Successfully Battle Mites on that Mangy Ol’ Dog!

The humans aren’t gushing over Rocky like they used to do—Rocky normally had a kinda look that made humans smile, lucky son of a gun. That’s not the case anymore. Almost overnight, he turned from an adorable rug-muffin into a mangy ol’ dog. No one wants to touch poor Rocky anymore because Rocky has mites and the mites are giving him mange.

His human doesn’t know how he got it. He could have caught it at the dog park. Maybe he even got it from another dog at our pet sitter, Sally’s. Maybe he’s got somethin’ else brewing inside him, a sickness that let the nasty mites take over.

Last week when he came to Sally’s, Rocky was banished behind the child gate in a front room, quarantined. Nothin’ in that room but a dog bed and a bowl of water and a tug-of-war rope.

Who wants to tug of war by yourself?

He looked out through the bars and cried because he wanted to come play with us, but we weren’t allowed near him, so we stared back at him through two sets of child gates, a whole room away.




The rest of us dogs wanted to play with him like usual, but Pat almost didn’t leave me at my pet sitter’s when she saw Rocky, slobbery jowls pressed up against the child-gate bars, ugly spots of fur missing and angry red skin. He was scratching to high heaven. He even had a couple-a sores. Poor guy. He looked very uncomfortable.

Sally assured my human, Pat, that Rocky would stay blocked off behind the child gate until his human figured out what the heck was goin’ on.

Rocky’s human had thought it might be seasonal allergies. Sometimes, the symptoms of fur loss and itchy, red skin may look like mange, but it’s not. If your dog gets mangy only once or twice a year, at the same time of year, and it goes away on it’s own, chances are good that it is not mange, but seasonal allergies instead. Seasonal allergies are a whole different issue.

Sally asked Rocky’s human if he usually gets itchy this time of year, but Rocky’s human said, “no.” It’s the first time he’d seen it on Rocky.

Pat left me off at Sally’s even though she was worried about the whole possible mange thing. She was late for work. As I heard the front door close behind her, I knew she was crossing her fingers behind her back, hoping that I wouldn’t get the mange.

Mites cause mange. Every single one of us dogs has mites. It’s part of the ecosystem on our fur and skin. In fact, we get mites from our mothers the second we are born. Mites are normal. Our healthy immune system keeps them in balance.

Here’s a dirty little secret. Even you have mites. They live everywhere, even on your face.

When dogs get mange, something is out of balance, either an underlying disorder, a genetic pre-disposition, or we caught a mite that’s more destructive than what is normally on our fur and skin ecosystem—the contagious kind of mite that is up to no good.

Mange is distressing and uncomfortable for your dog and without treatment can become worse and cause skin infections from scratching that can even be fatal. So, if your dog gets mange, it is important to treat it.

Sally texted with Dr. Cherice Roth at Ask.Vet and Dr. Roth gave her the 411 on mange. Dr. Roth says that typically when dealing with mange, it falls in one of two subtypes. Here are some facts to be aware of for each subtype:

Demodectic mange:

  • Cause: Demodex mite (all dogs have demodex mites naturally, likely transferred from mother to pup through nursing), these mites are only a problem when the immune system doesn’t keep them in check.
  • Symptoms: Alopecia (missing fur), red skin, mild itchiness, lesions; can be localized or occur on entire body.
  • Transferability: Demodectic mange is not contagious, so no need to quarantine or take additional precautions.
  • Diagnosis: Skin scraping test at the vet, hair follicle examination, urine and blood tests to rule out other diagnoses.
  • Risk factors: Possibly more likely in immune-compromised dogs or dogs with genetic disorders; typically seen in puppies whose immune system isn’t as strong as older dogs. Dr. Roth says that when an older dog is dealing with demodectic mange, there is definitely a more serious health concern going on, like 100% of the time, even if it is just a medication reaction. For example, long-term steroids can predispose pets to demodectic mange. (As an aside—the cat version of demodectic mange is different than the dog version. Unlike the dog version, the cat version is highly contagious.)
  • Treatment: Consult your vet for a proper treatment protocol; depending on the severity and age and stage of your pet, the protocol may be wait-and-see (especially with puppies whose immune systems will kick in more strongly as they grow), or alternatively medication, pesticide dips and disinfectant baths and/or holistic remedies. You should talk to your vet about all possible treatment side effects, as well as treat any underlying disorders as appropriate.
  • Prognosis: While treatment protocols may take weeks to resolve the disorder, prognosis is good that dogs will recover from demodectic mange. The prognosis for older animals would be determined by what other disease process is also going on. 


Sarcoptic mange (also known as scabies):

  • Cause: Sarcoptes scabie mite.
  • Symptoms: Alopecia (missing fur), red skin, severe itchiness, lesions.
  • Transferability: Highly contagious to other animals. This mite can even irritate the skin of humans, depending on the species. Even if the cooties get on you though, these scabies will not be able to replicate on you. In other words, humans can’t support dog mites and dog mites can’t support human mites, thank the lord.
  • Diagnosis: Diagnostics include a skin scraping test at the vet, hair follicle examination, and urine and blood tests to rule out other diagnoses; diagnosis of sarcoptic mange may be difficult as skin scrapings often don’t reveal infestation, and so veterinarians often will rule out other disorders first to determine your wagger’s treatment plan.
  • Risk factors: Exposure to infected animals.
  • Treatment: Consult your vet for the proper treatment protocol which may include medication, pesticide dips and disinfectant baths and holistic remedies. Because scabies can be difficult to track down under the microscope, veterinarians will often treat patients with severe skin symptoms for the infestation without a truly positive test.
  • Precautions: Absolute quarantine for the dog; sterilization/cleanliness of dog gear and bedding; minimal contact with humans and other animals until resolved—talk to vet about appropriate precautions for your context.
  • Prognosis: Prognosis for a full recovery is good if treatment plans are followed.

Whether it is demodectic or sarcoptic mange, veterinarians often have to treat bacterial or fungal infections while they also treat mange. Pets that are itchy use their dirty feet to scratch and break open their skin and that opens the door for infections. So while mange is usually the main issue, there are often multiple things to treat in order to get the skin back to normal. (As an aside—lots of the newer flea and tick preventatives may also treat and protect pets—off label/unofficially—from mange as well.)

This week Rocky didn’t show up at the pet sitter’s. Turns out that Sally was wise in isolating Rocky last week. Rocky had scabies (sarcoptic mange). She probably shouldn’t have let him come to dog sitting at all last week, but she decided to give Rocky’s human the benefit of the doubt that it was likely just Rocky’s allergies. Sally’s sixth sense kicked in and she separated him off, just to be sure.

This week, all Sally’s dog clients got letters in the mail (kind of like the ones schools send out for lice outbreaks), and now our humans are watching out for the signs of scabies and cleaning all our gear, just to make sure. We won’t see Rocky for a few more months back at Sally’s while he’s being treated. I heard Sally say Rocky’s getting weekly pesticide dips to get rid of the suckers. So far the coast has been clear for me and Sally’s other dog clients. Keep your fingers crossed. In the mean, time all of us dog clients will look forward to the day when Rocky returns to pet sitting, free of mange, in his old adorable rug-muffin fashion.

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