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Mange in Dogs: Signs, Causes & Treatments (Vet Answer)

Written by: Dr. Stacie Grannum DVM (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on May 17, 2024 by Dogster Team

A Brown stray dog skin disease leprous

Mange in Dogs: Signs, Causes & Treatments (Vet Answer)


Dr. Stacie Grannum  Photo


Dr. Stacie Grannum

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Microscopic parasites called mites can burrow into an animal’s skin or hair follicles, leading to a condition known as mange. It can affect various mammals, including domestic dogs and wild canids, such as foxes, coyotes, and wolves. The signs of mange may include itchiness, hair loss and thinning, skin redness, and infections. Two different types of mites affect dogs, and treatment must be done by a veterinarian.

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What Is Mange?

Mange is a parasitic skin disease caused by mites. The two types that can cause this disease in dogs are the sarcoptic mange mite, Sarcoptes scabiei var. canis, and the demodectic mange mite, Demodex.

Sarcoptic mange mites are also known as canine scabies, and they burrow under the skin’s surface, causing intense itching. The margins of the ears, elbows, hocks, and legs of a dog tend to show signs of itching. This type of mite is contagious to other dogs and occurs non-seasonally. It can be transmitted to people, so it is important to limit direct contact with affected dogs.

Demodectic mites live in the hair follicles and sebaceous glands. Demodex is a normal skin parasite found in dogs that is normally kept in check by a healthy immune system. If a dog’s immune system is compromised, Demodex may populate out of control and cause skin disease.

Atopic dermatitis in a labrador dog itching itchy
Image Credit: fetrinka, Shutterstock

What Are the Signs of Mange?

Signs of mange in dogs may include:

  • Patchy hair loss
  • Thinning hair
  • Baldness (alopecia)
  • Itchiness (scratching, chewing, licking, rubbing skin)
  • Inflamed, red skin
  • Crusty or scaly skin
  • Thickened skin
  • Color changes to the skin
  • Open sores or wounds (due to scratching)
  • Secondary skin infections
  • Skin lumps or bumps (papules)
  • Greasy skin

Scabies typically cause intense itching, while itching may or may not be a sign of an overpopulation of demodectic mites.

dog scabies. dog hair loss infection
Image Credit: Djordje Novakov, Shutterstock

What Causes Mange?

Sarcoptic mange is caused by:

  • Direct contact with an infected dog, fox, or similar wildlife (e.g., coyote)
  • Indirect contact with grooming equipment, blankets, towels, or contaminated environment

Demodectic mange is caused by an immature (juvenile onset) or compromised immune system. Those most likely to be affected are young dogs, those taking certain medications, and those with the following issues:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hereditary/genetic factors
  • Illnesses
  • Poor diet
  • Stress

Juvenile-onset generalized demodicosis can begin in dogs less than 18 months of age, while the adult-onset form may present in dogs over 4 years of age.

dog scratching the back of his neck
Image Credit: BRS images, Shutterstock

How Do I Care for a Dog With Mange?

After obtaining your dog’s medical history and conducting a thorough physical examination, your veterinarian will collect a sample of your dog’s skin or hair to investigate under the microscope. To obtain a skin scraping, your vet will use a scalpel blade to scrape the skin deep enough to cause mild irritation or bleeding. Demodex mites live deep within the hair follicles and sebaceous glands.

Sarcoptic mange mites can be hard to find and may be difficult to diagnose with a skin scraping. Several scrapings may be needed to identify mites, eggs, or feces. Other tests, including a skin biopsy or fecal flotation, may be needed to make a diagnosis. An ELISA test is also available in some countries to confirm a diagnosis. Up to 80% of dogs with sarcoptic mange may show a positive pinnal-pedal reflex, which is when they make a scratching motion with their hindleg when the margin of their ears is rubbed.

Demodex is confirmed when an increased number of mites, eggs, and larvae are seen in the sample. It is important to note that seeing a few Demodex under microscopy is rare, so finding larger-than-normal numbers of the mite is considered abnormal.

If your dog experiences chronic skin infections or does not respond to treatment, your veterinarian may need to take a biopsy of your dog’s skin.

Dog Vet Checking Dog
Image Credit: Pressmaster, Shutterstock

How Is Mange Treated?

Treatment of mange depends on the diagnosis. For example, not all cases of Demodex need to be treated, as mild cases may improve on their own in a few months. A more generalized form of the disease may need more aggressive therapy, including oral and topical medications.

Clipping the fur and applying a benzoyl peroxide-containing shampoo can open up the hair follicles, resulting in greater contact with the medication. Other medications are used off-label to treat this form of mange.

These are non-FDA-approved therapies used off-label for demodicosis:

  • Milbemycin oxime
  • Moxidectin
  • Ivermectin
  • Afoxolaner
  • Fluralaner
  • Sarolaner
  • Lotilaner

Corticosteroids should not be used because they can worsen the condition.

These are the FDA-approved medications for sarcoptic mange:

  • Selamectin (spot-on topical dose)
  • Imidacloprid-moxidectin (spot-on topical dose)

Non-FDA-approved medications for the treatment of sarcoptic mange (used off-label) are:

  • Milbemycin oxime
  • Ivermectin
  • Afoxolaner
  • Fluralaner
  • Sarolaner

Lime sulfur dip is an older topical treatment. Ivermectin or other off-label use of macrocyclic lactones should be used with caution in herding dog breeds like Collies and Australian Shepherds, as they may have sensitivities to the medication due to an MDR1 mutation that can result in neurotoxicity.

male veterinarian examining labrador retriever dog at vet clinic
Image Credit: SeventyFour, Shutterstock


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is Mange Contagious to People?

This depends on the type of mite infection. Demodex is host specific and is not contagious to humans, while the sarcoptic mange mite may be transmissible to people and other dogs. The infestation in humans is short lived, however, and resolves within 3 weeks once the mites are treated on the affected dog.

Is Mange Treatable?

Yes, mange is treatable and the prognosis is good with proper treatment. Localized mild cases of Demodex may resolve on their own. More severe cases may require ongoing anti-parasitic medications to control the infection. For dogs with scabies, it may take up to 2 weeks for the itching to resolve.

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Mange is a parasitic skin disease caused by mites. Demodex mites are normally found in the hair follicles and sebaceous glands. They can overpopulate if a dog has an immature or immunocompromised immune system. Sarcoptic mange mites are transmitted from infested dogs or contact with infested equipment or supplies, such as grooming utensils, beds, and blankets. Sarcoptic mange is zoonotic, meaning it can be passed from animals to humans.

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