Mange is a skin disease that is, unfortunately, very common in dogs. There are two types of mange, and they have many overlapping symptoms and treatments but are caused by two different skin mites. This condition is highly contagious, so every dog owner should know what to look for, how to prevent mange, and how to treat it if necessary.
Sarcoptic mange is caused by round, eight-legged mites and is also known as canine scabies. Female mites bury into the skin and lay eggs that hatch in about three and ten days. Then, the cycle starts again as the freshly hatched mites feed on the skin and reproduce. Sarcoptic mange is more likely to appear on hairless skin, so you commonly see it on the belly, inside the ears, and under the legs.
The mites that cause this type of mange are usually spread by other wildlife, so if you have animals like foxes or coyotes coming into your yard, they can pass the mites to your pet. Pups that spend time in a kennel, boarding facility, or doggie daycare are also more likely to come in contact with other infected dogs. Symptoms of mange don't show up immediately, so other pet owners may not realize that their dogs have it right away and allow them to interact with other animals even though they are contagious.
The earliest signs of sarcoptic mange are itchy ears and elbows, though pups may also experience itching on their legs, armpits, and bellies. Dogs with mange scratch themselves constantly; at first, the skin becomes red and irritated, but your pup can develop open sores, scabs, thickened skin, and crusting if they keep scratching. Sores may become infected, leading to swollen lymph nodes, and if left untreated, infections can spread into the blood and become life-threatening.
Demodectic mange is slightly less common but still causes many problems for dogs. It's caused by a different mite called Demdex canis. The mite that causes sarcoptic mange is a parasite, but Demdex canis is a normal part of your pup's skin flora and usually causes no harm. Normal, healthy dogs have strong immune systems that can keep these mites under control.
The mites that cause demodectic mange are always present on your dog's skin, but they can quickly get out of control if your pup has an underlying medical condition, like cancer or diabetes. Elderly, neglected, and stray dogs are also more likely to develop this type of mange. Puppies that inherit weak immune systems can develop demodectic mange at a young age.
At first, demodectic mange is a little more subtle than sarcoptic mange because it's not as itchy, and you may not notice that anything is wrong. These mites live inside your dog's hair follicles, so the first symptoms are usually small patches of hair loss. Sometimes, this mange stays localized, but it can spread and become what is called generalized mange. Generalized mange causes bald patches, bumpy skin, crusting, and skin discoloration over a larger area.
Treatment involves applying topical creams to kill the mites, though oral medications are sometimes necessary. Weekly treatments with dips and baths using medicated shampoo can help soften crusts, scabs, and bumps and help the skin heal. If you suspect mange, take your pooch to the vet. Even mild cases can quickly get out of control, so prompt treatment is necessary.
You might be tempted to try home remedies to treat mange in dogs, but to cure it, you must get rid of the mites that cause it, and medication is the only way to do that. Mange also mimics many other skin conditions in dogs, so you should schedule an appointment with your vet to get a diagnosis. If your dog has mange, your vet will have to determine what type of mange it is to ensure your pup gets the proper treatment.
There's no sure-fire way to prevent mange in dogs, especially if your pet is frequently around other animals. Dogs are more likely to get mange if they spend time with strays or other wildlife, so try to keep them away from any unwanted guests that might come into your yard.
Another thing pet owners need to know about mange is that it doesn't only affect dogs. If your pup has mange, it can spread it to other animals in the home, like cats, and to you! You have to be very diligent to keep mange from infecting other pets and people in your home. Isolate dogs with mange until the mites are gone, and keep them off furniture, blankets, and pillows.
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