Those who have worked closely with stray, neglected, or rescued dogs are likely very familiar with mange, a common skin disease caused by mites. Pups suffering from mange often appear partially or entirely hairless and covered in sores on thick, scabby skin.
Mange is extremely painful, potentially contagious to humans, and can be fatal if not addressed aggressively. With this, it’s important to understand the causes and signs and what to do if your dog contracts the skin infection.
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Types of mange
There are two predominant forms commonly found in canines: sarcoptic and demodectic mange. While the two types have relatively similar physical symptoms and are both caused by tiny parasites closely related to ticks, sarcoptic and demodectic mange have several key distinctions that are important for understanding the cause and prognosis of a pup’s individual case.
Also known as scabies, sarcoptic mange is an infestation of circular-shaped, eight-legged mites called Sarcoptes scabiei. In these cases, adult female parasites burrow just below the surface of a canine’s skin and lay eggs. These eggs hatch in approximately three weeks, at which time the mite offspring feed on the host pup’s skin.
What does sarcoptic mange look like?
Physical symptoms of sarcoptic mange will typically appear in an infected dog between 10 days and eight weeks after contact with another infected animal. According to the American Kennel Club, the parasite is considered highly contagious and easily transmitted from dog to dog. Initial signs of sarcoptic mange are likely found on a dog’s ears, chest, elbows, hocks, and belly. Additional symptoms include:
- Redness and rash
- Bacteria and yeast infections
- Thick, yellowed scabs or crust on the skin
- Severe itchiness
Hair loss associated with sarcoptic mange is usually a result of the dog’s incessant itching, scratching, chewing, and licking. Constant skin irritation and scratching often cause the loss of large amounts of hair, skin tenderness, and sores and lesions, especially on the legs and belly.
In advanced cases of sarcoptic mange, dogs can exhibit lymph node inflammation and the thickening and darkening of the skin. Scabs and sores caused by itching can leave scars even after the dog has recovered from mange. Experts from AKC warn that extreme sarcoptic mange may also cause the infected pup to become emaciated.
Can humans contract sarcoptic mange?
Not only is sarcoptic mange highly contagious among animals, but the skin disease is also particularly challenging and detrimental because it is considered zoonotic. Caused by the same mites that cause scabies in humans, sarcoptic mange is transmissible between dogs and people. Although these parasites do not thrive on non-canine hosts, sarcoptic mange is contagious nonetheless and makes caring for a dog with the skin infection all the more difficult.
Often referred to as red mange or demodex, demodectic mange is caused by a cigar-shaped mite, Demodex canis. This parasite lives in the hair follicles of dogs and demodectic mange is the most common form.
It’s important to note that all normal, healthy dogs—and many humans, for that matter—have a few of these mites on their skin at any given time. According to veterinary experts from VCA Animal Hospitals, they are passed to puppies from their mothers within the first few days following birth, take up residence in the dog’s hair follicles, and typically cause no trouble. This distinguishes demodectic from sarcoptic mange since these demodectic parasites are a normal part of a canine’s skin flora and are generally harmless. Demodectic mange is also not contagious to humans, so you can’t catch any of these mites from your pooch.
What dogs are at risk?
Since these mites are found on virtually all dogs, exposure of a healthy dog to a pup with demodectic mange is not particularly dangerous. A healthy, properly functioning canine immune system is able to keep the number of mites in check. VCA experts note that demodectic mange develops when the immune system is weak or depressed. For dogs with compromised or immature immune systems, mite infestations can grow to become out of control, and skin at the hair follicle root can become inflamed. This inflammation can result in itching and hair loss.
Young, healthy dogs may develop some patches of demodex, but these cases often go away on their own or with localized topical treatment. This is true for many cases of demodectic mange. Elderly, sick, neglected, or stray dogs with compromised immune systems are most likely to develop demodectic mange. Additionally, puppies who inherit immune system weaknesses from their parents can be prone to a particularly serious form of demodex known as juvenile-onset. This occurs primarily in dogs less than a year or 18 months of age.
What are the signs of demodectic mange?
Signs of demodectic mange can be either localized or generalized in dogs. In localized cases, pet parents may see patches of hair loss and red, scaling skin. In more generalized demodex, a dog’s entire body may appear covered with redness, skin infections, scaling and crust on exposed skin, and swelling. Large amounts of hair loss are common with cases of demodectic mange. Such hair loss typically begins on the face, especially around the eyes. Unlike sarcoptic mange, dogs with even severe cases of demodectic mange are unlikely to experience serious itchiness despite extensive hair loss and skin irritation.
Both sarcoptic and demodectic mange require swift attention from a veterinary professional, as mite infestations can quickly grow unmanageable and uncomfortable for dogs. Treatment must address both healing the skin and controlling the mites. Depending on the severity and nature of the mange, some strategies to address the skin disease might include:
- Dipping – Although not used as commonly as other strategies, bathing with medicated shampoo and or dips may be prescribed to cleanse, heal, and soften infected and inflamed skin.
- Topical products – Medicated sprays and ointments containing selamectin and imidacloprid-moxidectin be recommended to kill mites.
- Oral medication – Chewable tablets or oral suspensions may be prescribed by a veterinarian.
- Injections – Some veterinarians may select to use injectable antiparasitics.
Experts from VCA Animal Hospitals note that most cases will require a combination of treatment methods, and every case is unique. Secondary skin infections can also develop and complicate the condition. Because demodectic mange is an indication of a weak immune system, your vet may seek to identify and address any underlying health issues.
Pet parents can also ask their vet about supplements that can be very effective in supporting skin health. It’s important to consult your veterinarian if you suspect your pet is suffering from mange.
Any health or medical information in ElleVet blogs is from a variety of public and reputable sources. This information is intended as an educational resource only and is not a substitute for expert professional care.