Mange mites are microscopic bugs that live in the skin of your dog. Demodex mange mites live in the hair follicles of your pet. They can be present in small numbers in normal pets and the immune system keeps them in check. In pets with stressed immune systems, the mites may be able to multiply and thereby cause clinical disease. Generally, we see this disease in immature dogs, dogs with depressed immune systems as a result of disease, hormonal disorders or drug therapy and sometimes in old dogs whose immune systems have deteriorated naturally.
What are the symptoms of Demodectic mange?
As the demodex mites multiply in the hair follicles, inflammation occurs that results in the loss of the hair from the follicle. Generally, this is not an itchy disease and the owners simply notice areas of thinned hair or missing hair. Frequently, our veterinarians will see it first appear around the eyes and ears, but it can occur anywhere on the body. Some pets only get it in a few areas, where others have most of the body affected.
How does our veterinary team diagnose Demodex infestation?
This diagnosis is made by observing the mites or their eggs under the microscope after obtaining a sample from a deep skin scraping. The process of skin scraping may cause a slight bit of bleeding at the site but is not dangerous. Sometimes, our veterinarians may not be able to find the mites despite multiple scrapings. In some cases, we have to take a piece of skin (biopsy) and send it to the lab for histopathology.
Is demodex contagious to other pets or to people?
Demodectic mange mites do not spread to people under any circumstance and to other pets under normal conditions. The one exception is that the mother may pass the mites to the offspring during and around birth. Therefore, one may see a few puppies in the same litter develop the symptoms of mange.
How do our veterinarians treat mange?
- Currently, we treat mange with Ivermectin. This drug is given orally once daily for 6 to 12 weeks. It is a very safe drug and has minimal side effects.
- Alternate drugs include milbemycin, moxidectin and nexguard
- We attempt to fortify the immune system by feeding high quality food (typically Hill’s Healthy Advantage Puppy diet) along with daily vitamins.
- We also add a supplement to the food called Derm Caps which provides the essential fatty acids needed to help the skin heal.
- If the pet has a concurrent bacterial infection in the skin, we administer antibiotics for a period of 2 to 6 weeks.
- For older pets that develop this disease, we typically run tests to evaluate their metabolic function (kidneys, liver, white cells etc) along with their thyroid function and sometimes their adrenal function.
How successful is the treatment?
Fortunately, 90% of the pets that develop demodex mange as puppies will improve and get over the disease with treatment and aging. As they grow, their immune system matures and can deal with the mange mites provided we support them with the drugs above. For older pets that contract this disease, the prognosis is quite variable. If we can find and reverse the underlying problem that is depressing the immune system, we have a much better chance of helping them than if we simply try to treat the mites themselves.