What is Mange?
We recently adopted a four-month-old puppy. He seems to be very healthy except for his skin. He’s chewed and scratched his lower legs and chin until the hair is thin and wearing away. We found no fleas. Our neighbor thinks he has mange. What is mange and what do we do?
One of the more unpleasant skin diseases affecting small animals, and dogs in particular, is mange. Even the name has an unpleasant sound, and certainly the appearance and discomfort associated with the problem are anything but pleasant.
There are primarily two types of mange seen in dogs: sarcoptic mange and demodetic mange.
Sarcoptic mange is caused by a microscopic mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. This mite burrows into the skin and feeds and reproduces in tiny tunnels made in the skin. This burrowing causes intense itching which generally results in hair loss and secondary bacterial infections. Sarcoptic mange especially affects the skin of the dog’s legs, belly, face and ears. Sometimes it can involve nearly the whole body. The mites are easily transferred from one dog to another (and from one animal to another).
The diagnosis can often be made from a skin scraping and by observing the mites under a microscope. But it is often made from looking at the signs, history of exposure, skin biopsy and/or response to treatment. Sarcoptic mange can be treated with anti-parasitic injectable medications and/or medicated baths. These are usually quite successful.
Demodetic mange is also caused by a microscopic mite called Demodex canis. Demodex mange mites can be "normal" skin inhabitants in dogs but the disease occurs when the mites are present in unusually high numbers, especially in young puppies and old or immuno-compromised dogs. The mites live in the hair follicles and typically cause areas of hair loss, especially around the eyes and muzzles and sometimes in patches on the body and feet. They can, however, affect the whole body. Demodex is not usually transferred from one dog to another, but puppies are commonly exposed while nursing on an infected mother.
Diagnosis is made from a skin scraping and microscopic examination for the mites. Treatment is generally the same as for sarcoptic mange, but is not always successful, especially in older, less immuno-compromised patients. While most cases of demodetic mange are curable, some are only controlled and may require re-treatment. Demodex poses no threat to humans, but can be a very serious problem for affected dogs. The problem should be diagnosed by your veterinarian so appropriate therapy can be administered.