MITES AND MANGE

A dog with a severe fox mange (Sarcoptes Scabei) infection

 

What are mites?

Mites are tiny members of the spider family and the skin disease that they cause is commonly known as ‘mange’.

What are the different types of mites that might affect my pet?

The main contagious mite that affects our pets is the Sarcoptes Scabei mite that results in the severe skin condition known as ‘fox mange’ in dogs.  Other mites that cause sporadic problems include the Demodex mite, which causes patchy hair loss, and the ear mite Otodectes that causes ear infections in young dogs and cats.  Rabbits can also be affected by these mites as well as the ‘fur mite’ Cheyletiella.  Cats may also rarely be affected by a mite called Notoedres which causes similar symptoms to fox mange in dogs.

Whilst the other mites can cause severe problems in individual animals, it is the fox mange mite ‘Sarcoptes Scabei’ that is of most concern and which is covered in this section.

A close up of the tiny Sarcoptes Scabei mite

What are the symptoms of fox mange?

The most common symptoms in dogs are intense, unremitting itching and then characteristic hair loss around the face, head, ears, elbows and knees.  This balding will often then become more generalised according the susceptibility and immune response of the dog concerned – younger dogs under a year of age are more prone and some adult animals seem more predisposed as well.

Unfortunately the symptoms of fox mange closely mimic the symptoms of allergic skin disease and distinguishing the two can be very difficult!

Characteristic itching with baldness around the eyes, knees and elbows

Sarcoptes mites can also affect humans though the infection is usually self limiting and fairly mild.  However if your dog has suspicious symptoms and you develop an itchy rash on your forearms then it may be that these mites are the culprits.

How is the disease diagnosed?

Making a diagnosis is remarkably difficult as the mites burrow deep into the skin and are very rarely seen on skin scrapes or plucks (unlike the easily identifiable Demodex mite).  Often the only way to make a diagnosis is on a blood test looking for antibodies to the mite or on a full thickness skin biopsy performed under an anaesthetic.

More commonly, we will look at the pattern of baldness or scratching and if we are suspicious that fox mange may be causing or contributing to the symptoms then we may decide to ‘test-treat’ your pet to eliminate the parasite and see if this helps improve matters.

Where might my pet acquire infection?

Close contact with affected animals is needed to acquire infection with Sarcoptes mites.  Most foxes are affected by Sarcoptes mites and this is the most common source of infection for domestic dogs as foxes will introduce the mites into local parks and gardens.  The disease is highly contagious and infection will pass readily from one dog to another through any form of contact or interaction.

How is the disease treated/prevented?

A number of veterinary products licensed for the treatment of fleas and ticks are also effective against mange though they may need to be used more frequently or in higher doses.  However some cases are more resistant than others and may need anti-parasitic injections weekly or even every other day for a period of 4 to 6 weeks if they are not responding.  Generally speaking, routine treatment with the products that we currently recommend for flea and tick prevention should give your pet adequate protection from these unpleasant parasites.

Do I need to treat the environment?

The parasites only survive for a short time in the environment so do not pose as much as a threat in this regard as fleas.  Nonetheless, washing your pet’s bedding and using a veterinary-supplied flea spray to treat the areas frequented by your pet is a sensible precaution to prevent other members of the family (including humans!) being affected.

 

 



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