Mange is a skin disease caused by several species of tiny mites. Mites are one of the most common skin conditions in dogs. Some are harmless and will live in harmony with your dog throughout their lifespan, while others can cause itching and mild to severe skin infections if left untreated. Here’s what to watch for, when to see a vet, and how best to treat them.
Types of mange
Also known as canine scabies, sarcoptic mange is a skin disease caused by oval-shaped, light-coloured microscopic mites that are contagious to canines and humans. In fact, this is how dogs pick it up – from other infected dogs (and why prevention involves keeping your pets away from infected dogs and treating all animals they are in regular contact with should it do the rounds.) Once transferred from the host to your pet, the female mites will penetrate the skin and lay eggs, which causes intense itching. Once the eggs hatch, larvae then tunnel under the skin, again bumping up the discomfort for your pooch.
They can be passed on to humans or cats or live on bedding or carpets for small amounts of time. Humans may notice a rash on the abdomen, arms or chest, while cats may develop an itchy face or neck area. That said, they do prefer the company of canines, and they usually self-resolve, unlike dogs, who will need to be treated.
Demodectic mange mites, on the other hand, live on all dogs, being transferred to a pup from normal cuddling with their mother in the first few days following birth. These mites generally cause no issues throughout the dog’s life. That said, when these mites overpopulate, dogs can develop three key types of demodectic mange:
- Localised mange, where the mites favour one or two small, confined areas, can result in scaly bald patches (often on the face). This is relatively common in puppies, and generally self resolves.
- Generalized demodectic mange affects a larger area – if not the whole body and may also lead to secondary bacterial infections, which can cause severe itching. This type of mange may be indicative of hereditary problems, immune system disorders, endocrine issues or other health conditions.
- The third, type, demodectic pododermatitis is accompanied by bacterial infections and is concentrated around the foot. Proper diagnosis usually requires a deep skin scrape, so you’ll need to see a vet.
How do I know if my dog has mange?
Itching and bald patches are the two most common signs of mange. Both sarcoptic and demodectic mange can cause intense scratching and reddened skin, and sometimes hair loss, bald patches, body sores or scabs. These are most likely to appear around their ears, elbows, face and legs, but may spread over their entire body. Your pooch may also become quite agitated and upset, depending on the severity and their temperament. On the other hand, some dogs show no signs at all.
If you suspect mange, it’s best to visit the vet (any excessive scratching or signs of skin irritation always benefit from a check-up.) Depending on the type of mange and the breed of your dog, your vet may prescribe an oral, topical or injectable medication.
How to treat sarcoptic mange
As sarcoptic mange is contagious to other pets and humans, your vet may recommend isolating your other pet (after thoroughly checking them for signs of mange.) They may also prescribe antiparasitic medications, and products to ease itching, inflammation and secondary skin infections. While younger dogs can bounce back quickly following treatment, adult dogs often require long-term treatment and surveillance.
In order to diagnose sarcoptic mange, your vet will perform a superficial skin scraping, in order to reach the mites burrowed just beneath the skin surface. It’s likely they’ll take scraping at the various affected locations. The skin samples are then examined under a microscope. As they can be difficult to find, your vet may still recommend treating them for scabies, even if they fail to find any.
They may also do a blood test to check for antibodies to mite antigens, though this can be inaccurate. They may also conduct skin biopsies, or tissue samples though mites are rarely found this way. Again, if your pet shows sign of sarcoptic mange, even if these tests are negative, they may still recommend treatment.
Following treatment, your vet will take follow up skin scrapes after two weeks to check the mange has cleared – this is important, so don’t be tempted to self-diagnose and skip it. This will be repeated until your pet has had two consecutive negative tests, at which time treatment will be ceased.
Home remedies and treatment of mange
While there are many recipes for natural treatments for mange using household products, it’s best to see you vet and follow their advice. That said, there are still things you can do at home to help. Once your pet has been diagnosed with sarcoptic mange, thoroughly clean or replace their bedding and collar (and any pet clothing).
Mange is not the most pleasant disease to deal with – for you or your dog, but with a little help from your vet and a proper treatment plan, they should be back to tip top health in no time. And if they’ve been in contact with an infected dog, see your vet. This may include dogs they’ve hung out with in kennels, so ensure they stay in their own space should they stay at one.
Read more: Ear mites in dogs
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