“Get out of here, you mangy mutt!” It’s a common insult hurled at stray dogs in movies by old curmudgeon shop keepers. We’re all familiar with this characterization of the stray as a ratty old mongrel, smelly and riddled with fleas and mites. It’s true! Many strays do suffer from skin conditions like mange, not to mention undernourishment and overall poor health. But it might come as a surprise to some people that strays are not the only ones at risk for developing mange in dogs. In fact, this unpleasantly itchy condition is actually pretty common in the canine world. Any dog, particularly young ones under the age of 18 months, can develop mange in varying degrees of severity.
So how do you know if your pup is at risk? Or what to do if you suspect that all that scratching means your dog has been unlucky enough to get mange? We’ve put together this guide to help you understand what causes mange in dogs and how to treat it. We’ll cover risk factors, how to diagnose it, and what to do to protect your dog from the dreaded mange.
What is Mange in Dogs?
Mange is a type of skin condition caused by microscopic arthropods called mites that live in your dog’s skin and hair follicles. Some species of mites are naturally present on our pets’ and even our own skin. Problems arise, however, when the number of mites multiplies and spreads uncontrollably. When this happens, your dog’s body is no longer able to defend itself from the army of microscopic invaders. A weakened immune system compromises a dog’s ability to keep the parasitic mites at bay. So younger and older dogs, as well as those with other health issues, are at a greater risk for developing the condition.
This is particularly true of one of two main types of mange in dogs known as demodicosis, or demodectic mange. The other type, sarcoptic mange, or canine scabies, is highly transmissible and is passed easily from dog to dog. A different species of mite causes it, and it is often more severe and harder to treat than demodectic mange. We’ll take a closer look at both types, as well as a less commonly known variety, and how to diagnose and treat them.
Types of Mange in Dogs
Also known as red mange or puppy mange (as it’s most common in puppies), demodicosis arises from the Demodex canis species of mites. Demodex mites normally live benignly inside dogs’ hair follicles for the duration of their 20 to 35-day life cycle. They are born, live, and die all on the host dog. The mother typically passes them on to her newborn puppies within the first couple weeks of life. While most puppies won’t experience any adverse reactions to the mites, those with underdeveloped immune systems may become overwhelmed by the mites.
When this happens, the puppy will develop symptoms of demodectic mange. The symptoms and extent of the condition will vary according to the variety of mage (localized or generalized) present. Generally speaking, a dog with demodicosis will develop varying degrees of hair loss, or alopecia. You may also notice a redness of the skin, or erythema, and the appearance of sores and lesions. Your dog will scratch himself incessantly in an effort to alleviate the itching, which can further aggravate the skin.
Scabies, or sarcoptic mange, is a highly contagious skin condition cause by the mite Sarcoptes scabei. These mites burrow into the skin and lay their eggs before dying, inflaming the skin in the process. The eggs hatch, become adults, and breed, repeating the life cycle every two to three weeks. This type of mange in dogs causes extreme itching and leads to excessive hair loss and the appearance of red, crusty sores. Unlike Demodex mites, Sarcoptes mites can survive off the host for several days. This greatly increases the risk that the condition will spread to other animals and even people within the same household.
This type of mange, caused by an infestation of the C. yasguri mite, is relatively unheard of. However, it is actually so common that it is considered something of an under-diagnosed epidemic. The condition is nicknamed “walking dandruff” because of the way the mites move beneath the keratin layer, pushing up scales of skin as they go. Signs of Cheyletiellosis include an unkept coat scattered with what looks like flakes of yellow dandruff but are actually the Cheyletiellosis mites themselves. You might also see some hair loss and small red bumps on the skin where the mites have bitten. The condition causes lots of unpleasant itching and is highly contagious between dogs and other animals.
What Causes Mange in Dogs?
As we have seen, all three types of mange in dogs are borne of different species of parasitic mites. However, the underlying cause of the symptoms for each, and therefore the treatment, is somewhat different. Demodex mites usually live on dogs and spread from mothers to puppies harmlessly. Even for those puppies that develop demodectic mange, the condition will often clear up on its own in a matter of weeks. The likelihood of a particular dog developing demodectic mange depends on the strength of their immune system and general health. It has nothing to do with the external environment, as Demodex mites cannot survive off of their host. That means you don’t need to worry about mites lurking in your pet’s bedding or them “catching” demodectic mange from other dogs.
Sarcoptic and Cheyletiellosis mange in dogs, on the other hand, are highly contagious and spread by contact with another dog carrying the mites. To make matters worse, not all dogs with sarcoptic mange will exhibit symptoms. Dogs that are able to produce sufficient antibodies to keep the mites in check will be able to maintain low numbers of these mites without developing obvious symptoms.
Because these pesky buggers can live off the host for up to four days, your dog can also pick them up from the environment. This includes through contact with bedding, toys, brushes, furniture, drapes, rugs, and anywhere else the mites be inhabiting. For this reason, most dogs with scabies are isolated during treatment to keep the mites from spreading. And you’ll want to carry out a thorough cleaning of any household items the mites might be holing up in, including but not limited to your dog’s living area.
Demodectic Mange in Dogs
Now that we’ve seen what causes demodicosis in dogs, we’ll take a closer look at the different types of demodectic mange.
Localized Demodectic Mange
As the name implies, localized demodectic mange occurs in just a few areas on the dog’s body. These typically include the face, trunk, and legs. Symptoms are usually mild and will appear as patchy lesions and bald spots in the affected areas. This type is most commonly seen in puppies and often resolves itself once the pup develops immunocompetence.
Generalized Demodectic Mange
Demodicosis of this variety will appear more widespread and involve larger areas of skin over the whole body. In addition to redness of the skin and alopecia, you might see the appearance of scales and lesions. Dogs with generalized demodectic mange are also at risk of developing secondary bacterial infections. Signs of a yeast or bacterial infection include intense itching, weight loss, and the presence of a strong, musty odor.
This variety is the least common and also the hardest to get rid of. It occurs only in the feet and causes a secondary bacterial infection between the toes and the pads of the feet. The condition is difficult to diagnose and treat and causes painful inflammation of tissues in the foot.
Sarcoptic Mange in Dogs
While symptoms of this contagious condition vary somewhat between individuals, common indicators include extreme itching and hair loss. In contrast to Demodex mites, Sarcoptes mites prefer areas of the skin without hair. Thus you might first notice symptoms cropping up around areas like the ears, chest, elbows, belly, and groin. Without proper treatment, the condition can quickly spread throughout the whole body, often accompanied by red pustules and crusty sores. As your dog scratches incessantly at their skin, they may open up those sores and increase their susceptibility to secondary infections.
Diagnosis of Mange in Dogs
Mange in dogs can be tricky to definitively diagnose. Symptoms of mange, including intense itching and hair loss, can also be indicators of other conditions. Common misdiagnosis include severe allergic reactions and bacterial infections in the skin or hair follicles. To properly diagnose mange in dogs, a vet will need to confirm the presence of mites by taking a scraping of your dog’s skin. However, the scrapings don’t always come back positive, even when your dog does have mange. In fact, the mites usually only show up in a microscopic examination about 20 to 50 percent of the time. For this reason, if all the symptoms point to mange, many vets will choose to begin treatment even if the initial skin scraping turns up negative.
How To Treat Mange in Dogs?
We’ve covered the different types of mange, their causes, and what they look like. But how do you treat mange in dogs? While there are some treatments common to all three types of mange, we’ll look at treatments for each one separately.
Treating Demodectic Mange
Treatment for demodicosis varies depending on the severity of the condition. If your puppy is showing symptoms of localized demodectic mange, there’s a good chance that it will disappear on its own. For severe cases of generalized demodectic mange, a trip to the vet is necessary. Traditional veterinary treatments for mange in dogs involves dipping the dog in a strong chemical bath to kill any mites living on the skin. Common dips include invermectin, selamectin, and doramectin. Your vet might also use a lime-sulfur dip, a smelly, albeit effective all-natural alternative to these chemical dips. A number of different treatments are often used in conjunction with each other, as some mites can develop immunity to certain dips.
Treating Sarcoptic Mange
Treatment of sarcoptic mange in dogs also entails dipping to kill any mites living on the skin’s surface. Dips are ineffective against any eggs yet to hatch that are burrowed into the skin. For this reason, dogs with sarcoptic mange will need to undergo continuous treatment to fully eradicate the parasites. Depending on the severity of the mange, your dog might need a weekly dip for up to four to six weeks. Your vet might also prescribe an anti-parasitic drug for your dog to take orally in conjunction with the dips.
Treating Cheyletiellosis Mange
The treatment for cheyletiellosis mange is similar to that used when dealing with cases of demodectic and sarcoptic mange. Lime-sulfur dips, alone or in conjunction with an oral medication, are used to kill the fleas. Like sarcoptic mange, cheyletiellosis is highly contagious between dogs and other animals like cats, rabbits, and even humans. Be sure to thoroughly clean your dog’s living area, disinfect his bedding, and treat all other animals in your household. This ensures that the mites are gone for good.
A number of natural remedies are effective in both alleviating symptoms of mange and killing the offending mites. Certain herbs and essential oils like chamomile, neem, and cedar oil work to reduce inflammation of the skin and relieve itching. Disinfecting shampoos containing natural ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and tea tree oil are also great at soothing skin. Additionally, they will staving off any secondary bacterial infections. We recommend working with a holistic veterinarian to determine how to best treat your dog so that the mange does not reoccur.
For severe cases of mange in dogs, particularly of the sarcoptic variety, natural remedies may not be enough. In these cases, it is likely your vet will need to prescribe an oral medication. Also remember that lime-sulfur dips are safer alternatives to dips containing harsh chemicals and pesticides. While traditional dips are effective in killing mites, they often come with a host of adverse side effects. These include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, tremors, and some central nervous system issues.
In both demodectic and sarcoptic cases of mange in dogs, treatment should continue until two to three consecutive skin scrapings come back negative for mites. Again, scrapings don’t always show positive for mites, even when they are present. So you should also see that any outward symptoms are resolved. The hair should be growing back in the infected areas, and you shouldn’t see any fresh outbreaks. It is also extremely important to attend to your dog’s overall state of health. Ensuring that he is healthy and eating well will strengthen his immune system against future infections.
Can I Catch Mange From My Dog?
Demodectic mange is not contagious between dogs and humans. Sarcoptic mange, on the other hand, is passed not just between dogs, but from dogs to humans as well. Scabies in humans will manifest as itchy red or purplish rashes on the arms, hands, chest, or abdomen. Canine mites do not reproduce on humans so the condition should clear up once the dog has been treated. In the meantime, a permethrin cream or lindane lotion may be prescribed to alleviate itching. It is also possible for cheyletiellosis mange to transmit between dogs and humans. On people, this will usually be nothing more than a mild irritation and raised bumps usually occurring on the arms and legs,
A 2010 study of sarcoptic mange in dogs revealed that age is the biggest risk factor in contracting mange. The condition predominantly affects young dogs whose immune systems are not yet fully developed. Indeed, the risk of a dog developing demodectic mange dips significantly after 3 years of age, at which time their immune system is mature and fully functioning.
A high degree of contact with other animals is also a risk factor, indicating the highly contagious nature of the condition. Dogs frequently exposed to kennels, shelters, groomers, dog parks, and other high-traffic places are going to be at a higher risk for contracting sarcoptic mange. The risk increases for puppies and older or sick dogs with compromised immune systems.
Genetics may also play a role in predisposition to demodectic mange. For this reason, it is generally recommended that dogs with generalized demodectic mange not be bred. However, the jury’s still out on how much heredity really has to do with it. There has also been some evidence of certain breeds being at greater risk for developing demodectic mange. The reason for this is unknown, but those breeds deemed at risk include Old English Sheepdogs, Collies, Lhasa Apsos, Shar-Peis, Shih Tzus, Dobermans, and Boxers. Additionally, anti-parasitic medications like Ivermectin have been shown to have serious, even fatal, side effects in certain breeds that have a mutation in the multi-drug resistance gene (MDR1). The gene lives in many herding breeds, including Collies, Sheepdogs, Australian Shepherds, and Shetland Sheepdogs.
Prevention of Mange in Dogs
Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way to prevent mange in dogs. The best thing you can do is to keep your pup in good health by providing them with a healthy, well-balanced diet. Keep them up to date on their shots and immunizations and maintain a flea, tick, and worm prevention regime. A strong immune system is your dog’s first line of defense against mange. As mites thrive more in dirty conditions, it is also a good idea to maintain a clean and sanitary living environment.
Another step you can take is to limit your dog’s exposure to dogs that have sarcoptic mange or those carrying Sarcoptes mites. Of course, this is easier said than done, as the condition might not always be obvious. But since these mites flourish in cramped and crowded conditions – like groomers and kennels – avoid exposing your dog to such places as much as possible. Certain types of wildlife, including red foxes and coyotes, carry Sarcoptes mites. Use caution when letting your dog run in the woods or other areas frequented by potentially disease-carrying wild animals.
If you suspect that your pup has mange, don’t hesitate to take them to the vet for an official diagnosis. Particularly in the more severe cases, it is likely that your dog will need veterinary care to properly treat the symptoms and exterminate the mites for good.
Mites don’t discriminate amongst dogs. Given the right circumstances, any dog can wind up dealing with the not-so-fun effects of a mite infestation. While there’s nothing you can do to protect your pup from mange with absolute certainty, you shouldn’t live in constant fear of these tiny mites. Mange, in all its forms, is common among dogs of all walks of life (not just strays!) but is totally manageable given the proper care and treatment.
Illustrations inspired by our furry friend Lexor .