Mange In Dogs
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM March 18, 2020
Mangy is a word that gets thrown around a lot. It can be used to describe a piece of furniture (that mangy, old sofa) or a stray critter (a mangy cat tipped over our garbage can last night). While mangy can mean “shabby or in poor condition,” it also refers to being infected with mange. A whole different story altogether. Just what does that mean to you and your dog? Let’s find out.
What Is Mange In Dogs?
Mange in dogs refers to a skin infection caused by a couple of different mites. These little mites burrow deep down into the skin and cause all kinds of havoc, such as inflammation and itching that can turn into lesions and secondary infections.
Types Of Mange In Dogs
There are two main mite culprits that cause mange in dogs. While both of these mites are usually grouped together under the mange term, they actually cause two very different presentations.
- Demodectic mange
This type of mange is caused by the Demodex canis mite. Demodex mites are normal inhabitants of canine skin that are usually kept to a small number by your dog’s immune system. They don’t typically cause a problem. But an infection occurs when those numbers get too high, and the mites are able to reproduce unchecked by your dog’s immune system. It is most commonly seen in young puppies and dogs with other illnesses because of an immature or compromised immune system.
- Sarcoptic mange
The Sarcoptes scabiei mite causes sarcoptic mange, otherwise known as scabies. This highly contagious form of mange can cause problems in dogs of all ages and can live in the environment for up to three weeks. Female mites burrow into the skin to lay their eggs; those eggs hatch and then feed on dead skin cells. It takes approximately three weeks from the time of exposure until signs and symptoms develop.
How Do Dogs Get Mange?
This is another category where the two types of mange differ. Demodectic mange isn’t really contagious, all dogs have it after all. The first few little mites are transferred from mother to puppy soon after birth. Those pioneer mites set up a lifelong shop in the puppy’s hair follicles. Once the puppy’s immune system develops, they keep the number of mites at safe levels. If for some reason the puppy receives an abnormally large number of mites from their mother or their immune system is compromised, then they may develop clinical signs. Sometimes these signs are self-limiting, meaning they get better on their own without treatment, and sometimes they require intervention. Adult dogs that are immune compromised either due to age or illness can also develop demodectic mange symptoms because their body isn’t able to keep numbers at safe levels.
Sarcoptic mange, on the other hand, is very contagious from dog to dog and even from an infected environment. Some common environments that can cause an infection are boarding and grooming facilities, dog parks, or shelters. Since the symptoms take several weeks after exposure to appear, it’s often now known where the infection started.
Is Mange Contagious To Humans And Other Animals?
Sarcoptic mange is definitely a concern for people. These little mites will gladly jump from their dog host for another furry body or even a human one. They are capable of causing problems in other animals and humans, but usually don’t thrive and reproduce anywhere but on a dog.
Demodex is not contagious to humans or other critters. Since all pups have some demodectic mites on their bodies, these creepy-crawlies aren’t really looking for greener pastures elsewhere and tend to stay put.
The Symptoms Of Mange
Two very different mange mites create very different mange symptoms. Let’s look at each one individually.
- Demodectic mange
This one shows up as patchy hair loss. The hair loss starts off locally at one spot and then expands to the entire body if left untreated. The most common presentation I’ve seen is thinning of hair around the eyes that then spreads to the muzzle. The skin underneath may be red, crusty, and flaky. Dogs are usually only mildly itchy, if at all, with demodex.
- Sarcoptic mange
Again, patchy hair loss is key. Scabies tend to affect the edges of the ears, belly, elbows, and hocks first, and then it spreads to the rest of the body. The skin will also be red, scaly, and crusty. Dogs with scabies feel itchy. We’re talking about the kind of itchiness that prevents your dog from doing anything else kind of itchy because they are too busy scratching their itch. Their aggressive scratching can cause injuries to themselves and allow pathogens to move in, resulting in a secondary bacterial or yeast infections. As the infection progresses, the skin can become thickened and a whole-body defense can be employed leading to enlarged lymph nodes and weight loss.
How To Diagnose Mange
Finally, something that the two main types of mange can agree on is diagnosis. A definitive diagnosis of mange in your dog will require a skin scraping, and then viewing the mites under a microscope. Since demodex mites live in the hair follicles, they can be a little difficult to coax out, so it’s usually necessary to scrape the skin very deeply until there is blood. A negative skin scraping, meaning no mites found, doesn’t necessarily mean your dog doesn’t have mange. Your veterinarian may choose to start treatment for mange or repeat skin scrapings if they are still concerned.
How Is Mange Treated?
Small, localized demodex infections may not require treatment, as they may go away on their own once your dog’s immune system gets control. However, in more moderate or severe cases, treatment will be necessary to keep demodex from taking over your whole dog. Treatment is long term and can include special shampoos to kill mites and treat skin infections. In addition, topical flea and tick medications can also kill mites, and antibiotics or antifungals are used to treat secondary infections. No matter what treatment route your veterinarian chooses, expect it to take several weeks.
Sarcoptic mange is treated basically the same way with shampoos or topical medications. These dogs are more likely to need secondary infections and inflammation treated to relieve itching.
Mange should always be treated by a veterinarian. While there are many home remedies out there available on the internet, don’t give your dog anything or put anything on their skin that a veterinarian hasn’t given the okay to. Some of these substances like used motor oil, can be extremely toxic to your dog and does not do anything for treating mange.
What you can do at home is to keep your pup with mange away from other dogs until they’re given the all clear. Boost their immune system by making sure they have a proper complete diet, sheltered surroundings, and low-stress. Just remember, treating mange is a long process, several weeks in fact. So be ready to buckle down for the long haul. Also, finish the entire prescribed treatment. Don’t stop after a couple of weeks just because your dog looks better. You need a veterinarian to sign off to be truly certain that your dog is mange-free.
Is Mange Fatal?
Mange, itself, isn’t fatal in our domestic dogs. What is fatal is when strays or homeless pups contract it and don’t have owners that will pay the bill for treatment. These pups may often get euthanized just due to the lack of funds or resources for such a long treatment process.
How To Prevent Mange In Dogs
Both types of mange in dogs can be prevented by keeping your dog healthy with a balanced diet, low stress, and taking precautions around sick dogs. If another dog appears sick or “mangy,” then avoid that dog. Only use reputable groomers and boarding facilities that you know are clean and on top of things. And see your veterinarian if your dog is experiencing any kind of hair loss or skin issue.
When Should You See A Vet for Mange In Dogs?
Take your pup to the vet at the first sign of mange. That means any thinning of the hair or hair loss, or any excessive itchiness. It’s not a bad idea to see a vet even if your pup has only been exposed to dogs with mange. Jump on it before it becomes an issue. Again, don’t treat your dog at home without supervision of a veterinarian. Many products that are supposed to kill mange can be toxic to your dog.
Mange in dogs, either demodectic or sarcoptic, can create an unsightly and uncomfortable condition in our canine companions. Treatment is very effective especially if mange is caught early. However, the duration of the treatment is long. Lastly, always get a veterinarian involved if you suspect mange in your dog and follow all of their recommendations, especially the part about keeping them away from other dogs to decrease the spread.