Guide to Mange in Dogs With Tips to Recognize It

Published March 3, 2022
puppy dog with mange

If you've ever heard someone refer to "that mangy dog," you might wonder what mange is. Mange is a skin condition in dogs caused by microscopic mites, and symptoms include red, irritated skin, scabbed lesions, and patches where hair is missing. It is either caused by the same contagious mite responsible for scabies, or may be an overgrowth of Demodex, a non-contagious mite found naturally on a dog's skin. Several factors can help you identify which type of mange may be affecting your dog, so you can take the best approach to treat it.

What is Mange? Sarcoptic vs. Demodectic

Mange is an itchy, uncomfortable skin condition caused by a parasitic mite infestation. There are two common types of mange in dogs: sarcoptic and demodectic. The difference between the two is the type of mite that causes it.

Sarcoptic Mange

Sarcoptic mange is similar to scabies in humans and is caused by the same parasitic mite, Sarcoptes scabiei. These mites burrow under a dog's skin, which causes inflammation, resulting in extreme itchiness. This type of mange is highly contagious to other pets in the household and people.

In general, dogs become affected with sarcoptic mange after being exposed to another animal with these contagious skin mites. This can occur anywhere your dog comes into close contact with other pets or wildlife at a friend's house, dog park, groomer, veterinary hospital, etc. The mites transfer to your pet and burrow under their skin. Symptoms usually arise within two to six weeks following exposure.

Demodectic Mange

Mange caused by Demodex mites, sometimes called "red mange," on the other hand, is not contagious. Demodex canisis a normal parasite found in the hair follicles of all dogs. However, an overgrowth of Demodex can become problematic.

Demodectic mange happens most frequently in dogs with weakened or compromised immune systems. This includes puppies, senior dogs, sick dogs, and dogs without proper nutrition or care, such as strays.

How to Identify Mange on Dogs

Unfortunately, both types of mange can present with similar signs. If you are worried your dog might have mange, it's important to know the early signs and symptoms of this parasitic skin condition.

  • Itching or scratching
  • Red, irritated skin
  • Small patches of hair loss
  • Skin discoloration
  • Scaley or scabby lesions

However, if left untreated, the mites can cause more severe symptoms.

  • Widespread hair loss
  • Skin thickening
  • Bacterial skin infections
  • Odor from skin
  • Open sores

Diagnostic Methods

Microscope view of Sarcoptes scabiei

While it can be fairly straightforward to identify if your dog has mange, it is challenging to know exactly what type they are suffering from without diagnostics. Your vet can perform a simple test, known as a skin scrape, to visualize the mite and try to determine which type is causing the mange.

  • Your veterinarian will use a sterile blade with mineral oil applied to it to scrape your dog's skin lesions in an attempt to collect mites.
  • Because mites live in the hair follicles or burrow below the surface, the scraping must be deeper than the skin's surface. There will likely be irritation and a small amount of blood on the skin after the scraping.
  • They then place the material obtained onto a slide for examination under a microscope.
  • Sarcoptic mites can be challenging to see because they burrow within the skin, so it's possible your vet may recommend further testing or develop a treatment plan based on the clinical signs.

Treatment Options

Chihuahua dog with Demodicosis takes a bath

The best way to treat your dog's mange depends on the type of mite involved and the severity of the symptoms. Mange in puppies is usually mild and not hard to treat. In some cases of non-contagious demodectic mange, it may even resolve on its own. However, the longer your dog goes with worsening mange symptoms, the more challenging it can be to manage. Your vet may recommend one or a combination of the following solutions.

  • Topical insecticides such as moxidectin and imidacloprid, which are used off-label for mange.
  • Medicated shampoo, including those that contain benzoyl peroxide.
  • Prescription "dips," such as a lime-sulfur dip, which should be done at a veterinary hospital by their experienced staff. Amitraz is another frequently used dip solution for mites.
  • Oral medications such as those containing the active ingredients afoxolaner, sarolaner, and fluralaner. Many of these medications are intended as monthly flea and tick preventions, but they can be used "off label" for mites in some cases. Some monthly heartworm preventions also contain ingredients that kill mites.
  • Antibiotics for any secondary infections that may have occurred as a result of scratching and open sores on the skin.
  • Decontamination of the environment, including washing all bedding in hot water, and thoroughly cleaning carpets and upholstery. This treatment is not necessary with demodectic mange, but must be carried out to prevent the reinfection or spreading of sarcoptic mange.

Tips to Prevent Mange in Dogs

Preventing mange is not always possible, but there are a few techniques to protect your dog from discomfort. Follow these guidelines to keep your dog and yourself healthy.

  • Keep your dog away from wildlife or stray pets that could carry mites.
  • Feed your dog a balanced and nutritious diet to keep their immune system healthy.
  • Keep your dog on a monthly flea, tick, and heartworm preventative, as many of these medications contain ingredients that can help prevent mange.
  • Have your dog examined at the earliest onset of scratching or hair loss to begin treatment and avoid severe symptoms.

Take Precautions to Protect Yourself from Mange

If you are concerned that your dog has mange, take precautions to protect yourself from potentially contagious sarcoptic mites. Wash your hands and wear gloves and protective clothing while handing your dog on the way to the vet. To provide your pup with the best outcome, have them seen by a veterinarian as soon as you notice symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment can provide them with relief and you with peace of mind.

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Guide to Mange in Dogs With Tips to Recognize It