Demodectic Mange in Dogs

“Doc, I poured burnt oil on my dog, but the mange didn’t get any better.”

Demodectic mange in dogs has long been an ugly debilitating skin disease that has finally become more easily treated. Many folk remedies have been tried over the years, but today there is a good effective treatment, and it is not “burnt oil”. The disease is caused by a microscopic mite that inhabits the skin’s hair follicles. We’ve learned that a change in the dog’s immune system allows the mites to begin multiplying over the skin. As this progresses, the hair comes out, causing patches of hair loss usually starting around the head and front feet. Left untreated, the weakened skin becomes infected with bacteria, causing redness and open sores, hence the common name, “red mange”. Ultimately, death can come if the body becomes widely infected with these bacteria.

Demodex mange mites are diagnosed by performing a skin scraping, taking the upper dead layers of skin and looking for the mites under the microscope.  Proper diagnosis is important, since there are many other skin problems that can also cause hair loss in dogs, and their treatments are completely different.  Here in the Tyler/Whitehouse area, flea infestations and allergic skin diseases are other common causes of hair loss.

Most cases of demodectic mange occur in young dogs less than two years old. It is believed that the mites are transferred from the mother to the puppies while they are nursing, and sit quietly on the pup until some stress causes the immune changes. Normally, once the infection is brought under control, the immune system regains its usual strength and future infections are prevented.

Treatment consists of a special dip applied over the entire pet every two weeks. This is not the normal flea and tick dip, but rather one specifically targeted to kill Demodex.  Usually, around five dips are needed. It is important that the dog not be bathed or get wet during the intervals between dips, since contact time is required to kill all the mites. Demodectic mange is not thought to be contagious to people, and it is unlikely to be spread to other pets in the household. Destruction of bedding or other materials is unnecessary since the entire life cycle of the mite takes place on the dog. We hope this answers most of your questions.  If not, please call us at the Rannals Small Animal Hospital at 903-839-7235.