The skin disease known as mange might seem like something only stray dogs have to worry about. But make no mistake: While the "mangy mutt" on the street might be a bit more susceptible, it's entirely possible for your house pet to come down with the disease, too.
The root cause of mange is an infestation of tiny, microscopic mites on dog's skin. What follows is intense itching and scratching, which leads to the visible symptoms of mange in dogs, including hair loss and scabs on the skin.
Let's take a closer look at the different types of mange and how your dog might get it. We'll also cover the major symptoms of the disease, how it's treated, and what you can do to prevent mange and keep your dog safe.
Cause and Types of Mange
As mentioned, mange is caused by mites — highly contagious ones. These mites burrow into your dog's skin and cause itching and rashes. Your dog scratches in response, causing further symptoms.
The severity of a case of mange depends on the type of mite that is causing it. There are two main types of mange: Sarcoptic mange, otherwise known as scabies, and demodectic mange.
Sarcoptic Mange (Canine Scabies)
Sarcoptic mange is caused by the sarcoptes scabiei mite. It's the most common form, and usually the most severe type of mange. These microscopic pests infest a dog and then mate — the female mites burrow into the host's skin to lay their eggs, causing the intense itching associated with this kind of infestation.
It seems that sarcoptes scabiei mites prefer skin without hair on it, so they'll often burrow into hairless areas like the ear flaps, belly, or elbows. However, over time the mite infestation will spread to the entire body.
Dogs contract sarcoptic mange when they come into contact with another infected animal. This could happen just about anywhere that your dog encounters other pets, including animal shelters, kennels, boarding facilities, the groomer, dog parks, or even veterinary clinics.
Demodectic mange isn't as common as sarcoptic mange and is mostly seen in puppies and younger dogs. Sometimes called red mange or demodicosis, it's caused by the demodex canis mite, which lives in hair follicles. Most adult dogs already have these types of mites living naturally in their skin and hair — so do humans. Most of the time, dogs and humans have these mites without ever suffering any problems.
Puppies catch the demodex canis mite from their mother during the nursing period, and usually nothing comes of it. But sometimes the number of mites living on your dog increases dramatically, and a case of mange develops. It's especially likely in puppies who have compromised immune systems, and it's also possible that genetic factors play a role.
Symptoms of Mange in Dogs
The symptoms of sarcoptic mange include intense itching, inflammation, and red, crusty sores on the skin. This type of mange usually makes dogs the itchiest, since the mites burrow into the skin. It's likely that your dog will experience hair loss (alopecia) because of all the scratching. Your dog may also develop secondary bacterial infections as they self-traumatize in this way.
The symptoms of demodectic mange include red scabs, scaly skin, and hair loss. Demodectic mange might be localized in one area of the body, or it may affect the whole body at once (known as generalized demodicosis). It's also possible for a dog to have what's called demodectic pododermatitis, which is a demodectic mite infestation that only affects the paws.
Treating Mange in Dogs
Skin scraping tests are used to help diagnose mange in cases of both sarcoptic and demodectic mange. However, skin scrapings aren't completely reliable for diagnosing sarcoptic mange, as they only find mites in about half of cases.
In the case of demodectic mange, symptoms must be present in addition to the presence of the mites, since the mites live on almost all adult dogs to begin with. So, for both types of mange, a definitive diagnosis is reached largely based on the symptoms the dog is showing.
The treatment for mange might involve several approaches, including things like:
- Oral medication or medicated shampoos, creams, or gels that kill mites
- Antibiotics (for secondary bacterial infections)
- Quarantine from other dogs or pets in the house so the infestation doesn't spread
- Cleaning of your dog's items, like collars, leashes, and beds
Work closely with your veterinarian if your dog develops a case of mange. Luckily, with modern veterinary care and medication, cases of mange are usually easily treatable. Keep in mind that dogs with poor health or compromised immune systems are at a higher risk of contracting a mite infestation. Sometimes, treatment needs to go on for a long time or even indefinitely.
Transmission to Humans or Other Pets
We've already mentioned that harmful mites can be transmitted from your dog to other dogs or pets in the house. But you may be wondering if it's possible for your dog to transmit mites to you or other people.
When it comes to transmission to humans, the answer isn't a simple yes or no. The sarcoptes scabiei mite can be transmitted from pets to humans, but it cannot complete its life cycle in humans — it will die off on human skin after a few days. That said, you can still experience intense itching during that time, so it may still be necessary to seek medical help.
Take basic hygiene precautions if you're handling a dog with mange. Wear gloves and avoid direct contact with your skin or hair. You'll want to wash your clothing after handling your dog as well.
If you have multiple pets in the house and one of them contracts a case of mange, your veterinarian will probably recommend treating all household pets just to be safe. Otherwise, the mites may transmit to other pets before they're killed and reinfect a recently cured pet, creating an endless cycle. Your vet might also advise you to quarantine your affected dog in one area of the house and restrict contact with other pets in order to prevent any spreading of the mites.
How to Prevent Mange in Dogs
There is no foolproof preventative measure against mange, and it's possible for any dog to develop the condition. That said, keeping your dog in good health at all times is the best way to make a case of mange much less likely since dogs with compromised health and immune systems are more at risk.
Feed your pooch a balanced diet and exercise them regularly. You may also want to add healthy supplements to promote good immune health. Be sure your pup is up to date on essential vaccinations and is current on their flea, tick, and worm preventatives.
By taking these basic health precautions and doing your part to make sure your dog stays healthy, you’ll greatly reduce the chance that your dog will suffer from a case of mange.
If you notice that your canine companion is scratching himself more than usual, let your veterinarian know. Even if mites aren't the cause, there are plenty of other health concerns — fleas, skin infection, allergies, etc. — that could cause similar symptoms to those of mange.
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