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What is Mange in Dogs?

Written by Anna Hollisey


Dalmatian having a really good scratch

Mange is a skin disease caused by mites living under skin or in hair follicles. There are two main types: demodectic and sarcoptic, and both can be very unpleasant – causing itching, hair loss, and infections. 

Sarcoptic mange is also known as scabies. It’s contagious, and can affect many dogs in a local community, especially if it’s being carried around by one of its favorite hosts: nocturnal foxes. Sarcoptic mange is a very nasty variant, causing such an intense itch that dogs will endlessly chew and scratch at their skin. Sometimes this chewing creates additional infections and lesions, which shows us how uncomfortable the condition can be. 

Demodectic mange is quite different because it isn’t contagious, except from mother to pup. This mange is also caused by mites but they’ll only create a problem for dogs with underdeveloped immune systems. Demodectic mange usually starts in one place and spreads. It’s sometimes known as ‘red mange’ because it makes skin turn red. 

Sarcoptic mange is caused by the Sarcoptic Scabei mite. It’s a nasty species which burrows under the surface of the skin and can also affect humans. It’s passed by contact between animals, and can be picked up on a walk or even in the backyard, if a fox with scabies has recently traveled through. 

Demodectic mange is caused by a different mite – the Demodex Canis. While this mite is usually present on most dogs’ skin, it can multiply if the immune system doesn’t keep it controlled. These mites live in hair follicles and cause hair loss. 

Demodectic mange is often diagnosed in dogs aged 12-18 months. They’re susceptible during this time because their mother has passed them mites but their immune systems are not sufficiently developed. Later in life, dogs can suffer with demodectic mange due to a suppressed immune system.

  • Hair loss. This is the main symptom and typically begins around the dog’s face. 
  • Intense scratching (more common in sarcoptic mange).
  • Red and inflamed skin. Sarcoptic mange sometimes causes skin to become darker and thicker. 
  • Subsequent skin legions or bacterial infections. 

Your vet will scrape your dog’s skin, or sometimes arrange a biopsy, to diagnose the type of mange. This is really important to ensure that the right kind of treatment is prescribed and will be effective. 

  • For localized mange, a topical treatment may be recommended. Some vets use spot-on parasite medication such as Advocate or Bravecto. You’ll need to keep your dog dry while the topical treatment is absorbed. 
  • For generalized mange, a medicated shampoo may be given. 
  • For sarcoptic mange, vets might use an insecticide ‘dip’ for topical treatment.
  • Oral versions of the parasite treatments are available and may be preferred by your dog or suggested by your vet.
  • You may also be advised to clean bedding and dog toys; you don’t need a prescription cleanser – use a bleach solution to ensure mites are eliminated.

Reinfection is quite common, but cleaning your dog’s surroundings will help to prevent it. 

If your dog caught scabies and you live in an area where it is rife, you can try to keep them away from fox routes, if you know where they are. 

If your dog has contracted mange because of a weakened immune system, watch out for reinfection – then get it diagnosed and treated again as soon as possible. 

Demodectic mange is not contagious. But humans can be affected by the Sarcoptic Mange mites, although they don’t live for long in human skin. This can be uncomfortable and itchy – you may find red, swollen areas on your skin, which can be treated with cortisone cream. It won’t develop into human scabies, because that is actually caused by a different variety of mite.