- Mange is a skin condition caused by an overgrowth of mites.
- There are two types of mange—demodectic and sarcoptic. Sarcoptic mange is contagious.
- Symptoms include hair loss, scaly skin, redness, and itching.
- Treatment focuses on getting rid of mites with topical or oral medications.
The term “mangy dog” might call to mind a scraggly pooch down on his luck, and it’s true that mange is seen regularly in strays and neglected pets.
But mange in dogs is a treatable skin condition that can improve and disappear with veterinary intervention and the proper care.
Learn how to spot the symptoms of mange and, more importantly, the steps you should take to help your dog get better.
What is Mange?
Mange is a term that describes a skin disease caused by an overgrowth of mites, which live on a dog’s skin. These mites are microscopic—meaning they can’t be seen with the naked eye.
Mange in dogs can cause extreme itchiness and hair loss. It can also result in red, scaly, scab-like patches on a dog’s skin.
Types of Mange in Dogs
There are two types of mange that affect dogs—demodectic mange (or demodicosis) and sarcoptic mange (also called scabies)
Demodectic mange in dogs is caused by an overgrowth of demodex mites. It is more common than sarcoptic mange and it is not contagious.
“Demodectic mange is most commonly seen in dogs,” says Dr. Karyn Collier, medical director for wellness medicine at Saint Francis Veterinary Center of South Jersey. “The mites are transmitted to puppies from their moms within a few days of birth.”
Sarcoptic mange is caused by an overgrowth of sarcoptic mites. As opposed to demodex mites, which live in the hair follicles, sarcoptic mites burrow into the skin itself. This type of mange is highly contagious and can be transmitted to humans and other pets.
“Sarcoptic mange is contagious to other dogs through direct contact,” says Dr. Travis Arndt, medical director of Animal Medical Center of Mid-America in St. Louis City and Maryland Heights. “While the mites can also be transmitted to humans through direct contact, the mites are not able to reproduce on humans and do not set up a true infection. However, transmitted mites will still bite people and can cause skin irritation.”
What Causes Mange in Dogs?
All dogs have demodex mites living on their skin. In small numbers, these mites simply hang out in the dog’s hair follicles, without causing problems.
The trouble comes when the mites multiply to the point where there are just too many. The overgrowth of mites begins causing damage to the skin. Demodex mite overgrowth is commonly seen in puppies and older dogs with compromised immune systems.
“It is thought that dogs that develop demodectic mange have issues with how their body’s immune system keeps the mites in check, or fails to keep them in check,” says Arndt.
Sarcoptic mange happens when a dog is exposed to another dog or animal that has a sarcoptic mite infection. Symptoms begin to appear a few weeks after exposure.
Symptoms of Mange in Dogs
Both demodectic mange and sarcoptic mange can cause hair loss and itchy skin. Pet owners might notice that their dog is scratching a lot and losing hair.
“Sometimes, with demodectic mange and small areas of hair loss, pet owners may not notice it and the veterinarian will notice it during a physical exam,” Collier says.
However, sarcoptic mange is extremely itchy so pet owners usually can’t miss the fact that something is amiss.
Symptoms of mange in dogs may include:
- Hair loss
- Scratching (especially for sarcoptic mange)
- Scaling or crusting on the skin
Mange can be localized (contained to one or more small areas) or generalized (widespread over the entire body). Dogs with localized mange might have a few patches of hair loss or red or itchy skin. In severe cases, dogs can lose all the hair on their body.
Diagnosing Your Dog With Mange
To diagnose mange, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam of your dog’s skin. If your veterinarian suspects that your dog might have mange, he or she will likely recommend a simple test called a skin scraping.
The vet will gently scrape the skin with the edge of a sharp blade to collect skin cells. Then, the veterinarian will place the cells onto a glass slide and examine the slide under a microscope to look for mites or mite eggs.
“The mites that cause sarcoptic mange and demodex mange have completely different physical characteristics, allowing veterinarians to determine the type of mange and the course of treatment,” says Arndt.
How to Treat Mange in Dogs
Once mange is diagnosed, and your veterinarian determines which mite is causing the mange, treatment can be initiated.
“Treatment for mange focuses on eliminating the mites, treating any secondary bacterial infection caused either by the mites or the patient scratching and controlling the [itching] if present,” Collier says.
If the infection is localized (contained to one or more smaller areas), the veterinarian might prescribe a topical medication, which is applied to the area with hair loss.
If the infection is generalized, your veterinarian might recommend an oral medication.
“Drugs like ivermectin, selamectin, milbemycin and the isoxazoline class of oral flea-and-tick preventatives are effective against these mites,” Collier says. “Many times, these products are used off-label.”
Using a medication “off label” means using the drug in a way that’s different than the label indicates. However, off-label use of certain drugs can be safe and effective as long as treatment is being initiated and supervised by a veterinarian.
Oral medications used off-label to treat mange in dogs may be given as often as once daily or as little as once monthly, with treatment durations extending from several weeks to several months. Treatment must be monitored carefully by your veterinarian to make sure the dog is tolerating the medications and to confirm when the mites are gone.
In some cases, your veterinarian may prescribe a special medicated dip that contains an insecticide called amitraz, which requires several applications over months to eradicate the mites.
Amitraz is a potent insecticide that has potential serious side effects including sedation, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, hypothermia (low body temperature), ataxia (loss of coordination and balance), seizures, and more.
Amitraz must be used cautiously and only under the supervision of a veterinarian.
Cost of Treatment for Mange
Unfortunately, treating mange—especially moderate or severe cases—can cost a lot of time and money.
“It can cost between $250 to $500 to diagnose and treat mange, and it can take a considerable amount of time,” says Arndt. “Often, it can take 90 to 120 days for affected dogs to clear the mite infection. With demodex mange, some dogs are affected throughout their lives, and the mange needs to be managed on a regular basis.”
Dogs with mange, especially dogs with sarcoptic mange (scabies), can experience intensely itchy skin. Excessive scratching and biting at the skin can create breaks in the skin, allowing bacteria to enter the skin. When this happens, it’s known as a secondary skin infection.
Your veterinarian might need to prescribe oral and/or topical antibiotics to clear up the secondary skin infection concurrently with treatment for the mites that are causing the mange.
Many dogs with mange also experience hair loss. In most cases, the hair grows back once the mites have been eradicated and the skin has completely healed.