demodectic Mange Contagious?
Current thinking is that Demodex mites can be transferred from one dog to another—but as long as the dog is healthy, the mites simply add to the dog's natural mite population and no skin disease results. Isolation of dogs with even the most severe cases is still felt to be unnecessary—though in rare circumstances, contagion is possible. While there are still different theories about dog-to-dog transmission of Demodex mites, it is accepted that mites cannot be transmitted to humans or to cats.
What Are the General Symptoms of Mange in Dogs?
The symptoms of mange depend on which type of mite is present. Demodectic mange tends to cause hair loss, bald spots, scabbing and sores. Secondary bacterial infections can make demodectic mange an itchy and uncomfortable disease.
Sarcoptic mange tends to cause intense itching. It can result in restlessness and frantic scratching, symptoms that generally appear one week after exposure. It also can result in hair loss, reddened skin, body sores and scabs. The most commonly affected areas are a dog’s ears, elbows, face and legs, but it can rapidly spread to the entire body.
When passed to humans, sarcoptic mange causes a rash of red bumps, similar to mosquito bites. Humans cannot get demodectic mange from dogs.
What Should I Do If I Think My Dog Has Mange?
Take your dog to a veterinarian, who will perform a physical exam, analyze skin scrapings and try to confirm the presence of mange mites with a microscope. It can be difficult to identify mange mites if they’re buried deep in a dog’s skin, so your vet may rely on clinical signs or your pet’s history to make a final diagnosis.
Are Certain Dogs Prone to Mange?
- Puppies and dogs less than 18 months old are especially prone to developing localized demodectic mange, which often clears up on its own.
- Generalized demodectic mange, the more serious, pervasive kind, can be hereditary in dogs. Old English sheepdogs and shar peis are prone to a severe form of demodectic mange affecting the feet. Older dogs who have an underlying illness may also be more prone.
How Is Mange Treated?
Depending on the type of mange and the breed of your dog, medication may be given orally or applied topically, by injection, or via shampoo and dip.
The first step in the treatment of sarcoptic mange is isolating your dog to prevent the condition from spreading to other pets and humans. Your vet may prescribe antiparasitic medications, as well as medication to ease itching, inflammation and secondary skin infections. Results are usually seen after a month of treatment.
Medications and managing physiological stress are essential when treating demodectic mange. Some infected dogs may also require special treatment—such as medicated shampoos—for secondary skin infections.
Please note, many skin treatments can be toxic to dogs and should not be repeated frequently, so check with your vet before beginning any treatment program for mange.
Is There a Cure for Mange?
Younger dogs often recover fully from mange, but adult dogs often require long-term therapy to control the disease. Dogs with demodectic mange should not be bred, as this condition is thought to be hereditary.
Treatment, no matter which option is chosen, should be accompanied by skin scrapes every two weeks. After two consecutive scrapes are negative, medication is discontinued, but a final scrape should be performed one month after treatment to ensure there isn’t a recurrence.
How Can I Prevent a Recurrence of Mange?
- If your dog has been diagnosed with sarcoptic mange, you’ll need to thoroughly clean or replace his bedding and collar and treat all animals in contact.
- If you suspect a neighbor’s dog may be infected, keep your pets away to keep the disease at bay.
- Bring your dog to the vet periodically as recommended for recheck skin scrapes to ensure the mites have been eradicated.