Welcome to our complete guide to mange in dogs. Answering your top dog mange questions, including ‘what is mange’ and ‘how do dogs get mange’.
We will also help you to understand how to identify mange symptoms and the best treatments.
You’ve probably heard the expression, “mangy mutt,” at least once in your lifetime. It brings to mind street dogs slinking down back alleys, covered in dirt and scabby skin and who knows what else.
The reality is much more ordinary.
Mange is a common skin condition found in dogs, cats, and other pets.
It can be a serious condition. Knowing the symptoms of mange in dogs and the available treatment options can help you keep your dog comfortable.
What is mange in dogs?
Mange is a contagious disease in dogs caused by parasitic mites.
These are tiny skin parasites that live and feed on skin. Some are normal, while others can lead to big problems.
When your dog is infested with the wrong mites, it causes a skin disease called mange.
There are four main types of mange in dogs.
- Sarcoptic mange
- Demodex mange
- Otodectic mange
- Cheyletiellosis (walking dandruff)
Each type of mange is caused by a different species of mite. These mites cause different symptoms and infest different locations, which can help your veterinarian diagnose the type of mange your dog is suffering from.
How do dogs get mange?
Dogs contract the mites that cause mange in several ways. They can get them from direct contact with another dog, or by indirect contact with an infested environment or person.
Puppies often get demodex mites from their mothers within their first 72 hours of life.
Some places carry a higher risk of mange than others.
Kennels, breeding facilities, and other locations where large numbers of dogs are housed or congregate carry a higher risk of most diseases, including mange.
If you regularly board your dog, keep an eye out for any changes in their skin, as this could be an indication of a mange infection.
What causes mange in dogs?
Mange is caused by dog mites.
However, mange can also be a symptom of an underlying condition, like Cushing’s disease, cancer, hypothyroidism, diabetes, or another condition that compromises your dog’s immune system.
If your veterinarian suspects that there is an underlying cause for your dog’s skin condition, they will probably recommend running some blood tests in addition to taking skin scrapings.
What does mange look like on a dog?
So how do you tell if a dog has mange?
The first things owners usually notice are either itching or a change in the appearance of their dog’s skin.
These changes vary depending on the type of mange, and range from small, scaly spots to large areas of hair loss and redness.
Before you start sleuthing, you need to know a little more about the four types of mange.
Sarcoptic mange in dogs
Sarcoptic mange, also known as canine scabies, is a highly contagious disease caused by the sarcoptes scabiei mite.
These mites are generally host specific, which means they are only found on a specific animal, but canine scabies can pass from dogs to other animals and people.
Dogs with scabies are very itchy, and their skin is often covered with yellow pimples. Hair loss and redness are also common, and in chronic cases, the skin thickens and forms crusty folds.
Scabies infestations typically begin on the abdomen, chest, ears, elbows and hocks. If the infestation is not treated, the mange spreads.
In severe cases, canine scabies can lead to emaciation, lymph node disease, and even death.
Demodex mange in dogs
The demodex canis mite is a regular inhabitant of your dog’s skin. In small numbers, these mites are normal, and do not cause problems.
When that number grows, however, it leads to canine demodicosis, also called demodex mange.
There are three types of demodicosis in dogs.
Localized demodectic mange usually affects dogs under one year old and resolves spontaneously on its own without treatment.
Localized demodectic mange in dogs gets its name from the disease’s lesions.
There are usually only one to five lesions located on the dog’s body.
Each lesion is clearly demarcated by hair loss, scaling, and redness.
The most common location is around the lips, eyes, and forelimbs, and they are not typically itchy.
Juvenile-onset generalized demodicosis is a more serious form of demodex mange in young dogs. This is result of an inherited defect, and the mange spreads to cover large areas of the body.
In addition to the symptoms of localized demodectic mange, dogs with juvenile onset demodicosis also present with oily dandruff, pigmentation, pimples, and edema (swelling). Secondary bacterial infections are common.
Adult-onset generalized demodicosis is similar to juvenile-onset generalized demodicosis, but it affects adults. This type of demodex mange is often triggered by an underlying condition, like cancer, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s Disease, and diabetes that is causing immunosuppression in your dog.
Otodectic mange in dogs
Otodectic mange is more common in cats, but does affect dogs.
The mites that cause otodectic mange live in the ears and are a common cause of otitis externa, or “swimmer’s ear.”
If you or your dog has ever had this uncomfortable condition, you know exactly what I am talking about.
The symptoms of otodectic mange in dogs are head shaking, ear drooping, ear scratching, and itchiness, thanks to the inflammation in the ear canal.
You may also notice a buildup of dark brown ear wax.
Cheyletiellosis (walking dandruff)
Cheyletiellosis’ common nickname, walking dandruff, tells you most of what you need to know to about this condition.
Dogs with cheyletiellosis have scaly, itchy skin along their backs, giving them the appearance of dandruff. Since the dandruff is caused by mites, the name walking dandruff is accurate – and a little creepy.
This disease is very contagious.
Symptoms of mange in dogs
There are a few main symptoms of mange in dogs that can help you catch an infestation.
Itchiness is a common symptom of most types of mange. Sarcoptic mange is especially itchy for dogs, while demodex is less itchy. Otodectic mange causes itchy ears and walking dandruff causes itchy skin.
Mange can also lead to secondary bacterial skin infections or yeast infections. These infections cause pustules, inflammation, raised lesions, crusty skin, hair loss, and discharge.
Mites are too small to see with the naked eye. However, their contagious nature is another symptom.
If other dogs and pets in your household start to present with similar signs, you might have a case of mange on your hands, and you should get your dog to a veterinarian immediately.
Diagnosing mange in dogs
Veterinarians diagnose mange in dogs in several ways.
First, they perform a physical examination, taking note of what the lesions look like, where they are located, and your dog’s overall physical condition.
Next, they will most likely take skin scrapings and hair samples to see if they can identify the mites, larvae, or eggs under a microscope.
If there is a secondary bacterial or yeast infection involved, your veterinarian may take more samples to identify the infection so that they can give your dog the appropriate treatment.
Dog mange treatment
Once your dog has officially been diagnosed as a “mangy mutt,” your veterinarian will give you your treatment options.
How to treat mange in dogs depends on the type of mange, and treatment for mange in dogs requires both treating the symptoms of mange and coming up with a dog mites treatment plan.
Some types of mange, like localized demodex, resolve on their own and do not require treatment.
Highly contagious forms of mange like sarcoptic mange, on the other hand, require treatment and isolation to prevent the mange from spreading to other dogs.
Your veterinarian will recommend a topical or systemic anti-parasite drug to kill the mites. They may also recommend additional medications to treat any underlying infections.
In some cases, trimming your dog’s fur in addition to topical applications of medication can help treat the infestation. Anti-dandruff shampoos may help control some of the other symptoms of mange.
Contagious forms of mange, like scabies and walking dandruff, can spread to other dogs in the household. You can get ahead of it by treating your other dogs, too.
Talk to your veterinarian about any precautions you need to take to keep yourself and the other animals in your household protected against sarcoptic mange.
Mange medicine for dogs
Veterinarians have an arsenal of pharmaceuticals and other products at their disposal.
The exact drug they use for your dog’s mange will depend on your veterinarian, and what they believe is most effective for treating mites on dogs.
Some common mange medicines for scabies include selamectin, imidacloprid-moxidectin, ivermectin, lime sulfur, and amitraz.
Demodex mange can be treated by whole body amitraz dips. Moxidectin, milbemycin oxime, and ivermectin can also be effective.
Topically applied selamectin and moxidectin are effective in treating otodectic mange.
Walking dandruff is treated with a wide range of topical and systemic drugs. Topical drugs include lime sulfur, fipronil spot-on spray, permethrin, and amitraz.
Many of these drugs are common ingredients in flea and tick products.
However, the concentration and dosage of these medications may differ, so consult your veterinarian before trying any of these products on your own.
Regardless of which medication you use, following your veterinarian’s instructions is crucial for your dog’s recovery.
Sometimes, mange treatments don’t work the first time.
According to Dr. Kathy Tater, “…causes of treatment failure include poor pyoderma control, premature discontinuation of therapy, unsuccessful control of underlying conditions, and the use of immunosuppressants such as glucocorticoids.”
In other words, stopping medications too soon, persistent skin infections, underlying conditions, and immunosuppressant medications are the main reasons why treatment is not always effective.
You can rule out some of these risks by complying with your veterinarian’s treatment plan.
Home remedies for mange – do they work?
The internet is full of home remedies for dogs with mange, from hydrogen peroxide and apple cider vinegar to yogurt.
The only question is, do they work?
Before you go trying home remedies, a word of caution. Diseases like sarcoptic mange are highly contagious, and can also spread to people as well as other animals. Sometimes home remedies are not worth the risk.
The first thing you need to do before you try a home remedy for a dog with mange is to get your dog diagnosed. If your dog has a skin condition that is not mange, but is something more serious or a different type of parasite, than you risk making things worse.
There are very few studies detailing the effectiveness of home remedies for mange on dogs. While many of the home remedies out there are harmless, always research any potentially dangerous side effects before trying a home remedy on your dog.
Severe cases of mange should be taken, you guessed it, seriously. While it is possible that some home remedies can be effective against mange, the proven success of conventional medicines against mange is your dog’s best bet for a swift recovery.
My dog has mange!
If your dog has mange, then try not to worry.
Don’t be tempted to rush straight in to home remedies or over the counter products.
It’s important to take him to the vet to find out exactly which type of mange he is suffering from.
Your veterinarian will then be able to advice you on the right medicated product to get him back to full health.
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Further Reading and Resources
- Dryden, M. DVM, PhD, DACVM. ‘Mange in Dogs and Cats.’ Merck Veterinary Manual.
- Moriello, K. DVM, DACVD. ‘Sarcoptic Mange.’ Clinician’s Brief.
- Moriello, K. DVM, DACVD. ‘Treatment of Demodicosis in Dogs and Cats.’ NAVC Clinician’s Brief. 2011.
- Tater, K. DVM, DACVD. ‘Canine and feline demodicosis.’ DVM360.com. 2008.
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