Canine Mange:
Symptoms & Treatment

This six-month-old pit bull/German shepherd puppy has the demodectic type of canine mange. Copyright 2013 Melissa Aalfs

Canine mange is a skin disease and there are two types—sarcoptic (also known as scabies) and demodectic (also known as red mange). Both forms are caused by skin parasites, called mites. The mites cannot be seen with the naked eye; they can only be viewed under a microscope. Mites live on the skin surface and also burrow into the skin and they can cause devastating skin disease.

Canine Mange: Sarcoptic vs. Demodectic

Sarcoptic mange (scabies) is caused by mites burrowing into a dog's skin. While highly contagious to other dogs, it is fairly easy to treat.

Demodectic mange occurs because of a dog's unhealthy immune system. It is not contagious to dogs or humans. All dogs have the mites that cause demodectic mange but usually dog and mites live in balance. But a sickly dog's body is out of balance. Due to malnourishment or other health issues, the dog or puppy will develop demodectic mange. It often first appears as hair loss and redness near the eyes. If the condition progresses, it may spread to the head and other areas of the body. In many cases, this type of mange, known as localized demodectic mange, will resolve itself as the dog matures and his immune system grows stronger.

In a small number of patients, however, their health does not rebound and the demodectic mange overpowers their immune system. This is a serious condition known as generalized demodectic mange. Localized demodectic mange develops into generalized demodectic mange in about 10 percent of dogs.


Canine Mange Symptoms: Sarcoptic

  • Intense scratching and/or biting
  • Red, infected skin
  • Hair loss
  • Crusty skin, usually first seen on elbows, ears and abdomen

Sarcoptic Mange(Scabies) Diagnosis

This form of canine mange is highly contagious. It is most often seen in stray puppies (see photo) but can also occur in adult dogs. While humans can contract it and feel the extremely itchy effects, they are short-lived. Humans are not a desirable host to the mite. This type of mange can be easily spread to other dogs, so the dog with mange should be separated from others. Bedding should be cleaned in a washing machine using laundry detergent and warm or hot water. The dog's collar should be cleaned with soap either by hand or in the washing machine as well.

The definitive way to diagnose scabies is to examine a skin scraping under a microscope. But a dog can have scabies even if mites are not seen in the skin sample.(50 percent or fewer cases are confirmed through skin scrapings.) That's because mites are often removed from the skin by a dog's violent scratching and biting. Even so, the dog continues scratching because of the toxins that are now in his skin. If no mites are seen under the microscope but the dog shows symptoms, there is another method that can be used to test for scabies. Scratch the ear tip of the infected puppy or dog, a popular area with mites. If the dog has scabies, this scratching of the ear will immediately trigger a scratching motion with one of his back legs. This method of diagnosing works well in about 95 percent of cases.Another protocol that can be followed in the absence of a confirmed skin sample is to use a scabies treatment on the patient for two to four weeks. The medication is successful in most cases of scabies, so if the condition does not improve, the patient most likely does not have sarcoptic mange.

Scabies Conventional Treatment

Because scabies is highly contagious, many veterinarians will advise treating all dogs in a household, even those who are not exhibiting symptoms.

    Ivermectin:While ivermectin is used in oral heartworm preventive medications, it is not yet recognized by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) for treatment of sarcoptic mange. Regardless, many conventional veterinarians use this treatment because they believe it is effective. An injectable form, rather than oral form, is often used, with the protocol varying from weekly to every two weeks, in one to four doses.

    While most dogs can tolerate ivermectin, some breeds such as collies, shetland sheepdogs and other herding dogs, will have an adverse, even fatal, reaction to it. A recently introduced test makes it possible to assess whether ivermectin will be dangerous to your dog. Ask your vet for details on testing. There is also a caution related to using ivermectin simultaneously with Comfortis®, a relatively new flea control product. When used together, side effects are more likely to occur.

    Selamectin: This ivermectin derivative is available under the brand name Revolution® and is promoted to control fleas, ticks, heartworm, ear mites and sarcoptic mange mites. According to the manufacturer, normal monthly use of this product should prevent the dog from developing scabies. This product is marketed for use in dogs that cannot tolerate ivermectin.

    Moxidectin(Advantage Multi®): This product is an ivermectin derivative. In Advantage Multi, it is combined with imidacloprid, a flea-killing topical. It is marketed as a preventive of heartworm, hookworm, roundworm, whipworm and fleas. While it is not recognized by the FDA for the treatment of scabies in the U.S., other countries have approved its use.

    Milbemycin Oxime(Interceptor® or Sentinel®): This product is sold as an oral heartworm preventive as well as a treatment for scabies.

    Mitaban dips or lime-sulfur dips: These treatments were often used in the past, but are used less frequently as the above treatments have gained popularity. Chemical dippings were typical treatments f

Alternative Treatment of Scabies

According to homeopathic veterinarian Don Hamilton, conventional treatments using toxins should be avoided. A dog with mange already has a weakened immune system. Exposing him to toxic products will further compromise his health. Dr. Hamilton recommends lavender oil diluted 1:10 in almond oil used in a topical application, along with a diet of fresh foods. He advises using this treatment for one to three weeks, until you see improvement, then once a week for two or three more applications. If you are interested in the alternative approach to treating sarcoptic mange, I suggest you contact a holistic vet for advice. To find one near you, visit the web site of The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. Even if there is no holistic vet in your area, most offer phone consults for a fee. I live in Iowa and use the services of a holistic veterinarian in North Carolina.

Canine Mange Symptoms: Localized Demodectic Mange

Signs of localized demodectic mange, a form of canine mange usually found in puppies, are redness and hair loss around the eyes; scaly bald polka-dot patches, usually on the dog's face. Affected spots are found in no more than two body areas and there are no more than four total spots on the dog.

Although most often found in puppies, on occasion localized demodectic mange is seen in adult dogs. Around 90 percent of puppies will recover without treatment from this type of canine mange, unless their condition is hereditary, in which case recovery (without treatment) is around 50 percent.

Canine Mange Symptoms: Generalized Demodectic

Symptoms of generalized demodectic mange are multiple infections, causing foul odor and bald, scaly skin. The affected areas may appear as multiple, large skin patches or small polka-dot type patches over the entire body.

Diagnosis of Canine Mange: Demodectic

Your veterinarian can diagnose demodectic mange by examining a skin scraping under a microscope. Once treatment is started, it is a good idea for a skin scraping to be taken and examined every few weeks to determine if the condition is improving or whether an adjustment needs to be made in the dog's care. The treatment can be discontinued after two negative scrapings and should be repeated a month later to ensure the problem is under control.

Conventional Treatment of Demodectic Mange

  • Ivermectin:While ivermectin is used in oral heartworm preventive medications, it is not yet recognized by the FDA (US Federal Drug Aministration) for treatment of canine mange (demodectic or sarcoptic). Regardless, many veterinarians use this treatment because of its effectiveness. An injectable form, rather than oral form, is often used due to the bad taste of the pill. Treatment for this type of canine mange is usually daily or every other day.While most dogs can tolerate ivermectin, some breeds such as collies, shetland sheepdogs and other herding dogs, will have an adverse, even fatal, reaction to it. A test by Washington State University makes it possible to assess whether ivermectin will be dangerous to your dog. Ask your vet for details on testing. There is also a caution related to using ivermectin for canine mange simultaneously with Comfortis®, a relatively new flea control product. When used together, side effects are more likely to occur.
  • Amitraz dip (brand name Mitaban©): Before the dip, the dog should be bathed with benzoyl peroxide shampoo to help clear up skin infections and open the hair follicles so the dip can reach the mites. The shampoo should be lathered up and left on the dog for 10 minutes, then rinsed. You should wear gloves to apply the dip and use a sponge. The dip is left to dry on the dog's fur; it should not be rinsed off. This treatment is usually given every two weeks.CAUTIONS: This dip may have a sedative effect on your dog. It should not be used on toy breeds or on puppies under four months of age. Amitraz is a drug of the monoamine oxidase inhibitor class. It should not be administered by people who are taking selected serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac and people who are diabetic.Dipping treatments were often used in the past, but are used less frequently as the ivermectin treatments have gained popularity.
  • Milbemycin Oxime(Interceptor® or Sentinel®): This product is sold as an oral heartworm preventive as well as a treatment for scabies and demodectic mange.

Alternative Treatment of Generalized Demodectic Mange
See Dr. Hamilton's suggestions above for natural treatment.

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