Mange in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment For Canine Skin Condition · The Wildest

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Mange in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment For Canine Skin Condition

Yeah, we know. Luckily there are some steps you can take

by Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM | expert review by Dr Sam Wheelwright BVSc MRCVS
31 October 2023
Beagle dog scratches himself on carpet.
Przemek Iciak / Shutterstock

Look, it’s not a big deal but ask yourself a couple of questions: has your puppy’s coat started to thin around the eyes? Does your older dog’s skin suddenly look a little like Deadpool’s? A dog can develop skin issues for many reasons, but mange is one of the most common. Although most people have heard the term ‘mangy’ to describe a shabby-looking coat (maybe just in the movie Annie, but still), many don’t relate it to an actual disease.

What is mange?

Mange is a skin disease triggered by microscopic, parasitic mites. Mange can either be localised or generalised. Localised mange occurs primarily on the face, especially around the eyes. It can show up in other areas as well and still be considered localised as long as it is limited to a couple of spots in one area. Generalised mange either encompasses larger patches, involves multiple areas of the body, persists for more than six months or affects the feet.

What causes mange?

Mange in dogs is caused by an overgrowth of parasitic mites. These mites can overcome the skin’s natural defences if a dog’s immune system is compromised due to genetics, drugs or disease. Once the normal skin barriers are broken, mange mite infestation can lead to secondary bacterial infection, too.

Types of mange in dogs

There are two primary types of mange in dogs: demodectic and sarcoptic. There are important differences between the types of mange that affect treatment, prognosis and spread.

Demodectic mange is caused by the Demodex mite. These mites live in a dog’s hair follicles and are normally passed from mother to pup early in life. They are an expected resident of a dog’s skin but usually occur in small numbers. When a dog’s immune system isn’t working like it should, these mites can grow rapidly in number and begin to cause issues.

Demodectic mange comes in two varieties: juvenile-onset and adult-onset. Juvenile-onset mange is usually localised and mild, though some dogs are unlucky and develop generalised mange. This generalised version occurs more commonly in American Staffordshire Terriers, other Pit Bull-type dogs, English and French Bulldogs, Chinese Shar Pei and Boxers. Adult-onset mange is usually associated with something suppressing the immune system, like hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, diabetes, steroid administration, or chemotherapy.

Sarcoptic mange (also called scabies) is caused by a Sarcoptes scabiei mite that is specific to dogs. These mites are not a normal part of a dog’s skin population. They usually live on the surface of the skin, but female mites will tunnel into the skin to lay eggs. Even a few of these mites will cause severe irritation because dogs react strongly to the mite’s outer shell, eggs and faeces.

Can mange be transmitted from dogs to humans or other pets?

Demodectic mange is generally considered not to be contagious because they’re a normal resident of a dog’s skin. Sarcoptic mange is very contagious to other dogs, humans and pets. If everyone in the house, including the dog, has itchy spots it’s probably time to see both your veterinarian and your GP.

What are the early signs of mange in dogs?

Mange can show up in a few different ways, depending on the type of mite and the dog’s immune system. Most mild cases of juvenile-onset demodectic mange involve a couple of small, thin-haired spots with a crusty appearance to the skin around the eyes, on the face, or on the legs. Generalised demodectic mange lesions may be larger and more severe.

Sarcoptic mange tends to show up along the margins of the ears, on the elbows, on the lower chest and on the outside of a dog’s ankles. General sign of mange can include:

  • hair loss

  • skin lesions (crusts, scales, pimples)

  • redness

  • swelling

  • discharge from the ears

  • itching (more common in sarcoptic mange)

  • hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin)

How is mange treated?

Mange is treated very differently than most other skin diseases in dogs. The type of mange will help to determine the treatment. Many puppies with a mild case of mange may not need any treatment at all. Because most localised bouts of juvenile demodicosis resolve quickly on their own, treatment isn’t necessary for most puppies. Dogs with generalised demodectic mange or sarcoptic mange will need treatment though.

Medications for mange

Mange was originally treated with a chemical dip that smelled terrible, needed to be done weekly and had some possibly nasty side effects. Fortunately, it can now be treated with oral flea or heartworm preventatives. The most common medications used today are the same oral flea products your dog may already be on. These products are used with caution in dogs with a history of seizures.

If those medications are not appropriate for your dog or are not able to resolve the issue, certain medications used to treat heartworms may be used. These drugs must be given at a much higher dose than usual for this and can be dangerous for dogs with certain genetic mutations. Your vet can determine the best drug and plan for your dog based on their history and the severity of their mange.

Home remedies for mange

This may sound a little weird, but please, please, please do not put engine oil on your dog for mange. Don’t do it even if you read a very convincing website. Don’t do it even if your neighbour said it worked great for their dog back in the ’70s. Don’t do it if you care about your dog. Enginge oil is bad for dogs and is not a treatment for mange. There are no effective home remedies for mange. Take your dog to your vet to get safe and effective treatment.

How do you prevent your dog from getting mange?

Because Demodex is a normal part of your dog’s skin, getting rid of it completely isn’t practical. The best plan for long-term prevention is to remove dogs with generalised juvenile demodicosis from the breeding pool. For adult dogs, the best preventative is regular veterinary care, which can catch any conditions affecting their immune system early on.

How long does it take for a dog with mange to recover?

Once treatment is initiated, most dogs with mange recover within a month or two. Immunocompromised dogs may take longer to bounce back because the condition affecting their immune system needs to be stabilised before mite treatment can be effective.

Overall, mange carries a good prognosis for recovery with appropriate treatment. While severely affected dogs can look unsightly and miserable, they can get back to sporting a lustrous coat in a relatively short time.

Frequently asked questions

What are the early signs of mange in dogs?

Thinning of hair, crusty skin lesions and redness of skin are some common early signs of mange.

How do you treat mange?

Seeing your veterinarian for oral or topical medication is the best way to give your dog relief quickly.

Can I treat mange in my dog at home?

Mange in dogs cannot be treated with home remedies. The most commonly mentioned home remedies can be dangerous for dogs.

How long does it take for a dog with mange to recover?

Modern therapies for mange treat mites in as little as one or two doses, and dogs often recover within a month or two.

Can mange be transmitted from dogs to humans or other pets?

Sarcoptic mange can be transmitted to other dogs, humans or other pets. Demodectic mange is not considered contagious.

How do I prevent my dog from getting mange?

Avoid exposing your dog to animals with known sarcoptic mange or unknown skin lesions. Follow your vet’s recommendations to watch for diseases causing immunosuppression.

Dr. Bartley Harrison holding his dog

Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM

Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM is a small animal veterinarian based in North Carolina who has practiced emergency medicine since graduating from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. His primary interest areas include pain management, cardiology, and the treatment of shock.

He is a member of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, American Veterinary Medical Association, and American Medical Writers Association. In addition to his clinical work, he writes pet health articles to help provide accurate information for both new and experienced pet parents. When he’s not working, he enjoys cooking, traveling, reading, and going on adventures with his dog.

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