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canine health problems
Beagle with demodicosis, red mange

What is demodectic mange? 

Sometimes known as “red mange” or “demodicosis,” demodectic mange is a skin disease caused by tiny demodex canis mites. The mites live on the surface of a dog’s skin, usually in the hair follicles. This mite infestation can cause three forms of demodectic mange: localized, generalized, and pododermatitis.

  • Localized. Occurs as isolated scaly bald patches (no more than four spots total), usually on the dog’s face, creating a polka-dot appearance, also known as alopecia. Approximately 90% of localized cases resolve on their own without treatment.
  • Generalized. Multiple large patches of skin are affected and, if allowed to progress untreated, the entire surface of the dog may be impacted. This can lead to secondary bacterial infections such as pyoderma or yeast infections. Generalized red mange is a very itchy and often smelly skin disease.
  • Pododermatitis. The disease is confined to the paws and bacterial infections usually accompany it.

Causes of demodectic mange in dogs

Demodectic mange is caused by demodex mites. Surprisingly, mange isn’t contagious so your pup won’t need isolation if diagnosed — except with newborn pups, who could contract the mites from their mothers during the first few days after birth.

What dogs are more likely to get demodectic mange?

Localized demodectic mange tends to appear in young dogs, usually less than 6 months old, because of their immature immune systems. Adult onset can be seen in elderly dogs with weak immune systems. Breeds like pit bulls, Old English sheepdogs, Boston terriers, and shar-pei tend to get severe forms of pododermatitis.

Demodectic vs. sarcoptic mange

Demodectic mange is sometimes referred to as sarcoptic mange, when in reality they’re two different diseases. Microscopic sarcoptic mange mites cause sarcoptic mange (also known as canine scabies) while demodectic mange mites cause demodectic mange.

Sarcoptic mange can affect dogs of all ages and sizes and is highly contagious by direct contact with another dog. Demodectic mange, on the other hand, typically only affects young dogs and isn’t generally contagious.

Signs and symptoms

Many dogs experience extreme itching (pruritus) and discomfort with demodectic mange. These are other common signs to look out for with the three types of red mange:

  • Localized. Tends to appear as patches of scaly skin and redness around the eyes and mouth, sometimes on the legs and abdomen.
  • Generalized. Can have more skin lesions and widespread patches of redness, hair loss, and scaly, thickened skin.
  • Pododermatitis. Red scaly infection deep in the paws.

What does demodectic mange look like?

Dog with demodectic mange

Scaly patches of hair loss all over the body. 📷 by Wikimedia Commons

Visit the vet for diagnosis

You’ll need to take your dog to the veterinarian for a full examination to truly diagnose if their skin condition is mange. Demodectic mange is usually confirmed by taking a skin scraping and examining it under a microscope.

Unlike other types of mange, demodectic may signal underlying diseases that will also need to be treated — such as Cushing’s disease, metabolic diseases, or an autoimmune disease.

How vets treat demodectic mange

Depending on the severity of your dog’s case, your vet will prescribe a specific treatment. It’s not recommended to use DIY treatments for mange.

  • Topical treatments. Ointments used to treat the localized form.
  • Shampoo therapy. Special cleansing shampoos, like a benzoyl peroxide shampoo, are used to flush out the hair follicles.
  • Oral medication. Ivermectin is commonly used as a treatment for mange, but can have severe side effects depending on dosage and certain breeds (collies). It isn’t recommended for all treatments.
  • Flea and tick medicine. It’s becoming more popular for vets to treat with flea and tick medication that has isoxazoline as a main ingredient, such as Bravecto, Nexgard, or Simparica.
  • Dips. Mitaban, the medicated dip commonly used to kill mites, contains the insecticide Amitraz. Dogs will be dipped three times for seven days and then re-examined for mites or mite eggs.

🚨 Amitraz can cause severe side effects in dogs such as sedation and respiratory depression. Other treatment options for demodex are being studied.

Will it come back after treatment?

Treatment for demodectic mange is usually successful. However, if your dog’s immune system is weakened, neither the mites nor the infection may respond to initial treatment. And because a puppy’s immune system doesn’t mature until 12-18 months of age, a pup with demodectic mange may have relapses until then.

If you’re dipping your dog for treatment, it’s vital to dip them frequently enough according to your vet’s instructions — three times at seven day intervals — to have maximum effect.

How to prevent red mange

Here are several steps to take to keep your dog from contracting red mange:

Keep your dog’s environment clean — Avoid dirty areas that could have bad bacteria and cause potential secondary skin infections.

Feed your dog a high-quality diet — Maintaining a healthy diet can help promote overall wellness.

Boost your dog’s immune system with omega-3 — Salmon oils are a veterinary favorite because they boost skin health and contain omega-3 fatty acids. Our favorites are Native Pet’s Omega Oil (oil to mix into food) and Premium Care’s Omega Treats (easy treats to give your pup).

Keep your pup parasite-free — Starting puppies when they’re old enough on flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives such as oral Bravecto, Nexgard, and Interceptor can play a big role in mange prevention.

Stay up to date on vaccinations — Keep up with your dog’s regular vaccination schedule to keep their immune system strong.

Frequently asked questions 

How do you treat demodectic mange at home?

Our team of vets doesn’t recommend trying to treat demodectic mange at home. There are some home remedies that can help soothe the skin that may be itchy or inflamed, but a prescription-based medication is almost always needed to effectively treat. There are some medicated shampoos that contain benzoyl peroxide that may help some and oatmeal-based shampoo, as well.

How long does demodectic mange last?

Demodectic mange generally takes up to a few months to heal. Depending on the severity of the condition, successful treatment may take 6 months or longer.

Can demodectic mange kill a dog?

It’s rare that demodex mange can kill a dog, but in severe cases, it’s a possibility if the skin gets infected. The infection can become systemic and potentially cause death. Again, this is rare and would only occur if the demodex is completely left untreated for an extended period of time.

Is a lime sulfur dip effective in treating demodectic mange in dogs?

Lime sulfur dips can have some effect against skin parasites, however, it’s not recommended to treat demodectic mange. It’s used to treat ringworm in cats and dogs instead.