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What Is Scabies in Dogs? Signs, Causes & Treatment (Vet Answer)

Written by: Dr. Joe Mallat DVM (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on April 4, 2024 by Dogster Team

scabies diseases on the elbow of stray dog

What Is Scabies in Dogs? Signs, Causes & Treatment (Vet Answer)


Dr. Joe Mallat Photo


Dr. Joe Mallat

DVM (Veterinarian)

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

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If you haven’t heard of scabies in dogs, you may have heard some of its other names—Sarcoptes, sarcoptic mange, or even just “mange”. We’ll avoid the use of the last name, as “mange” can technically be caused by any parasitic mite. Instead, we’re focusing on one specific mite: Sarcoptes scabiei. This is the mite that causes scabies or sarcoptic mange in dogs. Scabies makes dogs extremely itchy, so it’s important to know that your pet is protected against it, as well as what to do if your vet has told you that your dog has scabies.

This article will cover everything from the causes and signs of scabies to the care and treatment of this bothersome little mite.


What is Scabies?

Let’s start by discussing mites. Although commonly mistaken for insects, mites are actually more closely related to spiders, right down to the presence of eight legs. Despite their relationship to spiders, however, mites are tiny and can only be seen with a microscope—not the naked eye.

Scabies or Sarcoptes scabiei is a particular mite that infects dogs. Scabies is picked up from other infected dogs, from foxes in the wild, or from the environment (where they can survive for a few days). The mite makes itself at home on your dog’s skin, causing intense itchiness. Although scabies is not life-threatening, it will make your dog extremely uncomfortable, so it’s important to protect your pet against mites and know what signs to keep an eye out for.

What Are the Signs of Scabies?

As we mentioned, scabies causes itchiness in dogs, and it is typically quite severe itchiness. Most dogs will relentlessly scratch at their skin, causing inflammation and significant self-trauma. Scabies mites have a preference for hairless skin, meaning that some parts of the body are more likely to be affected—think elbows, ears, and belly.

Eventually, if the mites are untreated and the scratching persists, the skin becomes inflamed, thickened (“scaly”), and dark. Most dogs will not seem unwell—that is, they maintain their appetite and energy levels—though some dogs can be so itchy that they start to feel sorry for themselves.

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

What Are the Causes of Scabies?

Scabies is caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei, which is typically picked up from other infected dogs, or the environment. But how does the mite live on your dog’s skin?

Scabies mites initially feed on the material on the surface of your dog’s skin. It’s worth noting here that unlike some other parasites (such as fleas), scabies mites do not feed on blood. The female mite then burrows under the skin and lays eggs. As these eggs hatch into larvae and then develop into nymphs, they crawl on the skin. Once they become adult mites, they mate on the dog’s skin, and the females burrow again to lay more eggs.

But this begs the question—why do scabies mites cause so much itchiness? There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the burrowed female mite triggers an intense allergic response from your dog’s immune system. This means that your dog is sending all kinds of inflammatory cells toward the mite to try to fight off the infection. The second reason is the presence of those pesky nymphs and larvae crawling over the skin after hatching. It’s easy to imagine how itchy this would be. To make things worse, dogs will often scratch themselves so much that they traumatize the skin, allowing bacteria to enter and cause “secondary infections”. Unfortunately, this results in more itchiness.

How Do I Care for a Dog with Scabies?

Thankfully, treatment options are available and very effective for scabies. There are two broad categories of treatment, and we recommend discussing with a veterinarian which option is best for your dog.

Topical treatments

These are products that are applied directly onto the skin, killing the mite. There are a few products available, and most need to be re-applied fortnightly or monthly.

Oral treatments

These are tablets, chews, or liquids that are given to your dog to treat the mites. Some of these are technically used “off-label”, meaning that although they are not licensed to treat mites, veterinarians will prescribe them as they are known to be effective.

Some vets may also prescribe a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics will not treat the scabies mites; instead, they are used to treat the secondary bacterial infections that we mentioned, as these infections can persist once the mites are gone. Similarly, anti-inflammatories are often used to settle the itchiness while we wait for the mite treatments to kick in.

At home, it is best to separate your infected dog from any other pets you have. It’s also a good idea to discard or wash any bedding, soft toys, leads, collars, or harnesses that may have been contaminated.

scabies diseases on a dogs elbow
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock


Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Get Scabies from My Dog?

Yes. Although scabies cannot survive and lay eggs on your skin (as it is “host-specific” to dogs), it can make its way onto your skin and cause severe itchiness. Most mites will only survive a few days on your skin, but this can be enough to cause a skin rash. If you or anyone in contact with your infected dog develops these signs, contact your doctor and notify them of the circumstances.

Can My Cat Get Scabies from My Dog?

The answer to this is the same as above: scabies can survive on cats for a few days, but it cannot complete its life cycle on cats, so the itchiness tends to only last a few days. However, cats can contract their own kind of mange from a different mite (known as Notoedres cati). This is technically called notoedric mange, and although the signs are similar to sarcoptic mange in dogs, it is a different mite that is specific to cats.

How Does My Veterinarian Diagnose Scabies?

The best way to diagnose scabies is with a test called a “skin scrape”. To do this test, your veterinarian will scrape the surface of the skin with a scalpel blade, and then examine this material under a microscope. If the vet is lucky, they will be able to see the scabies mites under the microscope. However, it only takes a few mites to cause the signs of itchiness. Secondly, as the mites burrow deep into the dog’s skin, it can be difficult to actually collect the mites in the scraping. These two factors can result in a “false negative” on the skin scrape test.

If your vet is suspicious of scabies but does not visualize any mites under the microscope, they may recommend a treatment trial. This is a safe and affordable alternative to other, more advanced tests, such as biopsy or skin allergen testing. A treatment trial involves using either topical or oral medications to treat mites, and then waiting for 2–4 weeks to see if the signs resolve. If the signs resolve with treatment, we can be fairly confident that scabies was causing the itchiness.


Final Thoughts

If you think your dog may have scabies, or if your dog has been exposed to an infected dog, always arrange a consultation with your veterinarian. Thankfully, excellent treatment options are available to fix the problem. Early treatment with effective products will eradicate the mites and minimize any itchiness or discomfort for your dog.

Featured Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

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