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Pet talk - March 25, 2013

Mange and how to deal with it

Posted: March 22, 2013 4:20 p.m.
Updated: March 25, 2013 5:00 a.m.

We love for our pets to play outdoors with their friends, but owners should be cautious about the dangers that lurk there.

 You’ve probably heard the term “mangy mutt” referring to a poor dog with a ratty, patchy coat. That’s actually how dogs with sarcoptic mange really look. Mange is a condition caused by an infestation of a specific type of mite that is too tiny to be seen with the naked eye.

“In this country, primarily dogs get sarcoptic mange, or scabies,” said Dr. Alison Diesel, lecturer at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “It can be transmitted and carried by other wild canids including coyotes and foxes.”

Sarcoptes mites are very contagious and can be spread by your pet coming into contact with an infected source.

“Sarcoptes mites are spread by direct contact with an infected animal or from an infected environment (e.g. coyote den or fox burrow, even dog parks or grooming facilities),” said Diesel. “It is important that all in-contact animals be treated for mites if one dog in the household is diagnosed with scabies.”

The most common sign associated with sarcoptic mange is severe itchiness.

“Dogs may also develop a rash, lose their hair, and have crusting lesions on various body regions,” said Diesel. “The most common areas include the ear margins, hocks, and elbows; however signs may become generalized very quickly.”

Veterinarians often use therapy or the pet’s history and clinical signs to diagnose mange.

“Sarcoptes mites can be very difficult to find as they live very superficially on the skin and are typically only present in very small numbers,” said Diesel. “Skin scrapings may help to identify the mites, however often we do not find the mites on our patients. A positive “pinnal-pedal response” (where the veterinarian folds the ear flap on itself, rubs the two surfaces together, and watches for the hind limb to exhibit the classic “Thumper” or scratching response) can be supportive of the suspected diagnosis.”

Your dog’s veterinarian will recommend the most appropriate therapy given your animal’s specific needs and preferences. Typically therapy lasts between 6-8 weeks.

“Thankfully, Sarcoptes mites are pretty wimpy, said Diesel. “Several topical, oral, and injectable treatments are available for treating them. Certain breeds (e.g. Collies, Shetland sheepdogs, Border collies) need to be specially considered as some of the therapeutic options can be toxic and cause severe side effects including seizures.”

Unfortunately, sarcoptic mange can also be spread from dogs to their owners. 

“If a pet owner is concerned they may have contracted scabies from their pet, particularly if their veterinarian diagnoses scabies, they should contact their primary care physician for recommendations and let them know their dog is being treated for scabies,” said Diesel.

The best prevention from mange is to keep dogs away from known infested environments including coyote dens and fox burrows. 

“If the owner knows their dog has scabies, they should also keep their pet away from other dogs (including staying away from dog parks, doggie day care and groomers) until the infestation is fully resolved,” said Diesel.

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