Demodectic mange is a skin disease caused by microscopic Demodex mites. The condition also goes by the name demodicosis or follicular mange. Small numbers of Demodex mites are normally present on the skin of dogs, cats, and other mammals, including people. They usually do not cause problems unless an individual’s immune system is not functioning well enough to keep their number in check. When this occurs, the mites take advantage of the situation and cause disease.
Demodectic mange is most commonly diagnosed in dogs, but it can also affect cats and other animals. Young dogs whose immune systems are not fully developed or animals that are immunosuppressed because of disease, stress, or medications are at greatest risk. Genetic factors also determine which individuals develop demodectic mange. Therefore, affected individuals and their close relatives should not be bred. Demodicosis is not a contagious disease.
Patchy hair loss is the hallmark of the most common form of demodectic mange in dogs. Affected pets are generally not very itchy, and their skin looks relatively normal except for the hair loss. Generalized demodicosis is a much more serious canine disease. These animals often have multiple, large areas of hair loss with obviously unhealthy, itchy underlying skin. Cats with demodectic mange can have a wide range of symptoms including excessive grooming, scaling, red and oozing patches of skin, or small scabs that cover a particular part of the body.
Diagnosing demodectic mange is usually fairly straightforward. A veterinarian will lightly scrape the animal’s skin in several places and look for abnormal numbers of the mites underneath a microscope. In some cases, multiple scrapings are required before obtaining a sample that reveals the mites.
Uncomplicated cases of localized demodicosis in dogs may resolve without any treatment. Antibiotics (Cephalexin) to kill bacteria associated with the mites and sometimes Goodwinol Ointment can help speed recovery in moderately affected dogs. Medications that kill mites (i.e. Ivermectin or Interceptor) and a lime sulfur dip may also be prescribed in more severe cases. Your veterinarian will recommend the safest and most effective form of treatment for a pet with mange.