Why do dogs get mange?

Mange is a skin disease caused by mites that affects dogs. Mange results in intense itching, hair loss, and skin irritation in dogs. There are two main types of mange in dogs: sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange. Understanding what causes mange in dogs and how it is transmitted can help dog owners better prevent, identify, and treat this uncomfortable skin condition.

What Causes Mange in Dogs?

Mange in dogs is caused by mites. There are two main species of mites that cause mange in dogs:

  • Sarcoptes scabiei – causes sarcoptic mange
  • Demodex canis – causes demodectic mange

These mites feed on the dead skin cells, oils, and debris on a dog’s skin. All dogs have some number of mites naturally occurring on their skin, but healthy dogs are usually able to keep the mite population under control. An overgrowth of mites leads to mange.

Sarcoptic Mange Causes

Sarcoptic mange is caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite. This is a highly contagious mite that can spread between dogs and other animals. Sarcoptic mange mites burrow into the skin and cause intense itching and irritation. Sarcoptic mange is the less common form of mange in dogs.

Demodectic Mange Causes

Demodectic mange is caused by the Demodex canis mite. These mites are transferred from mother to puppy in the first few days of life. Demodex mites live in the hair follicles and sebaceous glands of the skin. All dogs have some numbers of demodex mites. Demodectic mange results when the mite population grows out of control, often due to a dog’s weakened immune system.

How is Mange Transmitted to Dogs?

The two types of mange mites are transmitted in different ways:

Sarcoptic Mange Transmission

Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious between dogs and other animals. It can be transmitted through direct contact between animals, contact with infected bedding or grooming supplies, or even contact with the environment where infected animals have been. Sarcoptic mange can also occasionally infect humans, causing itching and skin irritation, though it cannot complete its life cycle on human skin.

Demodectic Mange Transmission

Demodectic mange mites are transferred from mother dogs to puppies in the first few days of life. Since all dogs have some demodex mites, these mites in and of themselves do not cause mange. When the mite population grows out of control, likely due to a compromised immune system, demodectic mange results. Demodectic mange is not considered contagious between adult dogs.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Mange in Dogs?

The most common signs and symptoms of mange in dogs include:

  • Intense itchiness and skin irritation – Dogs with mange are extremely itchy. They bite, lick, rub, and scratch affected areas constantly.
  • Hair loss – The itching and skin irritation lead to hair loss, particularly around the eyes, ears, legs, and abdomen.
  • Thickened skin – Long term mange leads to thickened skin in affected areas.
  • Skin infections – The intense scratching can cause sores and skin infections.
  • Crusting of the skin – Skin irritation causes crusting and scabbing.

The itching caused by mange is extremely uncomfortable for dogs. They may seem restless, irritable, and depressed. Seek veterinary care if your dog develops signs of intense itching, hair loss, or skin irritation.

Risk Factors: Why Do Some Dogs Develop Mange?

While any dog can develop mange if overrun by mites, certain factors put some dogs at increased risk:

  • Young dogs – Puppy’s immature immune systems may fail to control mites.
  • Old dogs – Senior dogs may have weakened immune function.
  • Illness – Sick dogs have compromised immune systems.
  • Poor nutrition – Dogs with poor diets may be immunocompromised.
  • Stress – Stress can weaken the immune system.

Dogs that are otherwise healthy typically have properly functioning immune systems that can keep the mite population in check and prevent mange. But dogs with compromised immune systems are at risk for uncontrolled mite reproduction and the development of mange.

Is Mange Contagious to Other Pets and Humans?

Whether or not mange is contagious depends on the type of mange:

Sarcoptic Mange Contagiousness

Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious to other dogs, cats, livestock, and humans. Close contact with an infected animal or its environment can spread sarcoptic mange. Keep dogs with sarcoptic mange isolated from other pets and seek veterinary treatment. Use gloves when handling infected animals and be diligent about disinfection to prevent human infection.

Demodectic Mange Contagiousness

Demodectic mange is generally not considered contagious. Since all dogs have some numbers of demodex mites, transmission from dog to dog is not the cause of demodectic mange. However, a mother dog with demodectic mange can transmit the mites to her nursing puppies. Puppies with inherited mite overpopulation may develop mange later in life.

Diagnosing Mange in Dogs

To diagnose mange, your veterinarian will:

  • Take a history of your dog’s symptoms
  • Perform a physical exam of your dog’s skin
  • Look at skin scrapings under a microscope for presence of mites
  • Conduct skin cultures if skin infection is present

Looking for mites on skin scrapings can confirm the diagnosis. Your vet may also perform blood tests to evaluate your dog’s overall health and immune function.

Treating Mange in Dogs

Treating mange requires eliminating the overgrowth of mites on your dog’s skin and addressing any secondary skin infection. Treatment options include:

  • Antiparasitic dips and medications – Medicated dips and oral or injectable drugs clear mite infestations.
  • Antibiotics – If secondary skin infections are present, antibiotics may be prescribed.
  • Medicated shampoos – Antiparasitic shampoos help clear mites.
  • Immune supplements – Supplements improve immune function to combat mites.

Isolate dogs with sarcoptic mange during treatment. Provide high quality nutrition to support your dog’s immune defenses. Your vet will advise on the most effective mange treatment regimen for your dog.

Are Home Remedies Effective for Dog Mange?

Some home remedies may help soothe your dog’s skin during mange treatment. However, home remedies alone will not cure mange. They should only be used to complement veterinarian-prescribed mange treatments. Home remedies for mange management include:

  • Oatmeal baths – Soothe itchy skin.
  • Coconut oil – Moisturizes and soothes skin.
  • Apple cider vinegar – Has some antiparasitic effects.
  • Aloe vera gel – Soothes irritation.

While these and other home remedies may provide some comfort, they do not take the place of medical mange treatment. Work with your vet for an effective treatment plan.

Preventing Mange in Dogs

You can take steps to prevent mange in your dog:

  • Avoid contact with infected animals
  • Treat dogs with sarcoptic mange immediately
  • Keep your dog healthy to maintain immune defenses
  • Ask breeders to screen breeding dogs
  • Treat puppies for mange preventatively

While not every case can be prevented, keeping your dog healthy, avoiding mange-infected animals, and promptly treating cases you see can reduce your dog’s mange risk.

Is Mange in Dogs Zoonotic?

The sarcoptic mange mite can in rare cases be transmitted to humans. However, the mites cannot complete their reproductive cycle on human skin. When transmitted to humans, they cause temporary itching and skin irritation. Avoid contact with dogs infected with sarcoptic mange, wear gloves when handling them, and disinfect their environments to prevent human infection.

Prognosis for Dogs with Mange

With prompt veterinary treatment, the prognosis for dogs with mange is good. Antiparasitic medications are usually very effective at clearing mite infestations and secondary antibiotics can treat skin infections. Immune supplements can boost your dog’s defenses against the mites.

In rare cases, dogs with very weakened immune systems may struggle to clear the infestation even with treatment. Your vet will advise on your dog’s expected response to treatment at the time of diagnosis.

Mange in Dogs: The Takeaway

  • Mange results from overgrowth of sarcoptic or demodectic mites
  • Intense itching and skin irritation are common mange symptoms
  • Underlying illness or stress can increase mange risk
  • Diagnosis is made by skin exam and microscopic identification of mites
  • Treatment requires medications to eliminate mites
  • Prognosis for treated dogs is very good

While having mites live on their skin is normal for dogs, uncontrolled mite infestations lead to the development of uncomfortable mange. Working with your vet to diagnose and treat mange properly is key to relieving your dog’s itching and clearing up their skin condition.

Leave a Comment