Pet InfoRx®
Dog Demodicosis (Demodex) & Sarcoptic Mange (Scabies)

For many people, the most dreaded thought as a cause of their dog’s itching and fur falling out is mites. And for good reason!

This issue is most often referred to by one generalized term – mange! We will explore the two most common mites, demodex and scabies, that may be causing your pet to feel less than ideal, and we'll give you some tips to make them feel better soon!

 

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Ectoparasites!

Bulldog with mange or demodex

Them mites, them mites, them itchy ol’ mites! The thought of bugs or parasites crawling on us or our pets that we can see makes most of us cringe in fear. Imagine the ones we don’t see – the microscopic parasites that exist in the hair follicles or skin. These are called ectoparasites.

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What Is Demodicosis & Sarcoptic Mange?

Demodicosis is caused by demodex, which is an eight-legged, cigar-shaped parasite that normally lives in the hair follicles and sebaceous (oil) glands of dogs. The belief is that the mother passes it to the puppy in the first few days of life. In the largest majority of dogs, the mite creates no clinical (obvious or noticeable) signs of disease. But there is a small portion of dogs where the mite grows rapidly, causing the following symptoms:

  • Fur-loss
  • Pruritis (itching)
  • Scaling
  • Inflammation

What could possibly happen next is, the dog can develop a secondary pyoderma (a bacterial infection in the skin marked with pus-filled lesions) throughout the different layers of skin.

Sarcoptic mange, which is caused by the sarcoptes scabiei mite, is a somewhat circular shaped mite, and it's characterized by two pairs of short legs with suckers on the front of the body and two pairs of legs towards the back under the body. They are a superficial burrowing mite (meaning they burrow in the outermost layer of the skin), and they secrete allergenic substances that cause intense itching. They are highly contagious and are primarily transmitted by direct contact, but it is possible that grooming instruments and kennels may harbor these mites.

It is a highly contagious, nonseasonal, intensely itchy skin disease. Dogs are most commonly affected, but humans and cats can be as well. The pruritus (itchiness) and lesion are most severe around the face and underside of the body, but the elbows, hocks ("elbows" on the back legs), and ear flaps can also be affected. Common signs of this are:

  • Crusting of the skin
  • Alopecia ( fur-loss)
  • Pustules (big pimples)
  • Erythema (redness)
  • Excoriation (scratch marks and abrasions in the skin)
  • NOTE: Rubbing the pinna (the ear flap) between your fingers will elicit a scratch reflex of the hind leg if the lesions are present at that site.

Potential for Zoonotic Diseases

Sarcoptic mange is considered a zoonotic disease. This means that humans are at risk if exposed to an infected pet, even if the pet is not showing signs of the disease. Likewise, a pet can acquire the parasite from a human. Therefore, if your pet has been diagnosed with scabies/sarcoptic mange, isolate them from other pets and be sure to wear gloves when handling them and then shower and change clothes after finishing their care.


How Did This Happen?

Demodicosis: The microscopic demodex mite is always present in humans, as well as in dog’s hair follicles. It will present in one of three clinical syndromes when there has been some challenge to a dog’s immune system. These are the three typical syndromes:

  • Localized Demodicosis – It is called localized because the mites are only found in the affected area(s). This is the form most common in puppies ranging in age of 3–6 months. The syndrome is characterized by focal areas of fur-loss with any combination of erythema (redness), scaling, itching, and pyoderma (pus-filled lesions).

  • Generalized Demodicosis – About 10% of those puppies with the localized version will develop the generalized type, especially if left untreated at its initial presence on the body. However, both young and old dogs can have the disease. It is called generalized because the demodicosis’ lesions are present all over the entire body, and the mites can be found in both clinically affected (visible) and normal-appearing skin. There will be widespread fur-loss, superficial and deep lesions, seborrhoea (abnormal secretions from the skin – typically greasy scales), odor, and itching.

  • Adult-Onset Demodicosis – This form, as the name implies, develops in older adult dogs with no known disease history. The form is a cutaneous (skin) indicator or hint that there is an underlying systemic disease. Therefore, it will be necessary to find the cause of the problem. Some systemic underlying diseases that could cause this form of demodicosis include hypothyroidism, Cushing’s, neoplasia (abnormal growth of cells in the body), etc.

There are some generalized reasons your dog may get one of the first two syndromes listed above:

  • Heredity plays a part in your dog developing demodicosis. That is why all dogs that have had a diagnosis of it should be spayed or neutered, so they don't transfer this genetically to their pups.
  • Poor nutrition is a possible cause because this can weaken a dog’s immune system – a strong immune system is needed to prevent the mites from growing and spreading. This is one of the reasons demodicosis is often seen in stray and rescue dogs.
  • Any disease that stresses and weakens your dog’s immune system, for example, parvo, can put your pet at risk of getting it.
  • It can also happen to female dogs preparing to go into heat or while in heat.

Sarcoptic mange: Unlike demodex mites, mange mites are not normally present in the skin. It is a highly contagious disease – meaning it spreads from dog to dog very easily and to humans. Typically, affected animals have a history of being in animal shelters, being in contact with stray dogs, or visiting either boarding or grooming facilities. 

What You Should Do If Your Dog Has Demodicosis or Sarcoptic Mange

Treatment will depend on which mite is present on your dog and to what extent the skin is affected. The key to having the outcome be successful is early diagnosis.

Demodicosis

Demodicosis is a challenging condition to treat, and there's a possibility it can come back.

Here are some general ideas of possible treatment paths your veterinarian may choose:

  • Localized Demodicosis – Since this affects young puppies and usually, in only 1 to 3 locations on their body, your vet may allow your puppy’s immune system to mature to see if the issue resolves on its own. The hope here is that the puppy’s immune system will suppress the mite’s growth. However, to help, your veterinarian may change the type of puppy food you are feeding as well as start them on vitamins and fish oil supplements. The other possibility is that your veterinarian will prescribe a topical treatment (cream) that will only be applied to the affected locations, as the mites are only present in the sites noted to be affected. An antibiotic may also be needed.

  • Generalized Demodicosis – Since this syndrome is usually more extensive – affecting more of your dog's body – your veterinarian cannot just treat each individual location, like in the localized form of the disease. Treatment usually lasts for about 12 weeks but can be longer. Typically treatment involves one or more of the following:
    • Antibiotics for the infection in the skin, caused by the presence of the mites
    • Medicated shampoos that not only treat the skin infection but also help flush out the hair follicles
    • Oral antiparasiticides (medications that kill parasites)
    • Pain medications
    • Fish oil

  • Adult-Onset Demodicosis – Has a similar treatment for the demodex mites, but there is a need for more extensive testing and possibly more involved treatments/medications depending on the systemic cause that is diagnosed. Some additional testing may include:
    • Labwork such as complete blood count (CBC), a chemistry panel (to evaluate organ function), and a urine test
    • Specialized tests to check for Diabetes, Hypothyroidism, Cushing’s, etc.
    • Ultrasound of your pet’s abdomen to examine their organs (kidneys, liver, etc.) and intestines
    • Biopsy of any abnormal masses or tissues

Before stopping treatment, your pet must have two negative skin scrapes (no mites present) two weeks apart.

NOTE: If your dog is found to have Demodex, certain treatments may require your veterinarian to perform a heartworm test.

NOTE: Steroids can cause the signs and symptoms of Demodex to worsen because they can lower your pet’s immune system and cause multiplication of the mites. Make sure you let your veterinarian know if your dog is on any steroidal medications.

Sarcoptic Mange

For sarcoptic mange, the treatment generally includes the following:
  • Oral antiparasiticides (medications that kill parasites)
  • Antibiotics
  • Medicated shampoos
  • Environmental clean-up with a parasiticide (bedding, carpets, and other areas the pet has been) – typically foggers or pump-sprays used to treat fleas work, but ask your veterinarian for recommendations
  • Daily washing of bedding in hot water
  • Fish oil
  • Vitamins
  • Diet change
  • Pain medications

NOTE: WEAR GLOVES any time you are handling your dog.

NOTE: It is highly recommended that before stopping treatment that your dog has a negative skin scrape (no mites seen)

bathing dog using gloves

Keep Your Dog Comfortable

To help your pet to be comfortable, be sure to give all the medications as directed and follow all of your veterinarian’s recommendations.

Some other things you can do are as follows:

  • Keep the environment your dog is staying in cooler (heat makes the skin feel dry and itchy)
  • When bathing your dog with a medicated shampoo, if recommended by your veterinarian, use cool to lukewarm water and gently lather the skin – do not scrub
  • Provide soft and cushioned bedding because their skin is tender
  • If your dog appears painful, contact your veterinarian because your dog may need pain medication

How Do You Know Things Are Improving?

Demodicosis

This condition will take about a week or two to truly seen significant improvements with demodicosis and as long as 8 to 12 weeks for healing.

Sarcoptic Mange

For this condition, it may likely take about 14 days to see a significant decrease in itchiness and as long as 3 months for complete healing. Please note with sarcoptic mange, itchiness often worsens for the first few days. This is believed to be due to an immune response to the dying mites. Don't worry, things will get better.

NOTE: it may be necessary for a short course of steroids to lessen the itchiness. Therefore it is important to monitor your pet closely during the first week of treatment. If there is absolutely no improvement, consult with your veterinarian.

Demodicosis beforeHere is a puppy with demodicosis before treatment (above) and during treatment (below). You can see that the hair is growing back and the skin is healing.

Demodicosis after

You will know that your dog is improving, with either condition, because the itchiness will slightly improve over the first 7 to 10 days. You will also notice that the redness, inflammation, scaling, etc., will improve. Overall, your dog will just begin to seem happier!

How Do You Know When Things Are Not Improving? What You Should Do.

For both demodicosis and sarcoptic mange, some things you will notice if your dog is not improving include:

  • The pruritus (itching) will continue to intensify with no relief
  • Your dog will continue to lose fur
  • Their skin will start or continue to thicken
  • Their skin may start to turn black
  • The scaling and skin trauma from scratching will progress, there could be bleeding from the sores
  • The odor will worsen
  • Your dog may act painful
  • Your dog may develop a fever
  • Your dog may stop eating
  • Your dog’s activity will decrease

Remember, improvements with these diseases do not occur immediately in most cases. But if you do not see improvements within 7 to 10 days or notice any symptoms to be worsening, please contact your veterinarian. They may need to add or change your dog’s medications.

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How to Prevent This from Happening in the Future

Demodicosis

To prevent a relapse of demodex mites, be sure to continue your pet’s medication for the full duration of treatment, and do not stop until your veterinarian has been able to confirm that your dog has had two negative skin scrapes two weeks apart. Be sure to always provide your dog with a proper well-balanced diet. It is recommended to spay or neuter your pet; if your dog has had Demodex before reaching puberty, they may have a relapse if they are not spayed or neutered before that time.

If your dog has adult-onset demodicosis, finding the systemic cause and treating it is critical in helping to prevent a relapse. These dogs may need additional immune support. Therefore, contact your veterinarian for their recommendations on how to do so.

Sarcoptic Mange

To prevent sarcoptic mange from re-occurring, be sure to keep your dog’s environment treated for parasites. Use the recommended preventative treatments for your dog – some topical and oral flea/tick treatments are also effective at preventing sarcoptic mange (so, ask your veterinarian). Be sure to keep your dog away from stray dogs. And ask your groomer and boarding facility what their sanitation protocols are.

Lastly, with regards to sarcoptic mange, you may need to have your dog tested for allergies to dust mites because 30% of dogs will test positive for allergens to them. This may require your dog to have allergy treatments.

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