Sarcoptic mange, also known as canine scabies, is a highly contagious infestation with a parasitic mite, known scientifically as Sarcoptes scabiei canis. This burrowing mite forms part of the family Sarcoptidae; it digs into and through the skin, causing allergic reactions, intense itching and crusting that very quickly becomes infected.
Sarcoptic mange is most commonly found in dogs, of all kinds and ages. However, it can also infect cats, pigs, sheep, horses, foxes, coyotes, as well as a variety of other warm-blooded, fur-bearing species. Sarcoptic mange can also be transmitted to humans. However, this is not very common, happening only when people are in close, prolonged contact with infected animals. It is distinguishable from human scabies by its distribution on skin surfaces covered by clothing.
Description and distribution
An adult scabies mite has a small, spherical body, very similar in overall shape to that of a turtle. It has no eyes, but has 4 pairs of legs, the front of which end in long, tubular processes known as “suckers”, and the hind of which end in long bristles. Unlike the female, the male has no suckers on his third pair of legs.
In terms of size, females are around 0.3-0.45mm long and 0.25-0.35mm wide, while males are generally half that size.
Mange includes mite-associated skin disease in domestic animals like cats and dogs, in livestock, such as sheep scab, and in wild animals, like coyotes, cougars, and bears. When affecting humans, this mite infection is known as scabies.
Breeding and dietary information
The fertilized, adult female mite will burrow under the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of skin) of the victim, using its mouthparts and the specialized cutting surfaces on the front of its legs. Whilst doing so, it will anchor itself using the suckers on its feet. The entire burrowing process does not last more than 25 minutes to 1 hour. The eggs are around 0.1-0.15mm in length and are laid gradually, in small batches of around 2-3 a day, for a period of around 2 months. A single female can lay up to 30 eggs, before dying at the end of the burrow.
The eggs will hatch to produce 6-legged larvae. These climb out onto the skin in search of follicles of hair, around which they burrow into so-called moulting pouches; there, they feed, moult, and eventually (3-4 days later) transform into 8-legged nymphs.
Males reach adulthood in 9-11 days, while females in around 17 days, seeing as they undergo more moults and end up being twice the size of males. Mating occurs only once, when the male penetrates the moulting pouch of females, leaving them fertilised over the course of the rest of their lives (1-2 months). The impregnated female then leaves the moulting pouch to find a suitable location for a permanent burrow, and the cycle repeats itself. Often, only around 10-15 mites are involved in an infection.
Symptoms of Sarcoptic Mange, Scabies
Symptoms of sarcoptic mange develop around a week following exposure and, at first, are somewhat similar to those of a flea infestation. The dog becomes restless, starts scratching frantically, and scaly, bald patches soon start appearing on its ears, elbows, then face and legs. Normal, expected reactions — more scratching and biting — result in even more damage to the skin and, very often, in secondary infections. Chronic sarcoptic mange leaves dogs in very bad conditions. In even worse cases, immune suppression from starvation or from any other disease causes the mange to develop in a highly crusted form, which is much more difficult to bear and to recover from.
If you have noticed any of these symptoms and have reasons to suspect a mange infestation, you should immediately take your dog (or cat, horse, etc.) to an animal hospital, where veterinarians will be able to give you a certain diagnosis. Do this as soon as you can! If the mange is not treated immediately, it can spread on the entirety of the dog’s body and become extremely resistant to treatment.
Do not try to diagnose and treat the animal yourself. Keep in mind that there are several microscopic mites that might affect your dog (such as Cheyletiella and Demodex, alongside Sarcoptes) and that might cause similar symptoms. Many of the treatments available on the market are toxic and can be harmful if administered wrongly.
When a human is infected with a burrowing mite, the disease is referred to as simply “scabies” or, more colloquially, “the seven-year itch”. The responsible burrowing mite is Sarcoptic Sabiei or “the itch mite”: a closely related species to Sarcoptes scabiei canis, belonging to the same family. Scabies has been observed in humans since ancient times, and, most often, it spreads following a long period of direct skin contact with an already infected person.
If you or a member of your family become infected with scabies, you may encounter symptoms such as severe itchiness (which is generally worse at night), pimple-like rashes, and, occasionally, tiny burrows in the skin. These are basically delayed allergic reactions to proteins in the mites’ bodies, eggs and faeces. They take about 2-6 weeks from infestation to show, and they can appear on any part of the body, though most frequently in areas such as wrists, between fingers, and along the waistline, seeing as these are areas in which frequent skin-to-skin contact occurs. In young children, the head may also be affected. In individuals that have been previously infected — and have thus developed a sensitivity — symptoms may develop in merely a couple of hours.
As is the case with sarcoptic mange, if the person has a compromised immune system (which may be the case in the elderly, in patients with HIV, cancer, or that are on immunosuppressive medications), they may be susceptible to crusted scabies (formerly known as Norwegian scabies), which is characterized by scaly rashes, only slight itching, and think crusts of skin that contain thousands of mites. In this case, eradication is particularly difficult.
Sarcopic mites are usually not able to complete life cycles on a human host, so most human infestations end within 3 weeks unless there is additional exposure. Still, if you have any suspicions or encounter any of the symptoms mentioned above, we recommend that you seek immediate medical attention and get a confirmation of this diagnosis; ultimately, a doctor is the most entitled person to tell you how to deal with the situation.
Unfortunately, sarcoptic mange is a very common infection and a very easy disease to catch in the case of dogs. In order to prevent an infestation, pay attention to your dog’s diet, frequently wash it’s bedding, and brush its fur at least once a week. As mange in dogs can get easily transferred from one host to another, keep your pet away from infested ones, and in case it catches the disease, take it to a veterinarian immediately, in order to receive the appropriate treatment.
Should you have to deal with a scabies infestation, contact a dermatologist as soon as possible, to receive a proper diagnose and treatment. Medicine that treats scabies is only available with a doctor’s prescription, so it is imperative that you visit a doctor at the first sign of infestation. Treatments need to be applied not only to the infested person, but also to those that came in contact with the host as well. You can also use natural treatments against scabies, more exactly essential oils such as neem, clove, tea tree, rosemary or anise seed oils, as they help alleviate the itchiness, help in drying up the blisters, or stop the mites from growing and breeding.
For more details on how to ‘Prevent infestation with Sarcoptic Mange, Scabies’ and ‘How to get rid of Sarcoptic Mange, Scabies’, you can visit our related articles. You will find specifics related to symptoms, and ways in which you can protect yourself, your family and your pets from these types of infestations.