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Everything you need to know about mange in dogs

Dog with mange advice
© Shutterstock

Mange is an uncomfortable skin condition which is common in dogs. It can cause everything from itchiness and sores to hair loss, anxiety and pain.

By Alice Lang

Updated on the 19/12/2019, 15:29

We’re going to be talking about all things mange in dogs - including the symptoms of mange and how to treat it, so you can rest assured that your four-legged friend is happy and healthy.

What is mange in dogs?

Tiny parasites or mites cause mange in dogs, which is an uncomfortable, inflammatory skin disease. Vet Organics note that “Most mange mites are very small and are difficult to see without magnification. Mange mites have 8 legs as adults and mite larvae have 6 legs.”

They continued their report on dog mange by pointing out that there are two primary types of mites which are responsible for the disease: “The most common types are Sarcoptic and Demodectic (both seen mostly in dogs). Sarcoptic Mites burrow under the skin and Demodectic Mites live in hair follicles or on the surface of the skin. The mange “condition” that is observed from a mite infection is typically caused by a reaction to mites by the host body’s immune system.“

Sarcoptic mange in dogs

Commonly known as scabies, sarcoptic mange is an extremely contagious form of mange disease. The Sarcoptes scabiei mite digs through a dog’s skin, leading to severe itching and uncomfortable skin irritation.

These spider-like mites lay eggs under the surface of the skin, which hatch in around 3-10 days. They then develop into adult mites and begin reproducing. Left untreated, it can easily become a painful, vicious, infestation.

Sadly, a dog will sometimes scratch so much, that they’ll end up losing a significant amount of fur - particularly on the legs and stomach areas. Scabies or sarcoptic mange is a ‘zoonotic disease’, which according to the CDC, is “a disease spread between animals and people” - that means you can catch it from your dog, too!

Everything you need to know about mange in dogs
Sarcoptic mange can cause intensive itching in dogs©Shutterstock

Symptoms of sarcoptic dog mange

  • Intense scratching/itching
  • Chewing of the skin
  • Rashes and small red pimples
  • Red, crusty skin lesions
  • Darkening and thickening of the skin
  • Hair loss
  • Behavioural changes such as lethargy, depression or restlessness

Demodicosis mange in dogs

Demodicosis mange is the most common form of mange in dogs. It's caused by a variety of types of the Demodex mite, which live under a dog’s hair follicles. All dogs have a small number of these mites on their skin. Normally, they cause no harm. However, demodicosis mange can develop in dogs with a poorly functioning immune system, leading to skin lesions, skin infections and hair loss.

Demodicosis mange is often seen in puppies or dogs less than 18 months old with an inadequately developed immune system. However, adult dogs with an immune system disorder or who are on certain medications are also prone to the disease - as are elderly dogs with declining immunity.

Demodicosis dog mange, unlike sarcoptic dog mange, is not contagious to other animals or humans. These types of mites are naturally passed on from a mother to her litter, and don't cause irritation in otherwise healthy pups.

Symptoms of demodectic dog mange

  • Hair loss and balding
  • Crusty scabs
  • Red lesions which ooze an oily liquid
  • Itchy skin
  • Loss of appetite, lethargy and fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Diagnosing mange in dogs

If you believe your dog could have mange, it’s imperative to act as quickly as you can to relieve them from what could turn into serious discomfort and pain. The longer that mange is left untreated in dogs, the more resistant it could become to treatment. On top of this, intensive itching could damage hair follicles, preventing fur from growing back. Do what’s best for your canine companion and get to the vet - pronto!

Ernest Ward, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, told VCA Hospitals “Your veterinarian will take deep skin scrapings and examine them under the microscope to diagnose this disease. The finding of larger than normal numbers of Demodex mites in skin scrapings confirms the diagnosis.”

“Occasionally, the disease will be diagnosed by means of a skin biopsy in dogs that have chronic skin infections that have not responded appropriately to treatment.”

Indeed, if you take your pup to the vet with itchy skin and a suspicion of dog mange, the vet will generally perform a full physical examination and analyze skin scrapings.  Clinical symptoms may be used to make a final diagnosis if it’s hard to see the mange mites, which may have dug deep underneath the skin.

How to treat mange in dogs

So your dog has officially been diagnosed with mange? Not to worry - thankfully, there’s a whole host of effective treatments and remedies for this pesky disease. However, we’d always advise seeking advice and generating a treatment plan with your vet. Don't try to tackle the problem alone!

How to treat mange in dogs depends on both the severity and the type of mange. The highly contagious sarcoptic mange normally requires isolation in order to prevent the disease from spreading to other dogs, cats and animals - and even humans!

Sometimes, simply trimming a dog’s fur and applying a topical medication over the skin is a highly effective way of eliminating mange. More stubborn or severe cases may require a stronger anti-parasite drug. This is often given in the form of an injection to kill off the mites. A weekly medicated shampoo bath may be prescribed to help heal the skin.

To treat the itching and inflammation, medications and anti-dandruff shampoos are often prescribed - so you can have a peace of mind that your dog will be back to their normal self in no time.