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When Your Pet is Itchy: Is it Fleas or Mange?

October 07, 2010 | 113,355 views
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Chihuahua scratchingMange is a skin condition of dogs that is caused by several different species of parasitic mites. These tiny critters embed themselves in either the skin or hair follicles.

Some species of mange mites are commonly found on domesticated dogs -- others are not so common -- but any of them can cause a skin infection if they are sufficient in number.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

If your beloved pet is being driven mad by an itchy, inflamed skin condition, there could be many causes. Mange is one of the most common.

There are two types of mange your pup can acquire:

  1. Sarcoptic mange
  2. Demodectic mange

Sarcoptic Mange

Sarcoptes scabei, also known as canine scabies, is caused by this ugly little mite.

The female mite digs tunnels into the skin of her host and lays eggs repeatedly as she burrows deeper. She dies after laying her eggs.

In three to eight days, the eggs become 6-legged larvae. The larvae become 8-legged nymphs, and the nymphs grow to adulthood in the 'tunnel.'

The adults mate and the entire two to three week cycle begins again.

These mites do best living on your dog, but can exist for several days off a host - up to three weeks in a moist, cool environment. Average lifespan for mites living off a host in a typical home is about two to six days.

Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious and can infest not only your pup, but other animals including cats, pigs, horses and yes - even humans. Because these mange mites can live for a time separate from a host, your dog can become infested without coming in contact with an infected animal.

Because these parasites burrow into and through your dog's skin, they cause intense itching and form a crust on the skin that is quite vulnerable to infection.

How Can I Tell if My Dog Has Sarcoptic Mange?

If your pup has sarcoptic mange, you'll probably first notice some hair loss and crusting on her elbows and ears. The mites prefer areas of your pet's body with a minimum of hair, so she'll likely also suffer itching and hair loss on her chest, belly, under her arms, around her eyes and on her hocks. A warm environment can significantly worsen the condition.

If the infection isn't treated, it can spread across your dog's entire body.

Your pup can damage her skin from vigorous scratching and biting as she attempts to relieve the itching and irritation caused by the mites. Her skin might darken in color and surrounding lymph nodes can become enlarged.

Secondary skin infections are also common with this condition.

Managing an Infestation of Sarcoptes Scabei

If your dog has sarcoptic mange, you'll first need to isolate him to prevent infecting other pets or family members.

His bedding will need to be thoroughly cleaned or replaced, and perhaps even his collar.

And because sarcoptic mange mites can survive in your home for several days, you should sweep and mop hard floors and vacuum carpeting, drapes and upholstered furniture to remove the parasites from your living space. Otherwise, your dog remains at risk of a re-infestation as do all the other members of your household.

Demodectic Mange

Demodectic mange mites, or Demodex canis, are natural inhabitants of a dog's skin.

Under the right conditions, dogs live in harmony with these mites their entire lives. But in immunosuppressed pups, these critters can flourish and cause infection and much misery for the animal.

There are actually three types of demodectic mange, also known as red mange or follicular mange, seen in dogs:

  1. Localized demodectic mange occurs when mites infest just a few small areas of a dog's body - usually the face. This condition is common in puppies and the vast majority of cases resolve on their own.
  2. Generalized demodectic mange involves large areas of skin or can even take over your dog's whole body. This condition brings with it secondary bacterial infections that cause intense itching and a foul odor.
  3. The toughest to cure of the three types is often demodectic pododermatitis. This type of mange is confined to the foot and creates a bacterial infection.

If your dog has demodectic mange, you'll notice itching from secondary bacterial infections, as well as some hair loss, bald spots, scabbing and sores.

Is Demodectic Mange Contagious?

The mites can be passed from one dog to another, but in dogs with healthy immune systems, this doesn't pose a problem, so it's considered non-contagious. The new mites simply join the dog's resident mite population and no skin problems result.

Young dogs with immature immune systems, older dogs with weakened immune systems, and dogs of any age that are immunosuppressed are more likely to develop mange from demodex mites.

Dogs with demodex mange should not be bred, as these dogs' immune systems are not entirely competent and these genes should not be passed along. If your pup is diagnosed with demodex you should let your breeder know.

Unlike animals suffering with sarcoptic mange (contracted from being at the wrong place at the wrong time), dogs with a demodectic mange condition are rarely isolated, as the condition is usually a reflection of a genetically predisposed weakened immune system or severe environmental conditions that debilitated the pet's natural defenses.

Demodex canis mites are not known to infest the skin of cats (they have their own species of demodex) or humans.

Treatment

Treatment of both sarcoptic and demodectic mange in traditional vet clinics often involves dipping your pet's entire body in a powerful chemical that kills off the mites.

Unfortunately, these dips often cause a number of harmful side effects, including:

  • Restlessness, CNS signs, tremors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Decrease in body temperature

Other medications may be prescribed as well, taken orally or by injection, via topical application or shampoo. All these treatments involve chemicals that can cause side effects.

My recommendation is to consult an integrative/holistic veterinarian to explore all your options for eliminating the mange mites and relieving your pup's symptoms.

Your dog may or may not need to be dipped in strong chemicals or receive other potentially toxic therapies, depending on the severity of the infestation and the success of other, less caustic treatments, which might include:

  • Vitamins and other dietary supplements, including omega 3 fats, to help relieve itching, improve the condition of your dog's skin, and support his immune function.
  • Tea tree shampoo (avoid soaps/shampoos containing oatmeal)
  • Lyme-sulfur dip (all-natural, but incredibly stinky)
  • Topical remedies like garlic, Neem and lavender oil, and other soothing and healing herbs.
  • Internal herbal remedies to fight bacterial infection and strengthen the immune system, including Echinacea (Esberitox is a favorite of mine), Colostrum, Beta Glucans, Olive leaf, Neem, Thymus extract, licorice root and sarsaparilla.
  • Homeopathics like Sulphur, Silicea and Psorinum

Since your pet's immune system is her first line of defense against any sort of parasitic infestation, one of the most powerful things you can do to keep her healthy and mange-free is to feed a balanced, species-appropriate diet (make sure to eliminate carbs in the diet that will feed opportunistic yeast and staph bacteria) and reduce the number of vaccines given.

[+] Sources and References

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