What is mange?

Snowball, a young white dog with demodex mange

You’ve likely seen images of homeless dogs or cats with severe hair loss and scabbing. In many cases, the condition they’re suffering from is a form of mange. But mange doesn’t only affect homeless or wild animals — though less common, it can also impact pets.

Mange is caused by parasitic mites that affect the skin, mainly by making the skin very itchy. Mange is most common in dogs, but may affect cats, wildlife, and humans too. Typically, mange is contracted by contact with another animal who is infested, or a contaminated environment.

Symptoms of mange in pets

There are two types of mange: Sarcoptic mange (also known as scabies) and demodectic manage (also known as demodex).

Sarcoptic mange

Scabies is very contagious and caused by a circular-shaped, eight-legged mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. It’s a zoonotic parasite, meaning it’s not only transferrable between dogs, but also from dogs to humans (however, it doesn’t usually thrive on humans).

Symptoms are caused when mites burrow into the skin to lay eggs and the young begin to feed on the dog’s skin. Symptoms will usually appear 10 days to 8 weeks after exposure and include:

  • Severe itchiness
  • Redness and/or rash
  • Yellow, crusty scabs
  • Hair loss
  • Bacteria and yeast infections
  • Thickening of the skin
  • Lymph node inflammation
  • Emaciation

The first signs of an infection will usually appear on the dog’s ears, chest, elbows, hocks, and belly. Catching and treating scabies quickly is key to managing the infection.

A closeup of a dog with demodex mange

Closeup of a dog with demodectic mange

Demodectic mange

Demodex is caused by a cigar-shaped mite called Demodex canis. These mites are a normal rider of an animal’s skin — generally passed from mother to baby — and aren’t transferrable to humans. The mites live in the hair follicles of an animal’s fur and are kept in check by the animal’s healthy immune system, which is aided by routine preventative care.

Issues with demodex arise in dogs with weakened immune systems, such as puppies or elderly or sick dogs. The weakness allows the mite population to grow beyond normal levels.

Symptoms of demodex include:

  • Patchy or total hair loss
  • Red and scaly skin
  • Infected, swollen, and crusty scabs

How to treat mange

“It’s important to see your veterinarian if you suspect your pet has mange because both types of mange can quickly grow out of control, causing your pet discomfort and possibly leading to other infections,” says Dr. Graham Brayshaw, Director of Veterinary Medicine. “Veterinarians diagnose mange by taking a skin scraping and looking for mites under a microscope. Though it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose, mange is treatable with identification and care.”

Depending on the type of mange diagnosed and the severity, your veterinarian may recommend hair clipping, baths with medicated shampoo to heal the skin, and topical or oral medication to kill the mites.

Learn more about other common parasite affecting pets.

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