If you are an animal lover, you have most likely heard the word ‘mange’ at some point or other. Whether watching a humane society commercial, speaking with a friend, or perusing the interwebs, it has probably come up. Maybe you are familiar with it, and maybe you are not! Either way, it may end up affecting your family members. Let’s take a look at this topic to answer “what does mange mean for your pets?”
The term “mange” refers to a very unpleasant skin condition caused by parasitic mites. It is a common misconception that mange is caused by dirty living conditions. Though that can certainly contribute to spreading, sanitation itself does not necessarily prevent naturally present animal mites.
There are four specific types of mange, two for canines and two for felines. In dogs, we see a rarer form known as sarcoptic mange (canine scabies), and a more common form identified as demodectic mange. Cats can suffer from notoedric mange (feline scabies), as well as otodectic mange (affecting the ear canals). It is important not to confuse them as they vary in cause, treatment, and potential long-term effects. All are equally problematic, however, and should be taken seriously.
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All mites are microscopic and therefore invisible to the naked eye. However, the Sarcoptes scabiei mites burrow slightly beneath the surface of the skin making them even more difficult to detect. These spider-like parasites prefer more hairless areas of the body. Signs of discomfort, redness, and inflammation are typically first noticed on an animal’s inner ears, hindquarters, and belly. This particular condition results in extreme itchiness! Your dog or cat may bite or scratch intensely at the skin causing massive hair loss, open sores, and even secondary infections. Scabs will form as the skin crusts over. If untreated for some time, swelling of the lymph nodes can also occur.
The Demodex canis mite lives on hair follicles rather than underneath the skin. Under the microscope, this mite looks like a bug with a very long tail. Demodectic mange (also known as ‘red mange’ or ‘puppy mange’), is the most common form in dogs. Actually, this mite lives on the body of almost every healthy, adult dog! Generally speaking, issues only arise in animals with compromised or immature immune systems.
Demodex can be localized (occurring around the face), generalized (spread over the body), or pododerm (affecting only the paws). The dog will develop lesions that usually result in hair loss, crusty/red skin, and sometimes an oily appearance.
Although scabies is most often found in canines, felines are not exempt from infestation! Cats CAN catch sarcoptic mange from infected dogs living with them, but they may also contract Notoedres cati mites which are different altogether. They are rare, but certainly no less contagious than their counterparts. This condition is readily transmitted by contact and also causes severe itching, skin scales, and hair loss. You will usually notice signs first on the ears, head, and neck. Patches of mites can spread over the entire body if left untreated.
Otoacariasis is the most common mite infestation in cats, however, ear mites can happen in a variety of animals. Some pets may simply be mite carriers that spread mange without ever showing symptoms of their own. Otodectes cynotis mites are a very common cause of ear inflammation and discomfort. These mites are usually found in both the vertical and horizontal ear canals, but can also live just outside the ear. Symptoms include head shaking, continual ear scratching, and ear droop. A significant buildup of dark brown earwax is often seen and may lead to eardrum rupture in severe cases.
The root cause of mange varies by type. Although canine scabies (sarcoptic mange) mostly happens to dogs, cats that come in contact with infected dogs can still contract it. For cats themselves, those who love and explore the great outdoors are at the highest risk for any type of mange. Demodectic mange doesn’t typically affect healthy animals. It can live on hair follicles without causing any harm unless there are already existent underlying health issues. Mama dogs typically pass it onto their pups without any negative effect. Sometimes, however, due to a puppy’s new and developing immune system, there can be a reaction. Older dogs that are suffering from lowered immune defenses can also be more susceptible.
Overall, the most important factor here is positively maintaining your pet’s overall health. Creating immunity to mite infestations is the best course of action to prevent mange. Providing a clean environment and nutritious diet can greatly reduce the opportunity for the development of mange. Remember that some mites are transmitted by other animals so “hubs” where numerous dogs/cat/wildlife gather (i.e. dog parks or farmlands with barn animals) gather will carry a higher risk for mite infestations.
Adult scabies mites live up to four weeks in the host’s skin. The female burrows into the skin after mating and lays up to four eggs which hatch three to ten days later. The baby mites roam the skin’s surface as they grow into adults who are ready to mate. The cycle then begins all over again. Vets can diagnose the existence of these mites by placing skin samples under a microscope. Keep in mind, as we discussed earlier, that these mites burrow under the skin. That being the case, a skin test might turn up inconclusive. Good veterinarians will conduct a complete physical examination, review your animal’s medical history, and ask plenty of questions to determine what’s going on.
Treatment is immediately necessary, but can be challenging! Isolation from other pets and people in the house is a must. Common treatment options include medicated skin rubs, injections, and special shampoos/dips. In cases that have already progressed to the point of discomfort, your vet may prescribe other treatments to ease the suffering. Antibacterial shampoos, anti-inflammation pills, and pain-relieving topicals can all make your pet more comfortable.
It’s also a good idea to thoroughly clean the areas frequented most, such as couches and bedding. Although mites are only infective in the environment for up to 36 hours, you won’t want to risk them reinhabiting their hosts! Once the live mites are killed off and eggs have been cleared away, your pet is welcome to rejoin society. Any other animals in contact with the affected one should also be treated (even if just precautionary). Thankfully, however, these two types of mange rarely recur.
The treatment of demodectic mange involves weeks of injectable parasiticides along with frequent medicated baths. No isolation is necessary, however, since the condition is not contagious. Animals can contract Demodex more than once if their immune system is compromised, but it isn’t common in dogs over three years old. Always consult with your veterinarian, or other animal healthcare professionals, for diagnosis. They can best determine an effective treatment protocol.
Ear mites can be reasonably managed if seen by a veterinary surgeon immediately after symptoms begin to display. Standard treatment begins with a thorough cleansing of the ear and repeat cleanings every few days until the mites are extinguished. Additionally, applications of anti-mite ointments and spot-on treatments in the ear are needed. These can be spread on the neck and shoulder blades since they produce an anti-mite effect in the ear canal upon absorption. Ear mites have a 3-week life cycle, therefore it is recommended to repeat the treatment after 2-4 weeks.
Yes, it is possible. Better known as scabies, sarcoptic and notoedric mange is highly contagious to other animals AND mildly contagious to humans. Otodectic mange is also contagious to anyone who comes in contact (regardless of species). Unlike the rest, Demodex is NOT contagious. The various mite species tend to infest only one type of host which means that your dog can’t pass it onto you.
If a human contracts mange from an animal, the issue usually resolves quickly. Mites from animals cause an allergic reaction in a small number of people (around 10-20%). Symptoms generally lead to itching, redness, and irritation on arms, waistbands, or ankles. The itch can last several days, but treatment isn’t necessary to get rid of the mites. Once the animal is treated, the human’s symptoms should also resolve. Over-the-counter cortisone cream may help ease any discomfort. Mange mites do not reproduce or cause active infections in humans.
Overall mange is not a big issue for humans, but it can certainly be a serious problem for your pets. You should always consult with your veterinarian if you suspect that your dog or cat is displaying signs and symptoms. Having a trusted animal doctor is vital to ensure the proper care of your beloved furry friends!
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