Many a frustrated pet owner has uttered the words “mangy dog” through gritted teeth when confronted by their furry friend’s latest mischief with the trash or a dead fish, yet many are unaware of what mange actually is.
A year-round skin disease caused by microscopic mites, sarcoptic mange, also known as scabies, is highly contagious and affects dogs, cats, and even humans.
Pets typically get mites from other animals, but because mites can survive without a host for up to 22 days, some pets contract mange without ever having direct contact with an infected animal.
Sarcoptic mange is most common in warm, moist environments. Courtney Blake, DVM, Medical Director of AAHA-accredited VCA Cedar Animal Hospital of Minneapolis, explains, “We see more in Minnesota than in New Mexico, but areas such as Florida and Louisiana would see the most.”
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Mites burrow into your pet’s skin and cause intense itching and irritation, which results in hair loss and flaky skin. Other symptoms are small red pustules and a yellow crust on the skin. If untreated, sores and infections can develop.
According to Blake, “Some [infestations] look like a bad case of dandruff.” She adds, “Even mice, rats, and guinea pigs can get mites. Their flakes sometimes look red instead of white.”
Blake advises pet owners to have their animals evaluated as soon as they notice symptoms. “Symptoms of mites often are mistaken for allergies or skin infections,” she says.
To determine whether your pet is infected, your veterinarian will analyze skin scrapings. However, some infected animals don’t test positive for mites, so negative scrapings don’t always rule out mange.
The good news is that mange is treatable. There are topical products on the market, as well as a regimen of medicated shampoo baths and body dips.
The good news is that mange is treatable. There are topical products on the market, as well as a regimen of medicated shampoo baths and body dips that may take care of the problem.
Getting rid of mites can be difficult, and the medication can have side effects. However, Blake states that no home remedies effectively treat mites. She also reminds owners that there are different types of mange and that treatment varies depending on the kind of mite your pet has.
Lowell Ackerman, DVM, of the AAHA-accredited Harvard clinic, Foster Hospital for Small Animals, concurs. “Each condition is treated separately so there are no ‘general’ treatment recommendations.”
Ackerman also points out that the treatments available from veterinarians are safer than home remedies. “Some of the products available over-the-counter are much more toxic than veterinary preparations.”
A Word of Caution
Sarcoptic mange can affect humans. Ackerman emphasizes following your veterinarian’s instructions, saying, “It is important to protect family members from infection, so proper treatment is critical.”
If you have contact with a mange-infected animal, you may develop an itchy rash of small raised bumps on your chest and abdomen. Usually this condition is temporary and will go away once the animal has been treated. Consult a physician if the problem persists.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 3 Issue 3, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.