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Mange by Frank Utchen, DVM
Skin

Dr. Utchen, I just adopted a puppy from an animal shelter and he was diagnosed with a skin condition called Mange. Can you tell me more about this? Will my children and other pets get this?

Answer:  Mange is a skin infection resulting in fur loss that can affect a dog’s entire coat or just a few small spots. In this condition, microscopic bugs called “mites” reproduce in the top layers of the skin. There are two types of Mange, caused by different types of mites: demodectic mange, which is not contagious to humans, and sarcoptic mange, also called “scabies,” which is sometimes contagious to humans. 

Sarcoptic mange mites are spread from dog to dog by direct contact. This results in intense itching and redness of the skin. Because of the intense itching and incessant scratching dogs do with this condition, sarcoptic mange results in localized or generalized fur loss and serious secondary bacterial infection in the skin. 

This can affect dogs of any age. Although the mites that cause this infestation can live on human skin as well, and can cause intense itching in people, this is not common. In the few cases where it is spread from dogs to humans, the dog mites do not persist on human skin, and once a dog’s condition is treated and cured, any humans living with that dog are expected to have their problem resolve on its own.

Despite its severity, sarcoptic mange can be treated easily in most cases with a prescription medication that can be given by injection (Ivermectin) or applied topically to the skin (Revolution). Usually two doses of either medication are administered, about two weeks apart. After the second treatment, a dog would not be likely to have any live mites in their skin, and would be considered safe to be around other dogs and humans. In most cases, a dog is treated with antibiotics to help resolve the bacterial infection in the skin that is usually present as a result of the intense scratching a dog does while infested with sarcoptic mange mites. Topical treatments (lime-sulfur dips) can also be done to speed resolution of the problem but are not usually needed.

Demodectic mange is more common than sarcoptic mange and although it can appear the same, is a very different condition. As opposed to sarcoptic mange mites, all dogs have low numbers of demodectic mange mites that are normal inhabitants of their skin. They contract these from their mother shortly after birth. These mites live in the hair follicles (the small pores in the skin from which the hairs grow), and under normal circumstances are not found in large numbers and do not cause problems. However, in young dogs or adults with impaired immune systems, these mites occasionally reproduce out of controland cause the hairs to die and fall out. This condition is far more common in young puppies than in adult dogs.

Usually demodectic mange does not cause itching or redness of the skin, and most dogs are unaware of their condition. In some instances the mites can lead to bacterial skin infection as well, and in this situation the skin does become red and itchy. 

Usually demodectic mange does not cause itching or redness of the skin, and most dogs are unaware of their condition. In some instances the mites can lead to bacterial skin infection as well, and in this situation the skin does become red and itchy. 

In many cases where only one or two small spots are affected on a dog’s coat, the condition goes into remission on its own without the necessity of any treatment. However, in more persistent or generalized cases, treatment of demodectic mange is more involved than with sarcoptic mange. It requires the application of a liquid dip to the entirety of a dog’s coat. This is done using rubber gloves and a sponge or washcloth, and is not rinsed off. This must be repeated weekly or every two weeks, usually a total of four times, in order to kill the mites. In very rare cases even this doesn’t work and systemic medications are tried in addition to the dips. There are some dogs for whom outbreaks of demodectic mange persist for life.

So to answer your question regarding the risk of your children or other pets contracting this from your new dog, it depends entirely on which type of mange mites your dog has. A veterinarian can determine this by scraping up a few flakes of skin from the affected areas and examining them under a microscope. In either case of mange, virtually all dogs recover quickly and completely once treated, and go on to live normal healthy lives with no long term effects.

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