When people hear the word, “mange,” it conjures up images of hairless dogs with contagious, itchy skin. In reality, however, mange is a general term that is used to describe the variety of microscopic parasites called mites that cause hair loss and can lead to skin infections. Scabies in dogs (sarcoptic mange) and demodex (demodectic mange) are the result of two different types of mites that affect the skin of dogs differently.
The hair loss seen in sarcoptic mange is due to the mite burrowing into the dog’s hair follicles, while the hair loss seen with demodex is actually the result of an increase in number of demodectic mites found on the skin. The good news is that both types of mange are treatable, although treatment and recovery may take a while. This article will be delving into the specifics of both types of mange in dogs and the treatments available for each.
What Is Demodex (Demodectic Mange)?
The most significant difference between demodex and scabies in dogs is that demodex is not contagious. Demodex canis, the mites on dogs that cause demodex, reside and feed in the hair follicles and oil glands of their skin. It is important to point out that demodectic mange mites are actually very common for dogs to naturally have on their skin—they are actually passed from mother to puppy during the whelping period.
Demodectic Mange on Puppies vs. Adult Dogs
A proliferation in the presence of demodectic mites is usually an indication that a dog’s immune system is weak or compromised. That is why the majority of demodex cases are seen in puppies, whose immune systems have not fully developed, so they cannot properly fight off the mites. However, Dr. Francisco Torrado, DVM, associate veterinarian at Live Oak Animal Hospital, explains, “It is more concerning to see demodex in adult dogs because it means there could be an underlying issue that has compromised their immune system.” Therefore, it is important that a dog over the age of one sees a veterinarian if they are suffering from demodectic mange so that additional tests can be performed to find out the root of the problem.
Demodectic Mange Symptoms
Demodectic mange symptoms become visible when there is an infestation or overpopulation of these mites on dogs that causes either localized hair loss or generalized hair loss. Localized demodectic mange in dogs is the most common form found amongst puppies, and it presents itself as small patches of missing hair. Dr. Torrado says, “This type of demodex normally resolves itself as the puppy’s immune system naturally improves and strengthens, but a veterinarian can choose to prescribe a topical cream to aid in the resolution of the issue.” Generalized demodex is the more severe case of the disease. Generalized demodectic mange symptoms include extensive hair loss, usually accompanied by secondary bacterial infections that lead to inflammation of the feet and scabbing on the skin.
To diagnose demodex, Dr. Torrado explains, “A veterinarian would need to do a skin scraping on the dog. However, because demodectic mange mites on dogs are so common, they may show up on a skin scraping even if the dog is not having a problem.” There are a variety of treatments for demodex that a veterinarian can prescribe. The important thing is to remember that once a case of demodectic mange in dogs gets to the point of generalized hair loss, there are secondary health issues involved that will require a thorough treatment plan. Dr. Torrado explains, “The treatment of moderate to severe generalized demodex will require patience and commitment on the dog owner’s part. It can take months before you start seeing real improvements in the dog’s skin and hair growth.”
What Is Scabies (Sarcoptic Mange)?
Sarcoptic mange is contagious and has zoonotic potential, which means that it can be transferred from dog to dog and dog to person. Dr. Torrado explains, “Scabies is highly contagious regardless of the time of year. The more exposed your dog is to the outside and natural world, the higher their risk.” He goes on to elaborate that, “The risk is higher in dogs that have been in animal shelters, pet shops, dog shows, boarding, grooming and doggy daycare facilities, as well as stray dogs and dogs living in the countryside where infested foxes and coyotes roam near farm buildings.” Dr. Torrado adds, “While it is rare, it is not altogether impossible for cats to contract scabies from dogs. If they are close enough in proximity to an infected dog, they can become infected as well. However, all mange mites do have a host preference.”
The sarcoptes scabiei mite that causes scabies in dogs burrows into the skin and causes irritation and severe itching. Similar to an ant colony, sarcoptes scabiei create tunnels in the layers of a dog’s skin, which leads to hypersensitivity reactions. In response, dogs begin scratching incessantly, which, in turn, causes scabbing and hair loss. Dr. Torrado says, “It is also extremely common for dogs to generate secondary bacterial infections. The constant scratching breaks the skin, which allows bacteria and yeast to grow, thus creating secondary infections that will need to be treated along with the sarcoptic mange mites.”
Symptoms of Scabies in Dogs
Scabies symptoms will happen in waves. It will start with itching that leads to lesions and then to hair loss. Dr. Torrado specifies, “Hair loss and lesions will typically occur in the margins of the ears, elbows and hocks. If left untreated, it can then spread to the ventral abdomen, chest and along the spine. The extent of hair loss really depends on how long they go without treatment.” Due to the contagious nature of sarcoptic mange and the prevalence of secondary bacterial infections, it is crucial that you seek treatment from a veterinarian if you suspect your dog is suffering from scabies.
Kendall Curley, BeChewy Editorial Assistant
As a former Connecticut resident, Kendall is coming to terms with the lack of seasons in Florida by gaining an appreciation for all the activities that the Florida climate allows year-round. When she is not hard at work at Chewy, she can be found going on adventures with her dog, Pip, or going horseback riding with her friends. She is an avid fosterer of dogs and spends an inordinate amount of time picking dog hair off of her clothes and belongings.