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Sometimes the phrase “mangy mutt” is used in jest. But sadly, some dogs really do have irritating mange caused by microscopic mites under the skin. These parasites can be transferred to other pets and even humans in the household. Signs in dogs include excessive itching and red, crusty, raised lesions on the face, edges of the ear flaps, elbows, hocks (ankles), chest, and abdomen. There are a range of oral, injectable, and topical treatments for the condition. Antibiotics are used to treat secondary infections and medicated shampoos can help relieve signs and soothe your dog.
Sarcoptic mange (scabies) is an intensely itchy skin condition of dogs caused by microscopic mites called Sarcoptes scabiei.
These mites are highly contagious among dogs. Most dogs with scabies show signs, but some dogs may be carriers and appear to be relatively unaffected.
Dogs become infested when they come into direct contact with other infested dogs, or with fomites, inanimate objects that may carry mites. . Female mites penetrate the skin and lay eggs, causing intense itchiness. Once the eggs hatch, larvae tunnel under the skin, increasing the dog’s discomfort.
Occasionally, the mites can also be transferred to humans or other pets in the household. A pet owner with scabies may experience an itchy rash on the arms, abdomen, or chest. However, humans are not natural hosts for this mite, and infestations generally resolve on their own. Pet owners are advised to consult their doctors for evaluation and treatment.
While these mites may be transferred to cats in the household, they generally prefer dogs. Infestations in cats usually resolve without treatment. Cats with intense itching of the face and neck area are often infested with a different type of mite called Notoedres cati.
Dogs with scabies typically have red, crusty, skin lesions on the elbows, hocks (ankles), edges of the ear flaps, face, chest, and abdomen, although the lesions may spread to all regions of the body. The itchiness may become so intense that dogs will essentially mutilate themselves, scratching until the skin is raw and hairless. Once this occurs, secondary skin infections are common.
Your veterinarian will need to perform a deep skin scraping to reach the mites beneath the skin surface. This involves gently scraping several areas of affected skin with a scalpel blade until the area bleeds slightly. Several skin scrapings are usually done at different affected locations, and the resulting samples of skin cells and debris are examined under a microscope. A diagnosis is made when these tiny mites or eggs are identified on microscopic view.
Even with a skin scraping, mites are often difficult to find. That’s why your veterinarian may still recommend treatment if your dog’s signs are consistent with scabies, even though mites may not have been found with a skin scraping.
In some cases, a blood test can be conducted to check for antibodies to mite antigens, or substances that trigger the immune system. However, under certain conditions, these tests may indicate that a dog is positive for mites when it is not, and vice versa.
Occasionally, veterinarians may submit skin biopsies, or tissue samples, for analysis. Although mites are rarely found in biopsies, microscopic changes in the skin that are consistent with sarcoptic mange may be noted, and can aid in diagnosis.
If a dog shows signs that are compatible with sarcoptic mange, even when skin scrapes, blood tests or biopsies are negative, treatment is usually recommended.
There is no known breed predisposition for sarcoptic mange in dogs.
It is important to treat all dogs that come into regular contact with your dog, even if they don’t show signs of infestation. Some dogs may be carriers of the mite, and your dog will continue to be reinfested if he is in direct contact with these dogs.
Several oral, injectable, and topical treatments are available. If topical dips are used, the entire dog must be treated, including the face and ears. It may take four to eight weeks for signs to resolve.
In addition to parasite treatments, your veterinarian may recommend antibiotics for secondary skin infections and soothing shampoos to help eliminate crusts and reduce itching.
Unlike other parasites, such as fleas, which can persist in the environment for many months, the mites that cause sarcoptic mange cannot survive off the animal for more than a few weeks. While environmental decontamination may not be necessary in these cases, it’s still a good idea to wash all bedding as well as collars and harnesses to avoid reinfestation.
Preventing sarcoptic mange is a matter of keeping dogs away from other dogs with mange. However, some infested dogs may show no signs, and preventing exposure to other dogs at groomers or kennels may be difficult to control. There are topical products that are approved for the treatment or control of sarcoptic mange mites in dogs that can be applied on a monthly basis.
This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.
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