Is your dog itching a lot, or missing patches of fur? Are they literally tearing holes in their skin to stop the insane itching? Then you might be dealing with mange. Watching your dog suffer like that is heartbreaking, but luckily mange is treatable. Here’s what you need to know about mange in dogs.

What is mange?

Mange is a highly contagious skin disease caused by several microscopic species of mites found in other animals. These mites will burrow through the skin causing intense itching and irritation. The more a dog scratches, the more hair falls out in spots. Some mange mites are normal residents of your dog’s skin and hair, while others are not. All mites can cause mild to severe skin infections as the amount of mites and parasites increases. Mange is a treatable medical condition, but is highly contagious for other animals and humans.

Mange is a serious skin disease caused by tiny, microscopic mites that burrow into the skin of mammals.

Cornell Wildlife Health Lab

The two types of mange affecting dogs are sarcoptic (canine scabies) and demodectic. Sarcoptic mange is the most common of the two; demodectic mange is relatively rare. Learn more about each type of mange and their causes, symptoms, treatment and outlook, below.

brown dog laying on the couch looking sad

Sarcoptic mange in dogs

Sarcoptic mange or canine scabies is a condition in which parasitic mites known as Sarcoptes scabiei burrow into surface of the skin. There, the scabies mites lay eggs which hatch into larvae in about three to 10 days. Those then develop into adult mites and reproduce – the lifespan of an adult scabies mite is three to four weeks.

Is sarcoptic mange contagious?

Yes, sarcoptic mange is highly contagious and can be easily be passed from one animal to another. Dogs can get scabies through direct (skin to skin) contact and sharing items, such as bedding, with an infected animal.

Dogs can also catch sarcoptic mange from infected wild animals, such as foxes, however this is more rare.

Can I get scabies from my dog?

Canine scabies is also a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be passed from dog to human.

What causes mange in dogs?

The most common cause of sarcoptic mange in dogs is the exposure to an infected animal, as the mites quickly move from animal to animal. Kennels, dog parks, groomers and veterinary clinics have a high exposure rate of mange as pets often get close to each other in these areas.  If one dog in a kennel is infected, others may get infected too.

In contrast, demodectic mange is caused by a weak immune system. Read more on demodectic mange in dogs below.

Symptoms of sarcoptic mange

Dogs suffering from scabies or sarcoptic mange may experience the following symptoms:

  • intense itching and scratching
  • chewing of the skin
  • hair loss, especially around the legs and belly
  • patches of thick, dark skin
  • redness or rash
  • scabs or crusty skin
  • bacterial or yeast infection

In extreme cases, dogs suffering from a severe mange infestation may also have swollen lymph nodes due to inflammation. Or they may become very weak and thin, losing weight and showing signs of lethargy.

If your dog is not acting like their usual self, see a vet and keep an eye on your dog’s activity with a GPS tracker and activity monitor for dogs.

How is sarcoptic mange in dogs diagnosed?

To diagnose sarcoptic mange, a vet will take a scraping of the skin and examine it under a microscope to check for mites or their eggs. Even if no mites are found in the sample, symptoms can still be a good indicator that scabies is present.

Treatment of sarcoptic mange in dogs

Dogs with sarcoptic mange can be treated successfully with medication and the help of a vet.

The first step in treating sarcoptic mange in dogs is to consult with a veterinarian. A vet will be able to recommend the best course of treatment depending on your dog’s condition.

Your vet will most likely prescribe an anti-mite treatment which can take the form of a dip, topical, or oral medication. Your dog may require a combination of these. Steriods (for treating skin inflammation) or antibiotics (for treating infection) may also be prescribed.

Be sure to follow the vet’s instructions carefully and give your dog the full course of treatment; otherwise scabies may persist. Your vet will follow up any treatment plan with two more rounds of skin scrapes to see if your dog is infection-free or in the need of more treatment.

You may also need to treat other pets in your household, as well as wash or remove any bedding or toys that may be infested. Your vet may also recommend that you isolate your dog to prevent the spreading of mange from pet to pet or human to human.

Demodectic mange in dogs

Another, less common type of mange in dogs is demodectic mange. It’s caused by the cylindrical, cigar-shaped mite with eight legs known as Demodex canis. Unlike scabies, these mites are always present (even on healthy dogs), and they reside in hair follicles rather than burrow into the skin.

Normally, they cause no harm. It’s only when a dog’s immune system is compromised that demodectic mites are able to grow out of control (i.e. reproduce rapidly) which causes the problem.

Which dogs are susceptible to demodectic mange?

Demodectic mange occurs most often in dogs with a weak or immature immune system. That’s why it’s most common in:

  • dogs less than 18 months old
  • senior dogs
  • malnourished dogs
  • sick dogs
  • dogs on certain medications

Is demodectic mange contagious?

The good news is that demodectic mange is not contagious to other pets or humans. It can only be passed from mother dogs to their puppies in the first few days of life. Since the mite is found on all dogs, they’re not a threat to dogs with a healthy immune system.

Symptoms of demodectic mange in dogs

Symptoms of demedectic mange in dogs depend on the form that the disease takes, whcih may be one of three:

Localized demodectic mange: Patches of hair loss and scaly skin show up mainly on the dog’s face.

Generalized demodectic mange: Besides the face, more parts of the body are affected. Itching and hair loss can lead to patchy, infected skin. Secondary infections may cause your dog to become smelly and more itchy.

Demodectic pododermatitis: This refers to when demodectic mites affect only the dog’s paws. It can be difficult to diagnose and treat this condition. Infection often develops and can penetrate deep into the tissue. Dogs that are prone to this condition include Old English Sheepdogs and Shar Peis.

How is demodectic mange diagnosed?

Diagnosing demodectic mange is possible by taking skin scrapings and examining them under a microscope. If a large number of mites are found, the diagnosis is confirmed. A skin biopsy may also be used to diagnose the condition.

Treatment for demodectic mange in dogs

Depending on your dog’s condition, your vet will advise you on the best course of treatment. Medication, topical ointments, and medicated baths may be prescribed.

brown dog in the bath getting his head washed with shampoo

How to prevent mange in dogs

There are currently no known preventative measures against mange. However, there are a few simple things you can do to avoid it. 

Avoid contact with infected animals or humans: If you suspect a friend or neighbor’s dog has mange, keep your dog away. You will be unable to tell which type of mange the dog has so your pup could get infected.

Boost your dog’s immune system: A healthy immune system can help prevent the recurrence of mange in dogs. It’s therefore important to keep your dog on a regular feeding schedule, with lots of water and healthy meals, and plenty of exercise. Include a high dosage of vitamin C and A, zinc, vitamin E  in your dog’s diet.

Practice good hygiene: Last but not least, keep your dog clean. Give your dog regular baths and wash bedding and collars. This may help prevent your dog from getting mange.

Know everywhere your dog goes: Keeping a closer eye on your dog with the help of a GPS & activity tracker for dogs means that you can keep your furry friend out of harm’s way.

Conclusion: dealing with mange on dogs

Mange in dogs is a serious skin condition caused by different types of tiny, parasitic mites. An infestation of mites on dogs – mange – can lead to uncomfortable itching, scratching, hair loss, infection and other unpleasant symptoms. Extreme cases of mange can even be life-threatening.

Safe to say, mange is painful – both for the dog affected and their humans to witness. It’s never nice to see an animal suffer. So it’s essential to treat mange in dogs as soon as it’s detected. Luckily, mange is treatable and many dogs are able to fully recover from mange with proper care and treatment.

Prevent mange on dogs by keeping your canine pal clean and away from infected animals. Boosting their immune system and keeping your dog safe by your side whenever possible also helps.