People might toss off the term "mangy mutt" when referring to any unkempt dog. Actual mange is caused by mites, with different types of mites causing different types of mange. If your dog exhibits mange symptoms, contact your vet immediately so treatment can begin.
Also known as canine scabies, dogs get sarcoptic mange from exposure to the Sarcoptes scabei mite. Highly contagious, symptoms of sarcoptic mange include horrible itching, generally about a week after mite infestation. The constant scratching causes formation of thick, crusty lesions on the dog's body, ending up all over the entire animal if the condition isn't treated. In worst-case scenarios, the skin becomes so inflamed that the dog dies. Because of the widespread use of ivermectin as a heartworm preventative, a drug also effective on mange, dogs on this heartworm protocol may experience mite exposure without contracting scabies.
Also known as red mange, this is the most common form of the disease in canines. It's also caused by a mite, Demodex canis, that most dogs probably have on their skin. The immune system of a healthy dog usually prevents this mange from becoming problematic, but young animals with immature immune systems and older canines whose immune systems are compromised may suffer. The primary sign of red mange is hair loss and inflamed red skin, especially on the face. This type of mange is not contagious.
Hereditary Demodetic Mange
All puppies are exposed to Demodex canis through their mothers, but it usually does not affect them or the localized mange clears up with little or no treatment. However, some breeds are prone to hereditary types of demodetic mange affecting the feet. These include shar-peis and old English sheepdogs, according to the ASPCA.
In making a diagnosis, your veterinarian will take a skin scraping from your dog. She then looks for the presence of mites in the sample under a microscope. Because mites may burrow deeply into the skin, they may not show up on the scraping. Based on clinical signs, your vet may assume that the dogs suffers from mange even without evidence from the skin scraping, or she may opt to take a deeper skin scraping.
Demodetic mange usually responds to applications of topical medication. The vet may also prescribe oral medications and special shampoos to treat the condition. Sarcoptic mange is more challenging to treat. The vet will likely give your dog a combination of oral and injectable medications, along with medicated shampoos and dips. Either throw out your dog's bedding and buy him something new to sleep on, or wash it in hot water with bleach. Warning - humans can catch sarcoptic mange from the mite. If you experience intense itching and know your dog has the condition, contact your doctor.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.