Why is My Dog Losing Hair? What You Need to Know About Demodectic Mange
Demodectic mange, also known as demodicosis or “red mange”, is caused by a cigar-shaped, microscopic mite called Demodex canis. These mites are transmitted from mother to pup within the first few days of life. They live deep within the hair follicle and cannot be transmitted to other healthy dogs or humans. Most dogs have such low numbers of demodex mites on their skin that they never experience problems. However, demodicosis can develop when these mites occur in higher numbers, causing skin problems and hair loss.
Signs of Demodicosis
There are two main types of demodicosis:
1. Localized demodicosis: usually seen in puppies and young dogs.
This mild infection occurs in one specific area of the animal, such as the face or head. Patches of hair loss, “black heads”, and some reddening of the skin are the most common signs.
2. Generalized demodicosis: seen in both young and older dogs.
This is a more serious condition, affecting the whole body. Signs include itching, extensive hair loss, scabs, sores, and secondary infections.
Causes of Demodicosis
Demodex canis may be the most common type of mange mite in dogs, but it remains unclear why some are more severely affected than others. Demodicosis seems to occur primarily in dogs with immature or suppressed immune systems resulting from underlying illness or administration of certain medications. A weakened immune response allows the mites to rapidly increase in number, while a well-functioning immune system is typically able to keep Demodex numbers controlled.
Diagnosis of Demodicosis
Because Demodex mites are microscopic, your veterinarian will need to collect deep skin scrapings and hair plucks from your dog. These samples will be evaluated under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis.
Any complicating factors, such as skin infections, will also need to be diagnosed. Typically, a swab of the affected area is taken and either evaluated under the microscope or sent out to a laboratory for bacterial culture. It is important not to use any antibacterial agents or creams on the affected area of skin for 24 hours before your dog is seen by the vet. These substances affect the bacteria present and can lead to inaccurate test results.
If an underlying condition or illness is suspected, further testing may be necessary. Your veterinarian may recommend certain blood tests or other lab work to better diagnose the problem.
Treatment of Demodicosis
Localized demodicosis has a very good prognosis. These mild infections usually resolve with topical treatment. Some cases resolve with no treatment at all.
In contrast, generalized demodicosis may require a long, or multi-faceted treatment process. Spot-on treatments and medicated baths or dips can be used to help reduce mite numbers. Certain oral medications, such as antiparasitics, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories, may also be necessary.
Follow-up appointments with your veterinarian will be needed to assess the progress of the case.
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