A Guide to Mange in Dogs

by Quentin Coleman
Check your dog's body for early signs of mange during weekly grooming.

Check your dog's body for early signs of mange during weekly grooming.

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Mange mites can turn your dog's sleek coat into a patchwork of balding, inflamed skin in no time. They are small compared to fleas, and are practically invisible to the naked eye. Humans can't catch canine mange, but the mites may bite you and leave temporary trails of itchy bumps.

Resident or Invader?

There are two distinct groups of mites that produce mange in dogs. Sarcoptic mange (Sarcoptes scabei) readily spreads between dogs through shared living spaces and by physical contact. Every adult canine has a horde of demodectic mange mites (Demodex canis) living inside the follicles of their fur all the time. They subsist by eating dead skin, performing symbiotic service for your pet. A sudden expansion and growth in population encourages them to target living cells. An infestation of demodex mites is also called red mange, and it's more common than sarcoptic mange in canines, according to VCA Animal Hospitals.

Signs and Symptoms

The primary and most obvious symptom of sarcoptic mange is itchiness, although both groups of mites irritate the skin. Your dog may rip out fur and gouge dozens of tiny wounds with his incessant scratching. The warning signs of demodectic mange include hair loss, patches of inflamed skin and scabby sores, according to the ASPCA. There is plenty of overlap between the symptoms of contagious and native mites. Infestations of either species create visible skin damage over time, leading to bald patches and reddened skin. Irritation and open sores increase the risk of a secondary skin infection.

Positive Identification

There are plenty of suspects when it comes to diagnosing canine skin problems. It's tough to distinguish between mange, allergic reactions and infections without special equipment. Seeking veterinary assistance is a prudent choice when your pet shows mange symptoms. If your vet suspects mites, he'll swipe a few loose skin cells and examine them under a microscope. The test determines if mites are present, and also reveals what species is causing the problem.

Purging the Parasites

Resolving your dog's mange takes a little patience and work, but getting rid of the mites is worth the effort. You may be comfortable dealing with ticks or fleas on your own, but don't expect mites to be such easy prey. Follow the treatment procedure prescribed by your vet. Effective therapies include shampoo dips, injections and oral medication. Shetland sheepdogs and collie breeds are sensitive to some types of mite treatment, according to Texas A & M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

No Second Chances

Prevention is always preferred to treatment, so take a few simple measures to reduce the risk of mange mites finding your furry friend. Limit your dog's contact with unfamiliar canines and keep him away from the habitations of wild animals, such as foxes and coyotes. Parks and other public areas frequently traveled by other dogs also may harbor mites. Preventing demodectic mange is a matter of keeping your dog's skin and immune system healthy. Resolve existing health issues and consult your veterinarian about methods for boosting your pet's defenses against another incursion.

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About the Author

Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.