Mange Mites: FAQs by Bonnie Kemp, VA, CSR

What is Mange?

Mange is a skin disease caused by parasitic mites. There are two common types of mange which differ greatly by their cause, presentation, and sometimes treatment. The first and most common is called demodectic mange, caused by the Demodex mite, and is found in puppies, seniors, and adults with poor immune systems. These mites tend to live in hair follicles and so cause hair loss, most commonly around the eyes and on the face. In severe cases, demodectic mange can become wide spread and lead to secondary infection. The second type is called Sarcoptic Mange, or Scabies, to which all dogs and people are susceptible. These mites feed on materials of the skin and therefore can cause the skin to become very red, itchy, and painful. It is most commonly seen on the legs and belly, but can cause extensive hair loss across the whole body.

What causes my pet to get Mange?

All pets have small amounts of demodectic mange present on their skin, and with a proper immune system this is fine! However, with the undeveloped immune system of some puppies or the compromised immune system of seniors or sick adults, Demodex mites can take advantage and run rampant. As the number of mites increases, the demodectic mange begins to appear.

Sarcoptic mange is a little more dangerous because all pets and people can get it, and it is very contagious. Therefore, even a small amount of contact with a dog that has sarcoptic mange can lead to transmission to you or your dog, and it takes only a few bites to cause severe itching and hair loss.

How can I prevent Mange in the future?

Unfortunately due to the nature of demodectic mange, relapse is not uncommon. In puppies, recurrences will likely decreases and eventually stop as the puppy’s immune system becomes stronger and is able to keep the amount of mites at a healthy number. With adults and seniors it may be unlikely that their immune systems can be restored. It is therefore important to keep close watch and make sure that treatment is started as soon as signs of mange begin to reappear. The more widespread the mange becomes the more difficult it is to treat, and the more problems it can cause for your pet.

With sarcoptic mange it is important to clean very well after the first diagnosis. Throw out or bleach all bedding and blankets, and disinfect areas that your pet spends a lot of time.

Is Mange contagious to my family or other pets?

Demodectic mange is not contagious. It is a normal parasite that can grow uncontrolled due to a lacking immune system, therefore contact between a healthy dog and one with demodectic mange will not lead to transmission of the infection. Sarcoptic mange, however, is very contagious to other dogs as well as to humans. This is why it is important to strictly follow your infected dogs treatment plan, including washing all bedding and blankets with bleach.

How can I tell if my dog has Mange?

The most common sign of both demodectic and sarcoptic mange is fur loss, or alopecia. With demodectic mange this occurs mostly around the eyes and on the face, however in severe cases can spread across the body. In sarcoptic mange, fur loss is more predominant on the legs and belly. This skin is often red and irritated and causes pets to become very itchy. Dogs with mange often chew and scratch constantly at the affected areas trying to relieve this discomfort. Sometimes, though not often, your veterinarian can do a skin scraping to see if there are any mites present, however because so few mites are required to cause severe itching it is often difficult to diagnose this way.

Can cats get Mange?

Cats are susceptible to a number of species of mange, the most common of which is called Cheyleteillosis, or ‘walking dandruff’. It gets its name because if you look closely, you can sometimes see the mange mites walking along the skin. These mites are typically located along the back of cats and cause dry, scaly skin that can be very itchy. In some cases they can also cause bumps and crusting skin. Other forms of mange that cats can get include demodicosis (demodex) and otodectic mange (ear mites).

How is Mange treated?

Mange is treated with a topical endectocide, such as Revolution or Advantage Multi. After just a couple of doses there is often a rapid improvement in skin condition. More severe cases of mange however may also require medicated shampoo’s to help clear the skin of scabs and debris. Those pets that have acquired secondary skin infections due to the overgrowth of mange may also require antibiotic treatment.

Can Mange be cured?

With just a couple of topical treatments and a very thorough at home cleaning protocol, it is possible to cure sarcoptic mange. As long as there is no further exposure to the parasite there is no concern for the reappearance of this form. However, due to the nature of demodectic mange and the poor immune systems that go along with it, it is not uncommon to see this form of mange return. Though puppies and some sick dogs can strengthen their immune system over time, other dogs with chronic immunosuppression may always be at risk for recurrent mange outbreaks.

Can mange be mistaken for Hot Spots? What’s the difference?

Though hot spots and mange can share some of the same symptoms, such are irritation and fur loss, the biggest difference is that hot spots are areas of moist and raw skin, whereas mange tends to cause the skin to become red, dry and flakey. Hot spots usually start as a small irritation, such as an insect bite, which causes dogs to lick in order to sooth the site. Unfortunately continual licking causes the skin to become moist and irritated, which leads to a hot spot. This can occur anywhere an irritation occurs. Hot spots are easily treated and show rapid resolution.