Shiba Inu scratching

Sarcoptic mange in dogs can be extremely contagious.

© Shutterstock

Mange in dogs

By Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

There are two types of mange in dogs. One can be fairly harmless and the other serious. So how can you tell if your pet has it – if at all?

Demodectic mange can reveal itself with a variety of symptoms, ranging from none at all to hair loss, especially around the eyes, and sometimes itchiness. While mange itself isn’t hereditary, a poor underlying immune system can be linked to genetics and predispose a dog to developing mange. Demodectic mange is not contagious to humans, but many humans carry demodex mites on their bodies and in their eyebrows unknowingly.

While there are home remedies that help speed up recovery, you should take your dog to the local veterinary partner to get the most appropriate treatment.

What is sarcoptic mange in dogs?

All types of mange are caused by mites. Sarcoptic mange, also known as scabies, is caused by the mite Sarcoptes Scabiei. It is an extremely contagious form of mange and it causes significant welfare implications due to the severity of the symptoms. Sarcoptic mange causes hair loss and frantic itching, which often leads to self-trauma and weight loss.

Sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange are quite different from each other. In comparison, demodectic mange rarely causes severe symptoms and is not as contagious as sarcoptic mange.

What is demodectic mange in dogs?

Demodectic mange is caused by demodex, which is a microscopic mite that lives in the hair follicles of dogs. Sometimes it goes unnoticed with no symptoms at all. Whereas other times, it causes mild itching, hair loss and thickened or red skin. The itching can lead to licking and scratching, resulting in trauma and secondary bacterial infections.

How can you tell the difference between sarcoptic and demodectic mange?

Sarcoptic and demodectic mange are very different, and therefore it is easy to tell the difference. Outwardly, dogs with sarcoptic mange have itching frenzies, which are extremely intense. Whereas, dogs with demodectic mange have very mild symptoms, if any symptoms at all.

The definitive way to tell the difference is with a skin scrape examination, where a vet will take a sample of the skin layer and identify the mite under the microscope.

How can I spot the early stage of mange in my dog?

Early stage mange in dogs can sometimes be tricky to spot. Typically, the first symptom to develop is hair loss on the margins of the ears, around the eyes, on the belly, chest or hocks. This then becomes more evident and is sometimes accompanied by itching and red or thickened skin.

How do you treat demodex in dogs?

Dogs with demodex mites can be treated in several different ways. An extremely effective way is to bath them in benzoyl peroxide shampoo to open up the hair follicles, then dip in Amitraz. This can be done weekly and is usually performed at a veterinary practice.

Another way of treating demodectic mange is regular treatments with ‘spot-on’ pipettes containing either imidocloprid or moxidectin. These are usually used every two weeks, instead of the licenced four-week interval, and are therefore technically ‘off-licence’. Another off-licence option is injections with doramectin. You should discuss these options with a veterinarian, as not all dogs will be suitable for all types of treatments.

What should I do if my pup has demodex?

If you think your pup has demodex, then you should take them to the vet to investigate whether this is the cause. Not only will a mange infection with demodex mites be detrimental to the skin, but it can be an indicator of ill-health or a poor immune system, which should be addressed. But if you think your pup only has commensal demodex, and is not displaying any symptoms, then this is nothing to worry about.

Is demodectic mange curable?

Demodectic mange is curable, but treatment often takes several months. It is uncommon for a dog to develop demodectic mange without a condition that is depressing the immune system, so this should be investigated and also treated. Sometimes this is not curable and therefore will predispose to the demodectic mange coming back in the future.

How long does demodex mange take to heal?

Demodex mange can take a long time to heal. Treatments must be repeated until fully resolved, which is usually at least six weeks or more. This is because treatment does not kill the mite eggs and therefore new mites are constantly hatching and flaring up the mange when they bite. So repeating treatments will kill the mites before they have a chance to lay more eggs, and eventually get on top of the infection.

Is demodex transmissible from dog to dog?

Demodex mites are most commonly transmitted from the mother to her puppy and colonise the skin, causing no harm. Virtually all dogs have demodex mites on them in small numbers and they don’t cause mange. It’s uncommon for an adult dog to pass the mange on to another adult dog.

Are there demodectic mange shampoos?

The treatment for demodectic mange can be aided with benzoyl peroxide shampoo. This flushes out the hair follicles where the mites live. After this, a dip (a non-foaming wash) called Amitraz can be used to kill the mites. There are many potential side effects of Amitraz and so usually vets will do this for you. This process needs to be repeated weekly for at least three times or more to kill the mites. If there is a bacterial infection on top of the mange, the veterinarian may decide to prescribe a medicated shampoo to treat the bacteria, and use different topical medications or injections to treat the mange.

Are there essential oils for demodectic mange?

Many believers in home remedies recommend applying essential oils to the skin to help with inflammation. But dogs are very sensitive to essential oils and in some cases these oils can be toxic. Essential oils are easily absorbed through the skin and metabolised by the liver. Therefore, if your dog has an underlying liver issue, this will put excessive strain on it.

If you wish to use essential oils on your dog, you should contact a veterinarian. He or she will be able to refer you to a professional who works with essential oils, so that they can make up a topical application that is not too potent for your dog, as well as only containing essential oils that are non-toxic to dogs.

Can humans get demodectic mange?

Even though humans can be carriers of demodex, and many people have demodex mites living on their body without their knowledge, humans do not develop symptomatic demodectic mange. As such, it is not considered a zoonotic disease (a disease that's contagious from animals to humans).

When should I call a vet?

If your dog is struggling with demodectic mange, losing their hair and feeling uncomfortable, you should call a vet. There is likely to be an underlying cause, or it may be another skin condition that looks similar. Therefore, your dog will need further diagnostics and appropriate treatment to tackle the problem.

More advice on...

What did you think of this advice article?

Thanks for your feedback !

Thanks for your feedback !

Leave a comment
Connect to comment
Want to share this article?