You've probably heard the phrase "mangy mutt" used as an insult for a dog that misbehaves, but the reality is that mange is a real condition, not just a behavior, and it's something you want to take seriously.
In today’s post I discuss what mange is, how can you identify it, as well as what you can do if your pupper pal has it.
Read on to find out! Not sure if you are aware that it can be pretty serious if left untreated, but if you catch it early, it's easily treatable and not terribly dangerous.
As usual my blog is packed with research-backed 📚 knowledge. For pet parents looking for more reliable, unbiased, and fact-based dog care guides, I have sprinkled some additional great ones throughout the post.
Also, make sure not to miss the short educational video on how to bathe a dog with mange by Dr. James Talbott from Belle Forest Animal Hospital.
Mange is a skin condition, sort of like a dermatitis. It's caused by a kind of parasitic mite and can affect dogs of all ages.
There are three different kinds of mange, all caused by different kinds of mites and with slightly different symptoms and presentations. The mites feed on skin and burrow into the skin to lay eggs, furthering the cycle of infection.
Exposed and damaged skin also leads to further infections that can be damaging in their own ways.
The three types of mange are:
Sarcoptic Mange. This is caused by the Sarcoptes Scabiei mite. Also known as scabies, this form of mange can be passed from dog to dog and even dog to human, though it doesn't typically thrive on humans. While very contagious to people, you might only experience some minor irritation but can pass it on to other dogs.
Demodectic Mange. The mite that causes this form of mange is Demodex Canis. Unlike sarcoptic mange, this form of mange can't pass to humans. It's also a mite that is normally present on a dog's skin and is usually harmless. This form of mange tends to affect puppies and dogs with weakened immune systems most of all.
“Demodectic mange most often occurs when a dog has an immature immune system, allowing the number of skin mites to increase rapidly. This disease occurs primarily in dogs less than 12 to 18 months of age. As the dog matures, its immune system also matures.” - VCA Animal Hospitals
Otodectic Mange. This is a localized form of mange mostly found in puppies, caused by Otodectes Cynotis ear mites. It's basically an ear infection, not a generalized skin infection.
Of the three, sarcoptic mange is the most dangerous, though all three kinds of mange can be bad if they're left to run out of control.
“These mites (Sarcoptes scabiei var cani) are very contagious, and they are spread by both direct contact between dogs and through contact with contaminated environments such as kennels, grooming facilities, multi-dog households and dog parks.” - Dr. Brian Collins, D.V.M. | College of Veterinary Medicine | Cornell University
There are also a handful of other kinds of mange, but they don't typically infect dogs. Some mange only affects animals like deer and rabbits, some affects foxes, and some infects birds. You can learn more about the different types of mange here if you're curious.
Is Mange Dangerous?
Yes, it is. If left untreated, mange can be extremely dangerous.
Yes it is. Since mange is a parasitic infection, treatment generally involves an antiparasitic medication, along with careful cleansing of the skin to help promote healing.
Even dogs with extreme cases of mange can heal and be restored to full vigor with the proper care. Here's a before-and-after shot, though be warned, the "before" is heartbreaking.
While there are a lot of examples of dogs that suffer from extremely advanced cases of mange (and have miraculous transformations when they're treated with proper medical care), this is usually a rarity, caused by a dog being a stray or getting lost for a long time.
Usually, mange can be caught early and treated successfully before it becomes a huge problem.
Mange is a lot more common than many people realize, simply because of how contagious it is and how treatable it is when handled quickly.
In early infections, mange doesn't look like much.
Mange can look different depending on the type of infection. In general, it can show as a reddening of the skin in patches or patchy bits of hair loss.
Usually, it looks more like generalized itching and irritation. You might worry that your pet pal has fleas long before you suspect mange.
Sarcoptic mange can occur anywhere from 10 days to two months after your pup comes into contact with a dog that has scabies. It's usually first seen on the edges of the ears, chest, and belly.
General symptoms of mange include:
Yellow crusty areas
Secondary skin infections
Advanced cases can present as a thickening of the skin, inflamed lymph nodes, and emaciation as the dog in question struggles with the infection.
Demodectic mange has a similar presentation, but it tends to be more full-body and results in more hair loss than scabies.
As mentioned above, it's not nearly as contagious; since the mites that cause it are normally present on the skin of your pup, it tends to be a side effect of other issues that compromise the immune system.
It can also crop up on new puppies that don't have a fully strengthened immune system yet.
Otodectic mange is similar to demodectic mange but localized to the ears in all but the most extreme cases. You can follow all of the steps to look for and diagnose an ear infection and have a good chance at catching this kind of mange early.
Like demodectic mange, otodectic mange is often primarily found in puppies.
Generally, mange is diagnosed by your veterinarian.
The vet will take a skin scraping (don't worry, it's not painful) and examine the skin sample under a microscope. For sarcoptic mange, the vet will look for the mites that cause it, which have a round, eight-legged appearance.
Demodectic mange, on the other hand, might not show in a skin sample. Usually, it can be assumed to be mange if the test for sarcoptic mange is negative, and your puppy pal has some immune system issue.
In some cases, if a skin scraping is negative, the vet might take a full biopsy to look for other problems. They will either try to confirm mange through a more rigorous test, or they may try to rule out other problems, like bacterial infections, viral infections, etc.
Since early mange can so often resemble something like an allergic reaction, it's important to look for the mites directly.
If you suspect your furry friend has mange, be very careful to keep them isolated from other dogs until you can work on treatment.
Since sarcoptic mange is so contagious, it can sweep through a daycare, kennel, or doggy social group very quickly.
As you might expect, treating mange involves killing the mites that cause it, treating any secondary infections, and helping the skin to heal.
The first step is often clipping or shaving the affected area. Fur makes it more difficult to treat the skin issues mange causes and can harbor mites in the hair follicles.
Longer-furred dogs will usually need more of a clipping than shorthaired dogs. If your dog has matted or tangled hair, you may need to brush it out before you can trim their hair.
The second phase of treatment often involves medicated shampoos. Giving your pup a bath in a medicated shampoo will help to kill off the mites and cleanse the skin.
These shampoos also tend to have antibacterial properties, as well as soothing properties to help fight the itching that terrorizes your poor pup pal.
While the exact instructions will vary depending on the severity of the infection and the type of shampoo, you're generally going to want to bathe your furry (or now not-so-furry) friend about once a week while continuing with the third phase of treatment at the same time.
Check out this short video on how to bathe a dog with mange by Dr. James Talbott from Belle Forest Animal Hospital
The third phase of treatment is a medicated topical ointment that you apply to the mange-infected areas. This is a stronger, more direct medication aimed at killing the mites and preventing them from coming back.
It also soothes the skin, reduces itching, and forms a barrier against other forms of infection. These prescription ointments are generally applied over the course of several weeks, though different medications and different treatments will have different instructions.
Oral medications may also be prescribed by your vet. Pups with extreme cases of mange may also need to be treated with antibiotics for secondary skin infections.
As always, don't take my word for it; talk to your vet and follow the instructions they give you. They'll know the best way to treat whatever variety and severity of mange your pup is suffering from.
An important step you’ll want to make sure you follow is cleaning up your home. Similar to a flea infestation, it’s important to do some sanitizing of bedding and soft toys to kill off any remaining mites.
There are a lot of potential home remedies floating around.
Any time you see some kind of skin condition, you can bet there's someone who will tell you some combination of lemon, apple cider vinegar, garlic, neem oil, or another natural material will help ward off the nasty infection and restore your pup to good health.
Do they work? There are mixed reviews. Some people claim they work, but they may have had a case of demodectic mange that worked itself out naturally, not scabies mange. Others may have thought their dog had mange when s/he really didn't.
The truth is that home remedies for mange are a mixed bag.
Some of them may work, for some cases, butthey aren't anywhere near as reliable or as effective as actual medicated shampoos and mite treatments.
It’s important to note that some home remedies can be painful for your pup. If you've ever gotten lemon juice in a paper cut, you know it stings; now imagine using a lemon-vinegar concoction to treat a skin infection!
Others, like bleach or motor oil, can obviously be very dangerous to your dog. Yikes! Why would anyone even suggest this?? Don't use those.
I’m all for using natural remedies instead of prescriptions, but you have to know for sure what problem you’re facing. And in some cases, a natural remedy just isn’t going to cut it.
Natural remedies are best used as supplements and not a replacement for medical treatment.
Make sure anything you pick to use is safe for use on damaged skin, and talk to your vet before doing so in case there are medication interactions or other concerns you should know about ahead of time.
Can You Prevent Mange?
Mange can be difficult to prevent entirely, however you can minimize the chances that your pup contracts an infection after they come into contact with a dog that carries the mites.
The first thing to do is make sure to be vigilant. If you suspect a case of mange out of any of the dogs in your pet pal's social circle, try to keep your dog away until the issue is dealt with. They may miss their friend, but it's better to only have one infected dog than to have two.
Similarly, if one of your dogs contracts mange, keep them isolated from other dogs in your household.
Any time you interact with the infected dog, make sure to wash yourself thoroughly before interacting with the other dogs to prevent spreading the mites.
Washing thoroughly is the second best thing to do. Mange is often a consequence of poor hygiene, which is why you see it so often in stray and wild dogs.
MKB’s fresh snuggles dry dog shampoo is naturally formulated with two science-proven mite repellents: lavender and geranium essential oils. Mites simply hate the smell of lavender. Your pup will smell fresh longer between baths while keeping those pesky bugs away!
And of course you will also want to make sure you bring your pupper in for regular checkups at the vet. They know where to look and what to look for to detect the early signs of mange before it becomes a huge issue.
Has your dog ever had mange? Don't worry about feeling like a bad pet parent; it can happen to anyone, and it's not your fault. As long as you keep your eyes open and take action as soon as you notice the symptoms starting to appear, you're doing the only thing you can. Tell me your story in the comments! I would love to hear them, and I'm sure the other readers would, as well! Mange can be heartbreaking, but also heartwarming, particularly if you've ever had a hand in transforming a suffering stray into a loving friend and lifelong companion.
K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more