Demodectic Mange in Dogs - A Scientific Look at Causes and Treatment

Demodectic mange in dogs is a very serious skin disorder that can be fatal if not treated in time. There are two known types of mange in dogs: demodectic and sarcoptic mange.

Demodectic mange is the most common and a more serious condition among the two, and it’s the primary focus of this evidence-based article.

Understanding the functions and development of demodectic mange mites is important, because it will affect how you diagnose your pet, treat and prevent future mange in dogs.

In this article, you’ll find literally everything you need to know about demodectic mange in dogs and dog mites in general. I will also give you a full breakdown of potential demodectic mange treatment, and point you in the direction of what works and what doesn’t when dealing with this scary canine skin disease.

What is Mange on Dogs?

Mange itself is a dog’s skin disease caused by microscopic mites. The first disorders associated with mange mites date back to 1899 (1). There are two different types of canine mange, caused by two types of dog mites (2, 3, 4).

Sarcoptic mange mites live just under the surface of the skin. This condition is also known as canine scabies, and is caused by a parasite called Sarcoptes scabiei.

Demodectic mange mites live deep in the dog’s hair follicles. These mites are known as Demodex canis, and the condition itself is sometimes called demodicosis, puppy mange, red mange, or follicular mange.

In order to best identify which mange your dog has, a skin scrape or biopsy is needed (5). Other methods can also be used for diagnosis, such as acetate tape impressions, skin samplings and skin biopsies, most of which are equally effective (6).

Studies have also found that acetate tape impressions may be slightly more effective in diagnosing demodectic mange in dogs than skin scraping or sampling (7).

Summary: There are two types of mange in dogs: demodectic and sarcoptic. Demodectic mange is more common and more dangerous to a dog’s health. To identify a type of mange, skin scrape or biopsy is needed.

Demodectic Mange in Dogs (Demodicosis)

Medically known as demodicosis and colloquially known as red mange, demodectic mange is a most common type of mange in dogs. It occurs when a dog suffers from a sensitivity to and over population of the Demodex canis mites.

It’s not true for most dogs that demodectic mange can be inherited. Only dogs with certain genes are more predisposed to this condition (8, 9, 10).

Mange is mostly caused due to a suppression of the immune system in puppies, which allows mange mites to infect them more easily (9, 11, 12, 13, 14).

D. canis can reproduce quickly when the dog’s immune system is “malfunctioning” (15).

Canines are usually immunocompromised from birth, and since Demodex canis is transferred to them almost after they are born, most immunodeficient puppies usually experience their first hair loss at a mere four months of age.

Only the sensitivity to mange mites can be passed onto to other dogs through genes. Therefore, dogs that are more susceptible to demodicosis should not be bred, which will eventually allow to eliminate this condition altogether.

Even though mange is mostly detected in young puppies, older dogs may also be susceptible to red mange as their immune system begins to decline. Certain illnesses or drugs affecting dog’s immune system may raise chances of occurrence.

Summary: Demodectic mange in dogs is not inherited but passed onto puppies after birth. Only dogs with poor immune response experience symptoms.

Symptoms of demodectic mange on dogs

Demodectic mange is a gradual process as the mites must first grow in numbers to do noticeable harm to the dog. However, the signs are unmistakable once they take hold.

Hair loss, lesions, red and inflamed skin, crusty or scaling skin and an oily looking skin are some of the most obvious signs of demodicosis.

As puppies grow and develop their own immunity, lesions will start to heal by themselves. Only very serious cases of lesions will need treatment.

Although rare, some dogs may lose their appetite, become lethargic and develop a fever.

Summary: Signs of demodicosis in dogs include hair loss, lesions, hot spots, scaling or oily skin. Fever and loss of appetite are rare.

Localized vs generalized red mange

Localized vs Generalized Red Mange in DogsRegarded as the most serious of canine dermatosis (skin disease), demodectic mange in dogs begins when D. canis proliferates in the hair follicle and sebaceous gland (16).

This will develop into localized or generalized red mange. Of the two types, generalized red mange poses the greatest threat to dog’s health.

Parasite’s unpredictable nature means that it can spread to various part of the canine’s body without warning, causing hair loss, pain and deep skin in dogs (17).

Puppy mange lesions develop at slightly later stages of demodicosis. Localized demodicosis is characterized by less than 5 isolated lesions. More than five lesions spread out all over the body is categorized as generalized demodicosis.

Dogs with generalized demodectic mange need immediate attention and treatment.

Summary: Localized mange is an easy to treat condition. Generalized mange is a serious condition that requires immediate attention.

What does demodectic mange do to dogs?

Not all dogs affected by demodectic mange will itch. Patchy hair loss may occur. Blood testing shows that canines afflicted with generalized demodicosis display low levels of zinc and copper but an unusually high iron count (18).

This slows down blood flow and makes it difficult for the dog’s body to fight off the mites.

Researchers have also noted that dogs with mange showed a great deal of inflammation throughout their bodies and were highly imbalanced in their oxidant/antioxidant levels (18). This further distresses the dog’s immunity and health, making it nearly impossible to stave off the disease.

Summary: Demodectic mange lowers levels of copper and zinc in dogs. It also suppresses the immune system, thus making it harder for the dog to fight the condition.


How to diagnose demodectic mange in dogs

How to diagnose demodectic mange in dogs

The most common two ways to diagnose mange in dogs is through biopsy or skin scraping. Since mites are much too small to see with a naked eye, a microscope is used for identification.

Presence of mange mites by itself does not mean that a dog needs treatment, since majority of canines carry mange mites with no clinical symptoms. Only when paired with lesions or other severe symptoms mentioned above can it be diagnosed that a dog needs treatment for mange.

A vet will inquire about medications and nutritional history of the dog. Senior canines will also be tested for several other diseases to rule them out first.

Summary: Skin scraping is the most common way to diagnose mange in dogs.

When are dogs most susceptible to demodicosis?

While observing mange lesion development, researchers have noticed that there is a significant increase in Demodex canis infection during winter months (19). Furthermore, the month of March seems to be the hottest month for mange infestation (20).

Explanations for this include an increase in susceptibility during their winter coat development and mass hatching of D. canis. However, research into the actual cause has been so far inconclusive.

Summary: Winter months, and particularly March, is when most dogs are affected by demodicosis.

Breeds that are more susceptible to mange mites

It has been observed that certain dog breeds are more susceptible to contracting red mange. Studies suggest that the Tibetan Apso and Spitz are at great vulnerability to the spread of the mite (20, 21).

In general, pure breeds have shown a greater disposition to demodectic mange (22).

This may be a result of the breed’s genetic weakening through the practice of inbreeding to achieve many lines of pure breeds.

Summary: Pure breeds are more susceptible to mange. Tibetan Apso and Spitz in particular are more likely to develop the condition.

Is demodectic mange contagious?

There is over 100 of Demodex mite species (23). Each species can only infest a specific host. For example, as the name suggests, Demodex canis mites (discussed below) can only infect dogs. Demodex folliculorum will infect people, and Demodex bovis will infect cattle (24).

Humans cannot be infected by Demodex canis found in dogs, nor can other animals (25).

Also, because mange mites are found on virtually all dogs, there is no risk of exposing a dog with demodectic mange to normal dogs. In fact, some dogs are even used to detect mange in other animals (26).

Summary: Mange mites are host-specific. Demodectic mange is not contagious. Humans cannot attract it from dogs or other animals.

How to prevent demodectic mange in dogs

Some may argue that demodicosis can be avoided as long as a clean kennel is maintained. While this sounds good in theory, unfortunately, that is not true.

Demodectic mange erupts when the dogs’ immune system is compromised. This leaves the mite population unchecked and their numbers grow (27).

General cleanliness of kennels has nothing to do with avoiding demodectic mange.

In theory, as a preventative measure, owners may wish to avoid high carbohydrate diets.

There are theories that nutritional yeast and sugars found in high-carb food sources may serve to feed mange mites and allow them to proliferate all the more. However, there’s no evidence that a low-carb canine diet will definitely help.

Summary: Since mange is developed close to puppy’s birth, there’s no way it can be prevented. Low-carb diets have been suggested, but there’s no evidence they work.

What is Demodex Canis?

Demodex canis is known as the more serious and deadly mite that causes demodectic mange in dogs. D. canis resides mainly in the dog’s hair follicles and is not deemed contagious. However, they may also become carriers of other skin related bacteria (28, 29).

Most people are surprised by the fact that this mite is a normal inhabitant in canine’s skin (16). In fact, since the 19th century, a multitude of methods have been tried and tested to eradicate mange mites both on humans and animals to no avail (30, 31).

Studies show that majority of dogs are mere carriers of the D. canis and do not exhibit any reactions whatsoever (27).

There is no need to worry if you notice that your dog may be carrying D. canis on its skin. This is perfectly normal, and studies have shown that anywhere from 46-85% of dogs are carriers of these mange mites (32, 33).

Life cycle of Demodex in dogs

Demodex mites will normally spend their entire life in the dog’s skin.

Similarly to a tick’s life cycle, a female Demodex canis mite will lay eggs, which later hatch and mature into nymphs and then into adult mites.

The numbers vary, but the life cycle of mange mites usually takes from 14 to 30 days (34).

How is Demodex canis transmitted to dogs?

Dog mange mites are usually transferred from the mother to the pup within three days of birth, but can take up to a week (17).

Studies have shown that almost every female dog has these mites and transfers them onto puppies. However, most canines are immune to mange mites and will not display any clinical symptoms. A few dogs may not have immunity to mange mites, and they are the ones who will get infected.

These parasites cannot survive in the environment without the animal, thus mange mites can be transferred through physical contact only. What this means is that crates, beds or kennels cannot be contaminated with mange mites, and it’s pointless to treat the environment with the goal to prevent puppy mange.

Once the puppy has been infected, lesions will start appearing on his head. Itching may occur.

SummaryDemodex canis is a canine-specific mite that causes demodectic mange in dogs. Its life cycle ranges from 14 to 30 days, and studies have shown that virtually all canines are carriers of these dog mites.

How to Treat Mange in Dogs

Fortunately, we can be proactive in the treatment of demodectic mange on dogs. This is especially true for localized demodicosis, which is more responsive to treatment and doesn’t require serious measures. In fact, most of the time treating localized demodicosis isn’t even necessary as it resolves itself as the puppy matures.

Generalized mange, on the other hand, must be treated using a more serious approach. Unfortunately, it usually means that this will be a much longer and more expensive treatment.

So far, the best treatment for mange in dogs are topical insecticides and oral parasite killing medicine (35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40).

Topical demodectic mange treatment

Topical treatment of demodectic mange in dogs is the most popular option used today (41).

These insecticides must be used under vet’s supervision because side effects are possible, particularly with certain types of drugs (42, 43, 44, 45, 46).

Mitaban (Amitraz)

Amitraz is an insecticide and acaricide, the most popular treatment for red mange. It is available under the brand name Mitaban, and should be applied with care.

Multiple studies have demonstrated its relative safety and efficacy for treating demodectic mange in dogs (47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52).

It’s sold only with prescription. Mitaban must always be carefully administered on the dog’s skin in a well-ventilated area using rubber gloves.

For best results, vets recommend bathing a dog using a benzoyl peroxide containing dog shampoo, and then cutting dog’s hair very short before using amitraz. It will take from 6 to 14 applications of amitraz at 1-2 week intervals for most canines.

After the first 2-4 dips, skin scraping has to be performed in order to see if the substance works and that mites have been eliminated.

Some dogs may be sensitive to amitraz, and a half-strong dosage should be used on them.

Summary: Topical application of Mitaban (Amitraz) is the most common way to treat demodectic mange in dogs. Careful administration and vet’s supervision is needed as side effects are possible.

Oral treatment of mange in dogs

There are several ways owners can address demodectic mange in dogs through oral treatment. Remember that all the below drugs are very strong and have potential side effects, including death. It’s important to consult with a veterinarian before using them.

1. Heartgard (Ivermectin)

Ivermictin is a well-known type of anti-parasite substance often used for demodectic mange. The most popular brand of ivermectic-based medication is Heartgard.

Multiple trials have shown ivermictin’s effectiveness for mange in dogs (4253, 54, 55, 56).

Vets recommend to avoid ivermectin for herding breeds (465758, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64). More specifically, do not use ivermictin with these breeds:

  • Shetland Sheepdogs
  • Old English Sheepdogs
  • Border Collies
  • Australian Shepherds

Although other studies found that smaller doses are completely safe for some of these dogs, it’s still best to avoid the drug for the above breeds and move onto other methods (65).

More research has pointed to its effectiveness when used with antioxidants such as Vitamin E (66). It’s also effective and safe to use ivermectin alongside other drugs on this page (67).

2. Interceptor (Milbemycin oxime)

Another option for owners of dogs with mange is using antiparasitic Milbemycin oxime. This drug works well against dog mites, and is sold under a trade name Interceptor.

Studies have shown this to be an effective treatment against demodectic mange in dogs (3568). It was also demonstrated that 80% of dogs that did not respond to Mitaban responded to milbemycin oxime. In this case as well, Collies remain more susceptible to drug’s side effects but rarely (69, 70).

3. Moxidectin

Moxidectin is the last one of the possible treatments for demodectic mange in dogs. It can be used orally, topically or as an injection, and many different brands use this as active ingredient in their formulas.

Studies have shown this to be an effective anthelmintic drug against mange mites (71, 72, 73). However, it seems to be weaker than the above mention ivermectin (74, 75, 76).

Only when fighting other parasites has it been shown for moxidectin to be slightly more effective than ivermectin, but the difference wasn’t statistically significant (77).

Research has shown this drug to not only be effective but also safe for most dogs (78, 79).

4. Fluralaner

Fluralaner is a known drug often used in treatment of fleas and ticks on dogs (80, 81, 82). Researchers have found that administering fluralaner as a pesticide safe for consumption typically eradicates mange mite count in dogs within a two-month period (83, 84).

Moreover, after three months of use, a significant reduction in lesions and an increase in hair growth was observed (83).

Fluralaner essentially turns a dogs’ body into a toxic food source for the mange mites. Since fluralaner is technically a pesticide, owners need to exercise great care and consult with a veterinarian before administering it.

A study on the safety of fluralaner using a dose higher than recommended has demonstrated its efficacy and showed no major side effects in dogs (85). However, this study was funded by Merck, so we need to consider possible biases. Further research has shown that fluralaner and ivermectin can be used together safely (86).

Finally, fluralaner can also be used alongside topical applications for better results (87). Most likely, this also applies to other similar drugs on this list.

Summary: Studies show that oral antiparasitic medicine is very effective and can be used alongside topical treatments for better results. Side effects are possible, and certain breeds should not be given these drugs.

Nutrition and diet for treating dogs with mange

Specific diet changes may or may not help to deal with mange in dogs. While research is still lacking in this area, improving your canine’s diet is generally a good idea anyway.

1. Antioxidants

It’s been shown that increasing zinc and copper levels may provide some aid (88). Zinc and copper are necessary ingredients for skin formation and can help heal wounds faster.

Vitamin E used alongside ivermectin has been shown to kill mites in dogs (66).

2. Omega-3s

Apart from all the health benefits for dog’s general health (89, 90, 91), omega-3s also have positive effects for a dog’s general skin condition (92, 93).

Fish oil in particular containing a lot of omega-3s can be a good addition to the diet. Research shows that to relieve itching and improve skin conditions, other dog supplements with omega-3 fatty acids such as flax seed oil or  pumpkin oil may also be introduced (94).

3. Nutrition

Changing dog’s diet may help to strengthen the immune system’s response to red mange. Adding probiotics and prebiotics to a dog’s diet can help with overall health (95, 96).

It’s also been suggested that diet very low in carbohydrates will stave off mites.

To further increase antioxidant levels and help speed up the healing process, raw dark leafy greens such as broccoli and watercress can be regularly added to the infected dog’s food.

Overall, there’s absolutely no evidence that diet changes can affect demodectic mange in dogs. However, improving canine’s diet will never be the wrong way to go.

Summary: Supplements and proper nutrition may help in strengthening dog’s immune system and fighting red mange, but there’s no evidence to show this is true.

Holistic home remedies for mange in dogs

For some owners, the use of “poisons” such as fluralaner on their dog may not seem right. Many owners often turn to alternative or homeopathic remedies to treat demodectic mange in dogs, some of which can be effective.

1. Jatropha curcas and Withania somnifera

For example, a combination of Jatropha curcas oil and Withania somnifera root can be beneficial.

Jathropha is a plant native to the American tropics that possesses inherent pesticidal and fungicidal properties. Withania comnifera root is known as Indian ginseng and is used in Ayurvedic medicine

The combo of the two has shown some potential efficacy in dealing with demodicosis (97).

2. Tea tree oil

There is some evidence that using the right dose of tea tree oil may kill Demodex mites (98).

Tea tree oil is a natural essential oil that has been steam-distilled from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia. This method has been used as an aboriginal traditional medicine against infections for a long time, particularly in Australia.

Baby shampoos were shown to be slightly effective against mange mites, but they were especially effective when combined with tea tree oil, according to research (99, 100). Evidence shows that in most cases, it takes about 4 weeks of regular application.

3. Other homeopathic remedies

In addition, used as a topical salve, diluted garlic oil may aid in minimizing bacterial infection due to its innate antibacterial properties.

Sulphur, Psorinum and Silicea when used as a homeopathic remedy, and in conjunction with topically applied neem oil, can be considered as a treatment protocol for demodicosis (94).

Neem oil eliminates Demodex canis mites upon contact. The preparation containing sulphur, psorinum and silicea (among others) reduces the likelihood of recurrence.

Summary: Certain holistic methods to treat demodectic mange in dogs have been proven to be effective, particularly tea tree oil.

Post-treatment of mange in dogs and prognosis

In most cases, treatment of demodectic mange in dogs is successful, but in cases of generalized demodicosis it takes a long time to see results.

Some rare instances of defective immune system in dogs may prevent treatments from being effective. Relapses are possible, especially in dogs up to the age of 18 months.

Treating relapses is very important, and this should be addressed immediately.

Summary: Treatment for demodectic mange in dogs is usually successful, but could take a long time. Relapses are possible and treatment must be started again immediately once that occurs.

Summary of Demodectic Mange in Dogs

Generalized demodectic mange is the most common type of skin disease in dogs. D. canis dog mites are transferred from mother onto puppy within the first week after birth.

First sign of mange is usually hair loss. It may not occur until about 4 months of age.

Mange in dogs is not inherited, only sensitivity can be passed on through genes. All dogs carry these mites, and only those with suppressed immune system experience symptoms.

There are many treatments for mange in dogs. Most are effective but side effects are possible. Demodectic mange treatment can become a long, arduous and expensive process.

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