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Sarcoptic Mange in Dogs

Picture of a dog in grass

While dogs might itch from time to time, there is no problem that can cause itching as much as sarcoptic mange can. Sarcoptic mange, also known as dog scabies, is a more or less common condition that can be found across the world in all types of climates.

The scabies mites burrow into the skin, where they lay eggs. That’s what makes it a little difficult for the pet parent to tell what’s wrong with their precious Fido. Usually, we tend to think that dogs can itch mostly because of fleas given that those we can see with the naked eye. However, like many other things in life, what lies beneath is what’s important.

Let’s have a look at some of the clinical signs you’ll notice if your dog is suffering from sarcoptic mange, how the vet will diagnose the condition, and what treatment options you have available.

How does a dog get sarcoptic mange?

First of all, your dog needs to get infected from somewhere and that somewhere (or someone) is usually another dog with scabies. The mites spread by physical contact, and since the disease is extremely contagious, there’s almost no chance of a dog having it and not passing it on to another animal.

But let’s keep in mind that the condition is caused by Sarcoptes scabiei, which is an extremely versatile parasite and which affects all sorts of mammals from dogs and cats to koalas and boars. Therefore, if you live on a farm and have a cat with scabies, she could just as well pass it on to your dog. It’s not species-specific.

Symptoms

How can you tell that your dog has sarcoptic mange? The truth is that it’s not that easy.

The parasite prefers body areas that have less fur, so you’ll notice some of the changes in regions like the armpits, your dog’s chest, groin, belly, elbows, and pretty much any area where your pal might have less hair.

Initially, you’ll notice that your dog begins to experience some hair loss, but then you’ll also see that in those areas, there are yellowish crusts and the skin gets a slightly reddish tint. Naturally, you might think that your dog just has an allergy when in truth those are the first symptoms of a highly contagious disease.

It’s quite difficult to actually see the mites since they burrow in the skin; they don’t live on its surface like ticks and fleas. The question that arises is this: Can I get sarcoptic mange from my dog? Yes, of course, especially if you let your (infected) dog sleep in your home, in your bed, or just be in close contact with you all the time.

It’s actually highly recommended that you wear gloves if you are under the suspicion that your dog might have scabies. If you are checking him for symptoms, avoid coming in direct contact with his skin. Other signs you might notice are intense itching, especially when the parasites are in the hundreds or thousands, S-shaped burrows and pimples, and inflammatory skin reactions.

Sarcoptes scabiei can cause rashes because the dog can have an immune reaction to the parasites’ feces. While these can happen in areas where there’s a lot of fur, and as such, no parasites, some dogs can react quite severely.

Some dogs start smelling bad when they develop severe canine seborrhea (your canine friend’s skin starts to produce sebum in excess in an attempt to protect itself against the parasite). The issue is that fatty substances can be ideal living environments for bacteria and yeast, and that’s why your dog’s skin will start smelling.

Diagnosis

Your vet will have to perform a thorough physical examination, ask you about his or her behavior, and collect skin scrapings from several areas. The issue that arises in this situation is that, unless your dog is unlucky enough to have been infested with millions of parasites, it can happen that the vet might not collect any.

However, the symptoms are more or less typical, which definitely helps with the diagnosis.

Sarcoptic mange in dogs – Treatment

For cases of mild sarcoptic mange in dogs, your veterinarian might recommend products such as specialized dips. Dog shampoo for sarcoptic mange can also be helpful, especially in cases where the infestation isn’t particularly severe. You will most likely have to administer the treatment at least several times at various intervals before you can rest assured that your dog is completely cured.

Although it might be a bit of a disappointment, natural treatment for sarcoptic mange in dogs rarely works. It’s true that some of the treatments can be a little aggressive, but that’s because they have to penetrate your dog’s skin and actually kill the parasites. You won’t be able to treat the skin disease with something as easily applied as a spot-on solution against fleas, for example.

Cases of mild sarcoptic mange in dogs are always easier to treat than the more complicated ones, especially those where bacteria or yeast have found a way to infect your dog’s skin, too. Under such a circumstance, the treatment for sarcoptic mange on dogs would also involve the use of antibiotics for secondary infections.

Prevention

The easiest way of preventing this skin condition is by making sure that your dog never comes in contact with an infected animal. In reality, it’s much more difficult to do that, especially if you have a property where your dogs can roam freely, and maybe they come across wild animals or the neighbors’ dogs.

Our only advice would be to try to pay attention to your dog’s behavior and notice whether he’s itching and scratching a lot and if he’s losing hair in some parts of his body.

Scabies mites can cause lifelong sensitivity

Most of the dogs that have recovered from the skin condition will develop an allergy to the mites. On the one hand, that’s a negative aspect since your dog will manifest clinical signs (such as constant itching) that are much more severe within just a few hours after being infected. On the other hand, it’s good because you can now take your dog to the vet right away and get the appropriate treatment without even having second thoughts about whether he’s got scabies.

Generally, if your dog starts scratching and doesn’t seem to want to stop, something more than fleas is at the root of the problem.

Scabies is considered a zoonotic disease because it is not species-specific, so by paying attention to how your dog is behaving you can prevent your whole family from getting infected with the parasite. The disease is passed only from an infected animal to another (or a human) as the mites can hardly survive in the outside environment.

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