It sounds troubling, like something out of a gritty movie about the bad part of town: a dog walks by with mange, looking ragged, uncared-for and angry. Well, you’d be angry and ragged too if tiny mites caused you to lose your hair and itch severely. Thankfully, mange is not as scary as you may have heard, and it’s easily treatable.
What is mange on dogs?
The illness we call “mange” on dogs is actually sarcoptic mange, also known as canine scabies. It’s not an illness but rather an infestation of microscopic mites – the parasite known as Sarcoptes scaeibi. While cats, foxes and even humans can get mange, these parasites particularly prefer dogs. Once on a host dog, the mites cause several skin problems, most notably hair loss and severe itching.
What are the symptoms of sarcoptic mange?
The most obvious symptoms of sarcoptic mange is severe itching and hair loss. The mites prefer to live in areas with less hair, so itching is often concentrated on the dog’s elbows, ears, chest, armpits and belly. As the infestation worsens, the itching and hair loss spreads. The bites can also cause red pustules with yellow crusts.
If left untreated, the dog’s skin will start showing signs of severe irritation, such as redness and sores due to bacterial infections. In fact, some doctors believe the irritation dogs feel is actually an allergic reaction to the mites’ bites.
How is sarcoptic mange diagnosed on dogs?
It can be challenging for you or your veterinarian to diagnose sarcoptic mange. When mange is suspected, your vet will scrape the dog’s skin to look for the scabies under a microscope. Unfortunately, the mites only show up in about 20 percent of skin scrapings – so while a positive identification surely means the mites are present, a negative scraping does not really prove anything. Therefore, the most common way to diagnose a dog for mange is to discuss the dog’s history, note if allergy treatments have been effective or failed, and to start treatment for scabies. If the dog improves with treatment, then a diagnosis of scabies may be confirmed.
How do you treat canine scabies?
There are a few approaches to treating sarcoptic mange in dogs.
- Medicinal baths: Our preferred and the most effective treatment is to bath the dog regularly in chemical shampoos. The dog will usually have his hair clipped short, then is dipped once/week for 3-4 weeks. Unfortunately, the dip has a very foul smell and can be toxic to humans and vulnerable dogs, so great care is needed in dipping dogs (and in treating their facial areas). When done correctly, the dips are very effective.
- Heartworm and flea prevention: Some vets will prescribe flea-prevention and heartworm-prevention medications like Revolution or Frontline to treat mange, but at the Animal Clinic of Woodruff, we have not seen these treatments to be effective in treating scabies. However, one medicine we’ve had success with at the Clinic is Bravecto. It’s a flea and tick prevention that is also effective at killing the scabies mite. We typically combine this medication with our bath protocol, but in mild cases, it may be used alone.
- Liquid ivermectin: This is a stronger version of the heartworm prevention medicine found in Heartguard. We will occasionally use this treatment, but it’s rarely a first choice. It should not be used for Collies, Shetland sheep dogs, or other herding breeds.
Along with treating the dog, the dog’s bedding and other areas can be treated with an insecticide. And since scabies is spread among dogs, other dogs in the house should be treated.
Finally, due to the trauma on the dog’s skin, your vet will likely also need to prescribe medications to treat bacterial skin infections and/or yeast infections, and will also suggest products to relieve itchy, sore skin.
Can humans get mange?
There are human versions of scabies, but that is a different animal than Sarcoptes scaeibi, which lives on dogs. That said, humans can contract scabies from pets, and might experience itching or rashes, especially on the wrists or hands. If you see a rash or are itchy while your dog has scabies, see your doctor immediately.
How can I prevent mange and scabies in dogs?
There’s no way to fully protect your dog, as scabies is spread by contact with other dogs. Take care when your dog is surrounded by lots of other dogs. You should keep your dog away from foxes and places where foxes go, as they can carry scabies that will carry to dogs.
If you suspect your dog may have mange, contact Animal Clinic of Woodruff today to make an appointment with our veterinarians in Woodruff.