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canine health problems

Sarcoptic mange (AKA scabies), explained

Also known as canine scabies, sarcoptic mange is a painful but treatable skin disease

Updated February 11, 2021

Created By

Lauren Cocking, Dr. Erica Irish, DVM
Dog with sarcoptic mange

The essentials

  • Mange is a common and treatable skin disease However, it is highly contagious.
  • Humans and cats can be affected by canine scabies Although it’s not super common, cases in humans do occur, especially when in contact with dogs from emerging countries.
  • Diagnosing mange can be tricky But at-home treatments are relatively straightforward and effective.

What is sarcoptic mange?

Mange is a painful skin disease common among dogs that have been abused, neglected, or left on the street. Sometimes known as canine scabies, sarcoptic mange can lead to inflamed, dry, and crusty skin in severe cases. Intense itching is often a common symptom of mange, regardless of severity. If you think your pup might have mange, don’t panic! Although highly contagious, it’s also easily treated.

👉 Even extreme cases of mange can be treated but don’t underestimate this disease, as it’s extremely painful and can prove fatal. 

What causes sarcoptic mange a.k.a. canine scabies?

Sarcoptic mange (or canine scabies) is caused by a mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. When these female mites burrow beneath your dog’s skin, they lay eggs. These eggs hatch into larvae and feed on the surrounding skin. Then, the burrowing process is repeated by subsequent mites in the life cycle. Dogs with mange often scratch excessively because they develop a hypersensitivity to the mites’ feces and saliva.

While dogs generally develop scabies if they’re in contact with another dog carrying the parasite, direct contact isn’t always necessary. The Sarcoptes scabiei mites can live for 48 hours with a host. This means sharing infected grooming products, blankets, leashes, or harnesses can cause mange.

🚨 You can’t see the mange-causing mites with the naked eye. If you can see something on your dog’s skin, you may be looking at fleas, which also cause excessive scratching. 

Sarcoptic vs. demodectic mange

While ‘mange’ is often used as a catch-all term, there are actually two different types of mange: sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange. Demodectic mange (sometimes known as ‘red mange’ or ‘demodex’) is caused by the Demodex canis mite. Unlike the sarcoptic mange mites, the red mange mites are normal and usually harmless, mostly affecting pups with compromised immune systems.

👉 Healthy pups will occasionally suffer localized flare-ups of demodectic mange, but this is usually easy to treat topically.

Clinical signs and symptoms of sarcoptic mange

Symptoms of mild sarcoptic mange typically appear first on the ear margins, as well as the chest, elbows, hocks, and tummy are fairly easy to spot. Basically, mange symptoms tend to appear in areas where your pooch has less hair. They usually appear anywhere from 10 days to eight weeks after your pup’s first exposure to the mites.

Symptoms include:

  • Hair loss
  • Lesions
  • Severe itching (pruritus)
  • Redness, rash, and irritation
  • Crusty looking patches of skin
  • Bacterial or yeast infections

In more advanced cases, symptoms can also include thickened skin, inflamed lymph nodes, and weight loss.

👉 While many media depictions of scabies are severe, this disease can also exist in mild forms and responds well to early diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnosing sarcoptic mange in dogs

Although you can spot the early symptoms of sarcoptic mange at home, it’s best to pay a visit to your vet’s surgery and have the diagnosis confirmed. However, diagnosing sarcoptic mange is difficult as it can be confused for allergies, seborrhea, and other skin ailments.

Even so, the vet will likely take a skin scraping and examine it for mites or eggs before confirming the canine scabies diagnosis. Often, these skin samples are inconclusive though. In such cases, your vet may still suspect mange and proceed with mange treatment options in the hope the symptoms clear up.

👉 If your pooch is diagnosed with canine scabies it’s essential to keep them away from other dogs, as the disease is highly contagious.

Treatments for canine scabies

Once you’ve got a diagnosis, mild cases of canine scabies and the associated secondary symptoms can be treated at home. Common treatments include:

  • Trimming the hair. This helps the affected areas heal.
  • Weekly baths. These help to soften the scabs and soothe the skin. While you can use special anti-itch shampoos, cool water soaks with lavender or lemongrass bath oils can also be incredibly calming for itchy pooches. If you don’t have pure bath oils, or can only find commercial scented versions, organic apple cider vinegar is a good substitute.
  • Topical or oral medications. These are designed to kill the mites and eggs and might include products containing selamectin, ivermectin, amitraz, or moxidectin. Such medications are often also marketed as heartworm treatments.
  • Antibiotics. Antibiotics should only be used if and when your pup develops a bacterial infection as a result of scratching the sores.

🚨 Collies can be sensitive to high doses of ivermectin, so do not treat your collie with this medication unless under the careful guidance of your vet. Other sarcoptic mange treatments are preferable.

Preventing canine scabies

If your pooch has a case of canine scabies, there are ways to limit the spread and prevent reinfection. These include the following:

  • Boil wash blankets, soft toys, harnesses, and leashes. You need to make sure there are no more mites lingering on your pup’s belongings, especially if there are other animals in the household. To be on the safe side, you should also do the same with your own towels and bedding.
  • Keep infected animals away from non-infected animals. It seems obvious, but it’s worth reiterating! Canine scabies is highly contagious and you must keep infected dogs away from other animals until the mange has been treated effectively. Don’t send your pup to a kennel if you suspect they’re suffering with canine scabies.
  • Treat your healthy pups too. Even if your other dogs aren’t actively showing sarcoptic mange symptoms, it can be a good idea to give them mange medication anyway. After all, they may still be carrying the mites, which might cause a further mite infestation. Check with your vet before giving topical medications to your healthy dogs though.

Can I catch scabies from my dog?

It’s possible. While the mites which cause canine scabies do pass from dogs to people (and cats), they rarely thrive on human and feline hosts. However, if they do take hold — they won’t be able to reproduce. This means you may experience some intense itching (pruritus) and red bumps, especially around the waistband area, although they should settle down after a few weeks. Check with your vet and doctor if you suspect you’ve caught a case from your pet or another animal.

To reduce the risk of catching canine scabies passing between you and your pooch, you should make sure it sleeps in its own bed. Be extra careful with interacting with stray or wild dogs, especially in emerging countries.