Mange, a parasitic skin disease in dogs

Mange, a parasitic skin disease in dogs,  is one of the itchiest skin conditions in animals. There are two main parasites responsible – Demodex and Sarcops – and there are slight differences in the way they are diagnosed and treated.

Mange: how to identify it

The two main signs that a dog may have mange is hair loss and itchiness. There may also be secondary skin infection and crusting. The hair loss can be anywhere on the body: a single patch, multiple patches, just around the eyes, or almost complete hair loss. It can also look like many other skin conditions so any hair loss on a dog should ideally be screen for mange. Some dogs may also suffer severe secondary bacterial skin infections as a result of mange. These may require special shampoos or even antibiotics.

Mange: how it is diagnosed

A diagnosis is made via a deep skin scraping which your vet will examine under a microscope. During the scraping a scalpel blade is used to scratch (NOT cut) a small area (about 1 cm long) to get a deep sample. It is important to scratch until the skin is quite raw and at times a little oozing is noted. This is a sign of a good scraping. The parasite, if present, can then be seen under a microscope.

demodectic mange parasites seen under a slide

Demodex, also known as puppy mange, is mostly seen in young dogs less than a year of age. The parasites are easily seen in large numbers under the microscope and look like small little crocodiles wriggling their tails. Most dogs have the mites on their skin which are part of the normal micro-organisms on healthy skin but if a dog’s immune system is underdeveloped or compromised, their numbers can increase dramatically causing the clinical signs of mange.


Treatment is sometimes difficult and long term, depending on the extent of the illness. Luckily, some tick and flea preparations have also been shown to kill the demodex mite, which makes treatment much easier, with a better chance of curing the disease.

Sarcoptic mange or scabies

This occurs in any dog of any age and can be transmitted between animals. The parasites are not always seen under a microscope, but if even just one parasite is seen, it confirms the diagnosis.

Symptoms include:

• Intense, extreme itchiness

• Total hair loss

• Crusting and scaling of the skin

• Itchy ears

Treatment is simple and highly effective. Often a single application of a tick and flea treatment would be enough to kill all the parasites. In severe cases, continued treatment may be needed, and the hair will regrow with time.

Sarcoptic mange can be transmitted to people as well, so if any lesions are noted in human family members, please see a medical professional, and remember to mention that a furry family member has been diagnosed with scabies.

The number of mange cases that veterinarians see have dropped significantly since more sophisticated tick and flea preparations have become readily available but in impoverished areas where these preparations are seldom used, mange occurs and animal welfare workers see many cases each year.

It is always best to have a vet check any dog that may show symptoms of mange so that the correct medication and treatment plan can be started to ensure a quick recovery – and return to happy wagging tails.


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