Both sarcoptic mange and scabies are skin diseases caused by parasitic mites which embed themselves either in skin or hair follicles in an animal, depending on their type. In humans, these two types of mite infections, which would otherwise be known as “mange” in furry mammals, are instead known respectively as scabies and demodicosis.
Sarcoptic mange, also known as canine scabies, is a highly contagious infestation of Sarcoptes scabiei canis, a burrowing mite. The canine sarcoptic mite can also infest cats, pigs, horses, sheep, and various other species and the human analog of burrowing mite infection, due to a closely related species, is called scabies. These parasitic mites dig into and through the skin, causing intense itching from an allergic reaction to the mite, and crusting that can quickly become infected. Hair loss and crusting frequently appear first on elbows and ears. Skin damage can occur from the dog’s intense scratching and biting.
Scabies is in turn, one of the three most common skin disorders in children. As of 2010 it affects approximately 100 million people and is equally common in both sexes. The young and the old are more commonly affected. It also occurs more commonly in the developing world and tropical climates. Currently no vaccine is available for scabies. The simultaneous treatment of all close contacts is recommended, even if they show no symptoms of infection, to reduce rates of recurrence.
Symptoms of Sarcoptic Mange and Scabies
Most dogs with Sarcoptic Mange and Scabies are intensely itchy. Their condition tends to worsen from scratching, biting or chewing at affected areas of their skin. The sores caused by these diseases are typically most obvious on the lower abdomen and on the inside of the dog’s thighs. Elbows, hocks and ears are also very commonly affected by these mites. Signs that can be seen on affected dogs are the following:
- Scratching at areas of the skin, especially the ears, elbows, hocks, inner thighs, underside of the belly and face;
- Biting at these areas of the skin;
- Chewing at these areas of the skin;
- Visible raw sores on the skin, especially on the underside of the abdomen, chest, inner thighs, elbows, hocks and ears;
- Thickened, dark crusty ear flaps;
- Patchy hair loss (alopecia);
- Crusty sores on affected areas; crusty ear tips are characteristic of sarcoptic mange.
Preventive measures against Sarcoptic Mange and Scabies
Unfortunately, sarcoptic mange is a very common infection and a very easy disease to catch in the case of dogs. However, here are a couple of measures you can take to maximize your chances of avoiding it:
- pay attention to your dog’s diet, ensuring that it includes a high dosage of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E and B complex, lecithin, and zinc;
- at the same time, avoid canned and packaged milk products;
- frequently wash the dog’s bedding;
- frequently wash the dog himself;
- brush the dog’s fur at least once every couple of days (once a day if he has long, thick fur that gets easily dirty and tangled);
- clean or discard of all animal beddings, collars and leashes; if you choose to clean the bedding, do it with hot water and dry them in the dryer;
- keep the dog away from any animals that you have heard or believe might be infected and, if possible, away from places and things these animals may have come in contact with, seeing as sarcoptic mites can live up to 22 days in the environment, and not on a host;
- take the dog to regular check-ups with the veterinarian; this will not only prevent a serious mange infestation, but also a variety of other possible health issues;
- keep a clean environment by vacuuming daily;
- spray soft furnishings and carpet with an insecticidal spray designed to kill flea eggs and larvae;
- tidy up your yard by removing dry leaves and rotting vegetation that might harbor parasites.
Infestation with the mites that cause sarcoptic mange leads to an intense and sudden onset of extreme skin itchiness, which is called “pruritis”. Affected dogs will scratch, bite and chew at affected areas in an attempt to relieve the discomfort caused by these bothersome parasites. There is probably no other skin disease that will cause a dog to scratch and bite at her skin as much as sarcoptic mange. The itchiness is caused by the female mites burrowing several millimeters under the dog’s skin to lay their eggs.
The most common areas of irritation for allergic dogs are around the back and tail, the abdomen, and the legs and paws. Keep an eye on your dog to see if they are continuously scratching in a certain area on the body. Whenever you suspect your pet is dealing with these types of mites, take him to the vet to consult in what would be the best treatment. Effective treatment differs depending on the mite involved, so diagnosis of the mite type is critical. In order to avoid the mite and disease from spreading, check and treat all dogs that have come in contact with the affected one. Dogs that are in close contact with strays, or those that are kept in close quarters with other dogs in animal shelters, boarding kennels, grooming facilities or elsewhere, have an increased risk of contracting sarcoptic mange.
Once your dog goes under treatment for these two types of mites, a healthy immune system can help prevent the recurrence of the problem, so it’s important to keep your dog as comfortable as possible throughout the treatment. This can include keeping your dog on a regular feeding schedule and giving it a comfortable place to sleep.
Sarcoptic mange usually requires close contact to pass from one animal to another. These mites are quite restricted in their ability to move over distance and do not survive long when they are not on a host animal. You should do the same things you would do to avoid catching the flu and this will minimize the risk of your pet contracting sarcoptic mange. Avoid bringing your pet in close contact with large groups of dogs, particularly younger ones and pets that are kept in group situations.
Whenever dealing with such an infestation, taking your pet to the veterinarian is the best solution, as he will know what treatment to apply, depending on the type of mite involved. Aside from the treatment offered by the vet, you can also check our article regarding “How to get rid of sarcoptic mange, scabies infestation” for further details on how to detect and remove these mites.