Mange in dogs is caused by two types of microscopic mites, one of which is highly contagious. Learn how it’s treated and what you can do to keep it from spreading.

By Kristi Valentini
August 24, 2020
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If your dog is itching like crazy or you notice patches of fur missing, your pup may have mange. This irritating skin condition is caused by microscopic mites that infest the skin. But there’s no need to stress: Mange in dogs is easily preventable and treatable. 

What Type of Mite: Sarcoptic or Demodectic? 

There are two types of mange, and the kind your dog has will depend on which type of mite is causing the problem. Mange is most commonly caused by sarcoptic mites (also called scabies). Your dog can catch these parasites from another animal or from contaminated bedding and give them to you.

Demodectic mites, on the other hand, are naturally present in the roots of your dog’s fur (called hair follicles). They’re passed from mother to pup during the first few days of life. Normally, a dog’s immune system keeps demodectic mites in check. But mange outbreaks can occur if the mite population grows out of control. Mange caused by demodectic mites isn’t contagious.

This dog is suffering from sarcoptic mange, a highly contagious form of mange.
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Sarcoptic Mange: Causes and Symptoms

Sarcoptic mites can’t be seen with the eye, but you’ll definitely notice the itchy agony they trigger in your dog. These tiny mites live and feed on your dog’s skin, with the females burrowing underneath the top layer to lay eggs. 

Mange in dogs caused by sarcoptic mites is highly contagious. “It’s commonly spread by wildlife,” says Travis Taylor, DVM, medical director of VCA Centreville Animal Hospital in Centreville, Va. “If you have wildlife, especially foxes, coming through your yard, your dog’s mange is probably caused by this type of mite.” 

Besides wild animals, your dog can also get sarcoptic mites from other dogs. Mites can pass between dogs that live or play together or at places like a boarding facility or a shelter. Dogs can also pick up a case of mange from infected bedding or blankets, but it’s possible that symptoms may not show until 10 days to eight weeks after exposure. 

“Early-stage sarcoptic mange usually starts out as an itch around the ear flaps and the elbows,” Taylor says. But mites also like living on a dog’s belly, armpits, and legs. 

Initially, a dog with sarcoptic mange scratches constantly, making the skin under the fur red and irritated. Over time though, sarcoptic mange leads to hair loss, open sores or scabs, and crusting or thickening of the skin. The open sores may get infected and become smelly.

While sarcoptic mites prefer dogs, they can also infect people. They cause an incredibly itchy but short-lived rash in humans

This beagle has demodicosis, also called demodectic mange or red mange.
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Demodectic Mange: Causes and Symptoms

Demodectic mites (demodex) are present in a dog’s hair follicles and the skin’s oil glands from puppyhood. For most dogs, they don’t cause a problem. If they do become troublesome, it’s typically a sign of a weakened immune system. Puppies, older dogs, and those with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes or cancer are more likely to get demodectic mange. 

When there’s an overgrowth of demodectic mites, hair follicles become irritated. “Demodex mange is more subtle than sarcoptic mange in the early stages,” Taylor says. “It’s not as itchy. It usually starts out as small areas of hair loss.” 

Puppies with demodectic mange—also called red mange—develop scaly bald spots near the lips and on the head or front legs. Oftentimes, the immune systems of puppies will kick in and resolve the problem on its own. 

Other times, demodectic mange becomes widespread. As it progresses, you’ll see:

  • More hairless patches
  • Oily bumpy skin
  • Skin discoloration
  • Itchiness
  • Bacterial infections with smelly odor

How to Treat Mange in Dogs

While you may be tempted to use a home remedy or over-the-counter product to relieve your dog’s itching, it won’t help in the long run. Getting rid of the mites is a must in order to treat mange. Schedule an exam with your local vet for an official diagnosis to find out what kind of mange your dog has, and how to best treat it.

Mange symptoms are similar to other skin conditions in dogs. Your veterinarian will take a skin scraping or hair sample and look at it under a microscope. It’s easy to see demodectic mites. Sarcoptic mites, on the other hand, can be difficult to spot since they burrow under the skin. Your veterinarian may recommend additional tests to rule out other conditions. 

The good news, Taylor says, is that mange treatment has become much easier than for earlier generations. “In the past, we had to rely on dips or daily treatments. Now, we use isoxazoline medications—a group of drugs that many once-monthly flea and tick control products contain. We’ve found that they’re very good at treating both types of mites, in addition to their main use for fleas and ticks.” 

Taylor says you can expect your pet to feel better within a few days of taking the oral medication. To help take care of the itch while the mites are being killed off, vets often prescribe a fast-acting medication to relieve discomfort, like oclacitinib (Apoquel). Your dog may also need antibiotics to help clear up any secondary skin infections. 

This young puppy has demodectic mange, causing the patchy appearance of his fur.
| Credit: Getty

Is it Possible to Prevent Mange in Dogs?

The use of isoxazoline medications has another bonus—not only does this class of medicine treat dogs for mange, but it can also help to prevent it. “The likelihood that dogs on these preventative medications will develop anything more than a minor mite infection is pretty minimal,” Taylor says.

Is Mange Contagious?

Unfortunately, mange due to sarcoptic mites can spread to other pets in the home and even humans. Special precautions are necessary to keep it from infecting other inhabitants in the home since mites are easily transmittable to other dogs and people. It’s important to isolate your dog from other pets until your dog is free of mites and be sure to keep your dog off furniture and clean all material your dog has been in contact with. Your veterinarian can give you detailed instructions on how to eliminate sarcoptic mites at home and keep them from coming back.