Mange in Dogs and Cats

- Tiny skin and hair follicle-infesting mites -

Summary: Mange is caused by tiny mites that infest the skin and hair follicles of dogs and other animals. Infestation causes hair loss and intense irritation. Standard treatments are effective once a correct diagnosis is made.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)
my resume

Causes of mange in dogs and cats

Mange is a general term for several skin ailments caused by tiny mites that infest skin or hair follicles of dogs, cats and other mammals. The symptoms of infestation are intense itching, hair loss and often a foul odor. Most commonly the term is used to describe the condition caused by the sarcoptic mange mite (near photo, right), Sarcoptes scabei. This is the same mite that causes scabies in humans (see What Is Scabies?).

The other common "mange" is caused by the follicle mite Demodex sp. (far right). Normally this tiny mite lives in hair follicles and causes no symptoms. Occasionally, however, populations explode causing hair loss and itching. Demodectic mange (demodextic mange) is often associated with stress, or other illness, which predisposes the animal to an outbreak.

Mange is a very serious condition and should be treated aggressively. The stress brought on by the intense itching and the secondary bacterial infections caused by wounds opened by scratching can even be fatal.

other common names: itch mite, red mange, demodectic mange, dog mange

picture of scabies mite demodex mite
sarcoptic mange mite (highly magnified drawing)

demodex mite (highly magnified drawing)

Treating mange infections

Like scabies, sarcoptic mange mites burrow in the skin causing an allergic reaction and intense itching. Scratching causes hair to fall out along with a thickening of the skin. It is possible to transfer mites from animals to humans and the mite is highly contagious. Never allow infested animals to come into contact with healthy animals prior to treatment.

Suspect infestations should be check by a veterinarian since these symptoms can be confused with other, sometimes serious diseases. Very effective treatments are now available for sarcoptic mange. One topical medication called Revolution™ (selamectin) is widely used and controls heartworm, fleas and some intestinal worms as well. Revolution requires a prescription. Dogs must be checked for heartworm before administering any heartworm medication.

Demodectic mange is often self-limiting once the causes of stress or illness are addressed. Again, however, persistent infestations associated with a foul odor from the bacterial infection and intense itching should be treated by a veterinarian.

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