Sarcoptic Mange (Scabies) in Dogs

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Sarcoptic Mange (Scabies) in Dogs

Sarcoptic mange, also called scabies, is a highly contagious skin disease that affects dogs. The disease is caused by the tiny, microscopic (meaning they cannot be seen with the naked eye) Sarcoptes scabiei mite which is most closely related to spiders (yikes!). Keep reading to learn about the symptoms, treatment, and prevention of sarcoptic mange in dogs.

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Mite Lifecycle

The adult mites live in the dog’s skin for about 3 to 4 weeks. After mating, the female burrows into the skin where she lays 3 to 4 eggs. In 3-10 days, the eggs hatch into larvae that move onto the skin surface, going through several stages to eventually become adult mites. The adult mites mate and the cycle begins again. Sarcoptic mange can infect dogs of any age.

Dogs can be infected by a different mite called Demodex (causing demodectic mange) which also lives in the skin, is not contagious but causes similar skin problems.

Sarcoptic mange mites can infect people and cats but cannot reproduce as they can in dogs. In people, the mites cannot complete their life cycle and die after a few days, but often cause symptoms of intense itching which may require medical treatment.

Note: Scabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmissible from infected pets to people. It’s important to practice good hygiene such as hand washing as well as washing your pets’ bedding in diluted bleach (1 of ounce bleach mixed in 1 gallon of water) if your pet has been diagnosed with scabies or you suspect scabies in your pet.

Cats can be infected by a mite closely related to Sarcoptes scabiei called Notoedres cati, causing a condition known as notoedric mange.

Symptoms of Sarcoptic Mange in Dogs

Scabies in dogs causes intense itching, and owners often note that their dog constantly scratches and chews their skin. The itching is due to the mite on and in the skin as well as the burrowed mites and their eggs causing a huge allergic response in the skin.

Mites prefer areas of skin with less hair such as ear flaps, elbows, and stomach area, causing red, scaly, flaky itchy skin. Hair loss can often be seen on the legs and belly areas. If left untreated, the skin becomes thickened and dark in color.

The symptoms and areas affected are similar to environmental allergies and food allergies. Veterinarians often treat for sarcoptic mange as a precaution before considering diagnostics and treatment for atopy or food allergies. Dogs with scabies often have secondary bacterial skin infections which need veterinary care and treatment with antibiotics as well.

How does sarcoptic mange spread?

Sarcoptic mange mites can live off of their primary hosts and be infective in the environment for about 36 hours. Dogs diagnosed or suspected of having sarcoptic mange should have their bedding, collars, and harnesses washed in diluted bleach (1 ounce of bleach mixed in 1 gallon of water) or replaced.

Dogs in close contact with infected dogs such as dog parks, visiting friends or neighbors, or coming into contact with stray dogs or wild foxes can easily become infected with sarcoptic mange mites.

Diagnosing Sarcoptic Mange in Dogs

Most often, veterinarians will diagnose dogs suspected of having sarcoptic mange based on their history of possible exposure, symptoms, and response to treatment. Many vets will take a skin sample using a dulled scalpel blade to scrape the skin and search for mites under a microscope. If mites are found, this confirms sarcoptic mange and the vet will prescribe the appropriate treatment.

A negative skin scrape result does not rule out scabies in a dog and vets will often treat a dog for mange while monitoring for improvement over 2 to 4 weeks. Dogs with scabies are often found to be negative in skin scrapings about 50 % of the time, making this test less accurate.

Treatment of Scabies in Dogs

While difficult to diagnose, several treatment options work well for scabies in dogs. Treatments include topicals, medicated baths and dips, injections, oral liquid, pills, or flavored chews. Depending on how severe the symptoms are, some dogs will need a combination of treatments to effectively eliminate scabies.

Talk to your vet about which treatment best fits your dog and your lifestyle. Many products will treat scabies and prevent future infections as well. Note that dogs with scabies will often need more than 1 or 2 treatments to clear the infection. Always talk to your vet before giving or applying any medication to your pet.

Examples of products used to treat sarcoptic mange in dogs include Interceptor, Sentinel, NexGuard, Bravecto, Simparica, Seresto, Advantage and Advantage Multi, ProHeart, and Frontline. These products are labeled for flea treatment, prevention, and control and also help prevent sarcoptic mange in dogs. Follow all treatment instructions from your vet. Be sure the product is labeled for dogs and that it is the appropriate dose for your dog’s age and weight.

While dips were used more often in the past, today there are products that are safer, easier to apply, and more effective against sarcoptic mange.

Monitor your dog closely for improvement which you should notice as less itching, less redness of the skin, and able to rest. Dogs often have secondary skin infections and will need prescription antibiotics and medicated shampoo. The inflammatory reaction to scabies, causing intense itching, can be helped with cortisone or similar medications. Your vet will determine what medications your dog needs to treat infection and relieve itching.

If your dog is itching and scratching 4-5 days after beginning treatment for scabies, contact your vet.

Remember to treat all dogs in the home if sarcoptic mange is suspected or diagnosed even in only 1 dog.

Can sarcoptic mange be prevented?

Keep your dog away from areas where they could be in contact with potentially infected dogs, such as stray dogs or wild foxes.

Practice good hygiene if your dog is suspected of having sarcoptic mange by washing your hands frequently after petting them, wash all bedding, leashes, and collars using diluted bleach solution.

Can I get mange from my dog?

Yes, if your dog has been diagnosed or suspected of having sarcoptic mange and anyone in your family gets itchy skin or a skin rash, contact your family doctor and let them know about possible exposure to sarcoptic mange. Your family doctor will advise what next steps need to be taken.

Read more:

Ditch the Itch: Skin Allergies in Dogs

Flea Prevention and Control for Dogs

Tick Talk - Dogs and Tick Control

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Published: 6/25/2021
Last updated: 8/9/2021
Dr. Denise Michanowicz, Veterinarian

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