Mange in Dogs: Signs, Removal & Natural Prevention

Mange is a cruel bugger. It means dogs with bald spots, severe itching, and red, scaly skin. And it’s easy to think of mange as affecting only sick shelter puppies or homeless strays who wander the streets without a loving home and access to a good diet and vet care. But the truth is that mange can happen to any dog, regardless of age or diet. Before we dissect what causes mange and how to identify, treat, and prevent it, let’s discover the difference between the two most common types—sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange.

Sarcoptic Mange

What is it?

Also known as Sarcoptes scabei or scabies, sarcoptic mange is a highly contagious skin infection that’s caused by spider-like mites (canine scabies, or Sarcoptes) that burrow into your dog’s skin. A female will lay up to 50 eggs in her trail before dying, and once her larvae hatches and reproduces, they’ll continue the invasive cycle until your poor pup is itchy, raw-skinned, and miserable.

Sarcoptic is the more severe of the two most common types of mange for two reasons. First, because it results in severe and constant itching. Second, because it’s so easily transmittable—even to humans. A dog will most often contract sarcoptic mange either from direct contact with another infected animal or person. But there’s another way. The high contagion factor of sarcoptic mange means that a dog can contract it simply from being in a space that has been visited by the infection, like a kennel or grooming clinic.

Cause

Because the mites are highly contagious, direct contact with an infected animal or person is the most common source of contraction. The second is exposure to an infested space, like a shelter, kennel, vet clinic, or groomer. Sarcoptic mange infection doesn’t depend on age, breed, sex or any other factors except for exposure to it. The mange occurs, on average, anywhere from 2-6 weeks prior to visible symptoms, so this can be a helpful timeline in narrowing down where it might have originated.

Symptoms

In addition to the intense and continual scratching, sarcoptic mange will also demonstrate some or all of the following:

  • Red, scaly appearance to the skin
  • Rashes
  • Sores
  • Scaliness
  • Crusty lesions

Most often, sarcoptic mange starts in places like the elbows, abdomen, and around the ears—places with little hair—but it can also spread to the rest of the body and cause hair loss (alopecia) if not treated. Because the skin is inflamed from constant itching, your dog will then be vulnerable to bacterial infections and other potential illnesses. The accompanying lethargy, sleeplessness, and poor appetite as a result of general discomfort can weaken the immune system and also invite more illness. Sarcoptic mange generally takes a week or so to announce itself on your dog’s skin, so use this as a guide for establishing the timeline of infection.

Diagnosis

Once food allergies and bacterial infections have been ruled out, your vet will perform a skin scrape in order to reach a confirmed clinical diagnosis—and a biopsy may be necessary in some cases.

However, sarcoptic mange frequently gives a false negative response, since the mites tunnel so far under the skin that they’re hard to pinpoint. That’s why most vets recommend treating your dog as if the infection was positive, regardless of the test outcome, to save your pup from any unnecessary suffering.

A reflex test called the Pedal-Pinna Reflex Test was proven to be a reliable indicator of sarcoptic mange infection, and you can do it at home yourself. Rub the length of your dog’s ear for a few seconds, and wait for his reaction. If your pup moves its hind leg in an attempt to scratch, then sarcoptic mange is highly likely, since the mites almost always affect the ears.

Treatment

Getting rid of the mite infestation can be tricky because of the rate of their mating and reproduction cycles. Since they lay eggs in succession so quickly, the mature mites must be eradicated first, and then of all their larvae must be killed as well, before reproducing.

Traditional treatments for sarcoptic mange are chemical-based injections, antiparasitic meds, and topical pesticides—many of which contain neurotoxic ingredients such as doramectin, ivermectin, and amitraz. These chemicals, intended to slowly kill the mites, spread throughout your pet’s body during the process and can have neurological and physiological reactions.

In many aggressive cases of mange, Wondercide’s skin tonic spray and skin tonic oil have been used successfully as a natural remedy. Both the spray and oil contain neem oil, which is known to be a powerful anti miticide. The soothing tonic spray also provides a calming relief to your pup’s itchiness.

The timeline from initial treatment to full recovery can take up to six weeks, depending on both how your pup reacts to the treatment, and what your vet recommends. Sarcoptic mange is the more aggressive form of mange, since it’s highly contagious and can spread throughout an entire home. This is why it’s best to minimize contact with your dog as much as possible until the mange is cleared up, both for your protection, as well as that of other animals. In extreme cases, a quarantine—perhaps in the garage or a spare room—may be necessary.

Prevention

While there are no specifically known ways to prevent sarcoptic mange, a healthy immune system is thought to be the best resource in preventing recurrence. Keeping your dog happy and healthy--with a balanced diet, plenty of exercise, and regular supplements like Neem Bark Powder—is essential. While your pup is infected, make sure they also have a place to sleep that is separate from you or any bedding shared with other animals in the home to avoid spreading the disease. To avoid a repeat infestation, make sure to wash all bedding and clean all rooms where your pup was present. You can also spray your pet, pet bedding and other pets in the home using the skin tonic spray to eliminate any potentially infested areas. Finally, treat all the pets in your home—even if they haven’t been diagnosed yet—to avoid a recontamination.

Demodectic Mange

What is it?

Demodectic mange, also known as “red mange” is the lesser evil/intense of the two most common dog manges, but still results in plenty of inflammation and discomfort for your dog and should, therefore, be treated just as quickly. It’s the most common form of mange, but can still cause hair loss, bald spots, and sores. The other difference between the two is that demodectic mange is not contagious.

Cause

The interesting thing about the microscopic (demodex) mites that cause demodectic mange is that they’re naturally found on the skin of almost all dogs, deep within the hair follicles. However, when a dog’s immune system is weakened, and therefore unable to control the mites, the mites multiply and cause a host of uncomfortable skin issues. This is why the mange is so common in puppies and young dogs, since their immune systems are less developed—in fact, a dog's immune system isn’t fully mature until about 12-18 months of age. However, the issues that affect the immune systems of older dogs—cancers, hormonal imbalances, or just the weakening of the immune system due to age and environmental factors—also make them vulnerable to a case of mange for the same reasons. Because demodectic mange is actually a symptom of another problem—the root problem being a weakened immune system—a full vet check up to pinpoint any other issues is crucial for optimal health.

Symptoms

There are some common symptoms of demodectic mange, but it can show up differently depending on the individual dog, as some will have just one or two symptoms while others will have many. Some of the symptoms of demodectic mange includes:

  • Patchy areas will be visible on the coat
  • Red sores
  • Mild itching (not as aggressive as the itching associated with sarcoptic mange).

If not treated soon enough, a minimal or “localized” infection can turn severe into a “generalized” case. This much more serious diagnosis can result in hair loss across the body (alopecia), intense itching and inflammation—including scaly skin and sores—and even a risk of secondary infection.

Diagnosis

Just like the diagnosis for sarcoptic mange, your vet will perform a skin scraping to confirm the presence of demodectic mange, as well. However, because the mites burrow so deeply, as opposed to being on top of the skin barrier, many scrapes come back as a false negative. This creates more suffering for a dog that goes undiagnosed and therefore treated, so it’s best to have multiple scrapings, or treat your pup as if infected regardless of the test outcome.

If you’ve caught a case of the mange from your pup, you’ll see similar symptoms—a rash and severe itching. It can take as long as four weeks to appear on your skin, and a typical case of sarcoptic mange in human lasts anywhere from one to three weeks.

Treatment

The traditional mange treatment for demodectic mange includes antibiotics or shampoos that are heavily chemical laden and can therefore be toxic. But the mites tunnel so far into hair follicles that they’re out of reach of dips or shampoos and, in some cases, can even build a resistance to such attempted chemicals.

But because the mites from demodectic mange occur naturally, this skin condition needs no harsh chemical treatment, which can weaken an already compromised immune system. The immune system can be strengthened to fight off the overpopulation of mites on its own, and diet is an extremely important place to start. At meal time, avoid grains, sugars and fillers in your pup’s food. Whenever possible, stick with raw meat, organ and bone-based foods.

Of course, the itchy skin will still need to be treated, and a blend of flower essences and essential herbs will help calm and soothe the irritated, itchy skin. Some naturalists will recommend apple cider vinegar or lemon juice as a recommended topical, but this should be avoided because they are acidic and can be incredibly painful for open sores. This skin tonic oil will be a soothing relief for any localized sores or open wounds.

Prevention

General good health is the top factor in preventing infection or recontamination of demodectic mange, so staying on top of regular vet check-ups is essential—especially since it can be a chronic disease throughout a dog’s life. Ask your trusted veterinarian to perform follow-up scrapings, known as trichograms, and keep an eye on your dog’s skin, making routine examinations yourself. Regular brushing is also recommended, as it clears the skin’s surface of excess yeast, flakes, and hair that mites may feed on. Quarantining your pup isn’t necessary in the case of demodectic mange since it’s not contagious. Since stress levels also affect the immune system, giving your pet some extra TLC could help tremendously.

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