Does your dog have a sensitive spot he won’t stop scratching? Is his coat losing fur, leaving a raw and exposed area of skin behind? It’s possible he may be afflicted with sarcoptic mange. Sarcoptic mange is a very common and highly contagious skin infection caused by a tenacious mite known as Sarcoptes scabiei. While this condition is relatively easy to treat and poses no short-term health risk to your dog, it can cause serious, permanent damage or even death if left to fester. Millions of dogs are infected with mange every year — if you own a dog, it’s very likely you’ll at least have a mange scare over the course of his lifetime.
The most important thing is that you know what mange looks like and how to deal with it should it arise.
Symptoms of Sarcoptic Mange
Sarcoptic mange, sometimes referred to as “scabies,” offers some fairly obvious and easy-to-spot symptoms.
- Intense scratching with inflamed or irritated skin.
- Rashes and crusty scabs and bleeding.
- Fur loss in the affected area.
If you’ve ever seen a photograph of a rescue dog brought in with enormous bald spots and raw skin, it’s likely that the rescue dog contracted mange at some point during his time as a stray or neglected pet.
Sarcoptic mange shares symptoms with a few less-severe skin problems and this must be considered in the diagnosis. Allergies, fleas, chiggers, and even dry skin can cause your dog to behave as if he has mange. As with all health issues, it is best to check with your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis before proceeding with any form of treatment.
Sarcoptic mange has only one cause: the presence of the Sarcoptes scabiei mite. If the mite has embedded itself into your dog’s skin, mange will be the result. However, exposure sources for sarcoptic mites are harder to pin down. The most common cause of mange in dogs is simply coming into contact with another dog with mange. Because mange is so highly contagious it can move through a pack of animals with great speed (think about the proximity dogs share in rescues and even in the home.)
Your dog can pick up the sarcoptic mange mite from a walk, a hike, a visit to the dog park, or a trip to the groomer. While all professional dog services make an effort to ensure contagious ailments are not spread between clients’ dogs, no solution is 100% effective. It is also impossible to guarantee safety from infection when the outdoors — if your dog spends time with other dogs outside, he may be exposed to sarcoptic mange just as he may be exposed to fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes.
Sarcoptic Mange Treatment
If you think your dog may be suffering from sarcoptic mange, the first order of business should be a trip to your veterinarian. As noted above, mange shares symptoms with other skin ailments and you need the help of your vet to rule out any other possible causes before proceeding with treatment. Your veterinarian can verify a mange infection by spotting sarcoptic mange mites with a microscope or by comparing common symptoms to your dog’s health history.
Sarcoptic mange is treated typically with insecticidal shampoos and sprays, however natural options exist, such as EcoSpot for Dogs. Care must be taken to sterilize the dog’s environment. Many treatment options fail for the simple reason that the environment remains contaminated and the dog keeps getting reinfected. Any mange treatment protocol must include treatment of the environment.
There is, unfortunately, no preventative measure against sarcoptic mange. Instead, mange must be treated as it arises. The goal of treatment is killing the Sarcoptes scabiei mite, as this removes the cause of the infection and allows the dog’s skin to heal. It is not necessary to rely on harsh chemical treatments to kill the mite; natural remedies have been shown just as effective at destroying mange infections. What must be noted, however, is that most treatments do not kill sarcoptic mite eggs. Instead, multiple treatments must be applied over the course of four to six weeks so that all remaining mites can hatch and be killed. Older dogs may need more treatment and recovery time.
Sarcoptic mange is a frustrating problem for dog owners and an unpleasant condition for those dogs that fall victim to it. Luckily, treatment is simple and effective. Once all of the sarcoptic mange mites have been killed, your pup will be back to his old self. Even dogs who have come in from rescue with extreme mange infections have made full recoveries. It’s all about spotting the problem early and treating it quickly.
Safety Note: Sarcoptic mange can be transferred to humans and other animals by an infected dog. If your dog is diagnosed with mange, it may be best to limit contact between him and the rest of your family, or other animals.
About the Author: Craig Davis is CEO and Founder of Vet Organics, a company which produces effective and safe natural remedies for dogs and cats.