Sarcoptic Mange in Dogs

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Ernest Ward, DVM; Updated by Amy Panning, DVM

What causes sarcoptic mange?

Sarcoptic mange is caused by a parasitic mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) that burrows just beneath the surface of the skin. It is important not to confuse sarcoptic mange with demodectic mange, which is caused by a different parasitic mite (see the handout “Demodectic Mange in Dogs” for more information).

Sarcoptes scabiei mites bury into the skin of healthy adult dogs and puppies and feed on material in and on the skin. Sarcoptic mange is also known as scabies and is zoonotic, which means it is transmissible from pets to people. Sarcoptic mange may occur in any dog at any age.

What does it do to the dog?

The presence of the sarcoptic mite causes intense itching. An affected dog will constantly chew and scratch his skin. This leads to large amounts of hair loss, especially on the legs and belly. Eventually, the skin will become thickened and will darken.

Is it contagious?

Yes. Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious to other dogs and humans. Since the mite may be found in areas where infected dogs or foxes frequent, keep your dog away from these areas to help prevent infection. Although sarcoptic mites cannot complete their life cycle on humans, they will cause severe itching until they die.

"Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious to other dogs and humans."

How is sarcoptic mange diagnosed?

Diagnosis is made by a skin scraping examined under a microscope; however, it is common not to see sarcoptic mange mites when performing a skin scraping. This is because the mites burrow deep into the skin, and it takes only a few mites to cause significant itching.

Just because no mites are seen does not mean your dog does not have sarcoptic mange. A presumptive diagnosis may therefore be made based on clinical signs. Sarcoptic mange may occur in any dog at any age.

How is sarcoptic mange treated?

Several medications are effective against Sarcoptes. Your veterinarian will discuss the best treatment for your pet's condition and lifestyle. Treatment varies from medicated baths and dips to injections and oral medications. Many pets will require a combination of treatments to resolve this infection.

Topical treatments may be divided into two categories:

  1. Dips. Some of the dips that are used to treat Sarcoptes include amitraz and lime-sulfur dip. Given the advent of newer and more effective treatments, dips are no longer commonly used.
  2. Topicals. Medication is applied to the skin while the dog is dry. These medications are applied every 14-30 days or as your veterinarian recommends. Some examples of these topical medications include selamectin (Revolution®), fipronil (sold under several trade names), and imidacloprid + moxidectin combination (Advantage Multi®, Imoxi™), among many others.
"Many pets will require a combination of treatments to resolve this infection."

Like topical medications, a wide variety of oral medications are available to treat sarcoptic mange. Depending on the medication prescribed, these oral medications may be prescribed as a liquid, pill, or flavored chew. Some of these oral medications include milbemycin (the active ingredient of Interceptor® and Sentinel®), afoxolaner (NexGard®), fluralaner (Bravecto®), and sarolaner (Simparica®). Depending on the medication, and the country you are in, some of these medications are used 'off-label' for the treatment of sarcoptic mange (off-label describes the use of a drug for conditions other than what it was approved for). Many of these medications are given for multiple treatments.

To prevent re-infection, discard any bedding where your dog sleeps, or wash it frequently in a diluted bleach solution (one-ounce bleach in one gallon of water). Please contact your veterinarian if your dog is still scratching four to five days after treatment.

Can I get mange from my dog?

Yes. Contact your family doctor immediately if any family member develops itching or a skin rash. Tell your doctor that you may have been exposed to sarcoptic mange or scabies. In people, the mite cannot complete its life cycle, so it will die in a few days. However, it may cause intense itching, and medical treatment is often recommended.

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