Do these lyrics ring any bells with you?
“Well you just wait, they’ll find you yet, And when they do they’ll put you in the ASPCA you mangy mutt!”
“They’re coming to take me away, ha ha; They’re coming to take me away, ho ho; Hee-hee-haa-haa, To the funny farm, where life is beautiful all the time…”
Maybe I had an abnormal childhood, but I believe my first exposure to the word “mangy” was this novelty song from the 1960s by someone calling himself Napoleon XIV.
I never really knew what it meant, but it conjured up images of a dirty, smelly mongrel in my mind. (And if those lyrics have you singing the song, I sincerely apologize!)
The truth is mange in dogs is really not funny at all.
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What Is Mange?
Contrary to what you might think, mange has nothing to do with hygiene. In fact, this condition is caused by infestations of mites. There are two distinct forms of mange, Demodectic and Sarcoptic, and each is caused by a different species of mite. Let’s look at each variety individually.
Demodectic Mange in Dogs
All dogs play host to a variety of tiny creatures, and one is the parasite Demodex canis. This little critter is a cigar-shaped mite that lives in the deep recesses of a dog’s hair follicle where it feeds on the oils that collect there.
Most pups inherit a few of these mites from their mother during the first few days of their lives when they tend to be in close contact. This is perfectly normal and won’t necessarily lead to any problems, as the dog’s immune system should keep the population of mites in check.
Puppies vs. Adults
Puppies are most likely to develop demodectic mange, as their developing immune systems may not be quite ready to handle the mites. The risk of mange lessens as the dog matures.
In some dogs the immune system does not develop fully as the dog ages. This lack of maturity renders the immune system incapable of dealing with demodex mites, which may lead to a population explosion.
Don’t feel badly if your dog develops demodectic mange (sometimes known as “red mange” from the patches of inflamed skin that appear in more severe cases); it isn’t your fault and there’s nothing you could have done to prevent it. Genetics just weren’t on your Lab’s side in this case.
Having said that, there are occurrences of “Adult-onset Demodicosis” in dogs that showed no indication of an immature immune system in their youth. When this happens, it is often found that the dog has an underlying condition that has compromised the immune system, thus allowing the mites to flourish.
If your adult Labrador develops demodectic mange, consult your veterinarian immediately, as there may be a more serious problem present than just the mites.
Signs of Demodectic Mange
Oddly enough, severe itching is not a symptom of red mange! The first thing you’ll probably notice is hair loss. Patches of hair will start to fall out, usually starting on the face, and then spreading to other parts of the body.
This type of mange can be either localized (creating distinct patches of hair loss here and there on the body), or generalized (patches of hair loss blending in to one another).
If demodectic mange is suspected, your vet will scrape your dog’s skin and check the scrapings under a microscope in search of the offending mites. If unusually large numbers of the mites are observed, the diagnosis will be certain.
Treating Demodectic Mange
The treatment for this form of mange depends on whether it’s localized or generalized. Localized mange can be treated with topical remedies, and the prognosis is good for a full recovery. In fact, it’s estimated that as many as 90% of puppies with demodectic mange will get better without any treatment at all.
Generalized mange will require a more aggressive line of treatment and might include special shampoos, dips, and antibiotics for skin infections. The shampoo or dip will flush out the follicles, ridding the dog of the offending mites. Repeat treatments will ensure all the mites and any eggs are washed away.
If your Lab contracts demodectic mange as a puppy, it is possible there will be a recurrence before the immune system matures, usually between 12-18 months of age. In the case of adult-onset mange, you will need to be on the watch for mange for the remainder of the dog’s life, because the immune system may not learn to cope with the mites on its own. Treat any recurrent case of mange ASAP to avoid causing long-term damage to your dog’s skin.
Sarcoptic Mange in Dogs
The other, and more serious, type of mange in dogs is sarcoptic, also known as canine scabies. It’s brought on by an infestation of a mite called Sarcoptes scabiei, which is not a regular resident on your Labrador’s body.
As far as mites go, this tiny, oval-shaped species is a hardy breed; adults can survive off the host for as long as 22 days, in the right conditions. This makes infestation possible without coming in contact with another carrier.
Once on board a dog, the female mite burrows deep into the skin (like seriously deep, perhaps as much as an inch or more) where it lays its eggs. The female then dies, but in about a week the eggs hatch and the cycle begins again, with a full cycle lasting 2 or 3 weeks.
Signs of Sarcoptic Mange
As you might imagine, tiny creatures tunneling through the skin becomes quite uncomfortable! Severe itching is a very clear sign of sarcoptic mange. Other symptoms include:
- Hair loss (especially on the ears, chest, belly, and armpits)
- Red pustules
- Crust of dried pus
- Bad smell (from secondary infections)
The hair loss is not caused directly by the mites, but is a result of incessant and vigorous scratching as the poor dog tries to relieve its suffering.
Sarcoptic mange is often misdiagnosed as an allergic reaction, or another type of infection. To correctly diagnose mange, your vet will conduct a thorough search of the dog’s skin to try and find the cause, and perhaps take a skin scraping.
Unfortunately, the mites burrow so deep into the skin that they are often missed. Additionally, finding Sarcoptes scabiei does not 100% guarantee the problem is a case of mange, as they are sometimes present without causing any problems.
If sarcoptic mange is suspected, your vet will prescribe a course of treatment, and your dog’s response to the medicine will be either the proof or disproof of the diagnosis.
Treating Sarcoptic Mange
Dogs with sarcoptic mange have many options for treatment. Long-haired breeds often get a good clipping, but your Lab will likely be spared this ignominy.
Shampoos and dips are the next phase of treatment. A benzoyl peroxide-based shampoo gives a good cleansing, followed by an organophosphate or lime sulfur dip.
Dips can be harsh on the skin, so great care must be taken around the eyes, ears, and nose – which is right where an infected dog is likely to need treatment! You’ll also want to try and avoid getting the dip on yourself, too.
If you’re not crazy about applying a dip, talk to your veterinarian about topical or oral remedies (if he or she doesn’t suggest them).
Some of these treatments have the added bonus of offering some protection against fleas, tics, and other parasites. Even some heartworm preventatives have proven effective in controlling sarcoptic mange, but only pursue these methods under the guidance of a veterinarian.
During treatment, be sure to keep your dog’s bedding clean to avoid any possible re-infestation from mites that may have fallen off the dog.
Unlike demodectic mange, sarcoptic mange can be passed along to humans. Although human cases are less severe (apparently the canine scabies mites aren’t really fussy about people), they can still be very irritating, and unsightly when the face is affected.
Itching and rash will occur, but it shouldn’t last long. Still, it’s something to try and avoid.
Can Mange be Prevented?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is the same, no matter which variety of mange you’re asking about: no.
Demodectic mange, being caused by mites that already live on your Labrador, is impossible to avoid; if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. All you can do is deal with it promptly.
On the bright side, it’s not contagious. While the mites may transfer from dog to dog, on a healthy dog they’ll simply integrate into the existing population. This means it will not be necessary to isolate your Lab during treatment. It’s also worth knowing that this variety of mite has no interest in human hosts.
Sarcoptic mange, or scabies, is highly contagious, and is commonly picked up in areas where dogs congregate. Think dog parks, kennels, and veterinary clinics.
Clearly, you can’t altogether avoid places like these, so it may be tough to prevent exposure. Foxes are known to carry scabies, so staying away from known fox habitats will help.
You can help prevent the spread of sarcoptic mange by keeping your dog in isolation until it regains its health.
The Last Word(s) on Mange
If there were any lingering doubts about the potential humor of mange, they should now be laid to rest. It’s a truly unfortunate condition that can seriously impact your dog’s well being, even if it’s just temporarily.
Swift action upon detection of any symptoms of mange can help your Labrador keep its beautiful coat, and avoid weeks of discomfort.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, the nice young men in the clean white coats should be here any minute…
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