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Mange - A Common Problem for Many Pets

Few skin diseases cause as much concern among pet owners as occurs when mange is diagnosed. In years past, mange was often a death sentence for many pets, as there were no good foolproof treatments, and those few that were tried are very toxic to pets. Fortunately mange is now more easily diagnosed and more effectively treated. This article will talk about the two types of mange, the proper way to diagnose mange, and review current therapies you may wish to consider if your pet is diagnosed with this common skin problem.

Microscopic parasites called mites cause the disease called mange, and there are actually 2 different types of skin mange. The first and most common type of mange is called demodectic mange, often referred to as read mange. This type of mange most commonly occurs in young puppies and causes areas of hair loss and sometimes scaling of the skin; these pets are rarely itchy. When they do itch, it seems to be the cause of a severe mite infection were secondary bacterial infection of the skin.

Demodectic mange is caused by the demodectic mange mite. All people and animals harbor this mite in their hair follicles, as it is acquired from the mother within hours of birth. Normally these mites knew if quietly within the hair follicles, not causing any problems. In those pets with a genetic defect of the immune system, these normally quiet and innocuous mites begin to reproduce uncontrollably, causing the disease we call demodectic mange. Since this type of mange is an inherited disease and occurs as a result of a suppressed immune system; affected pets should not be bred.

Since older dogs and cats normally have more mature, "competent" immune systems, demodectic mange is rare in these older pets. When it does occur in older pets, it is important to look for any problems that may have occurred to affect the pet's immune system (cancer, chronic steroid therapy, infection with the feline leukemia or immunodeficiency viruses, etc.) The demodectic mange is considered an inherited but not transmitted disease, although there have been extremely rare reports of pets contracting this type of mange from an infected pet.

The diagnosis of demodectic mange is most often made by a simple laboratory test called a skin scraping. The debris collected from the scraped area of skin is examined microscopically for the presence of the mange mites, which are usually readily visible. In those pets in whom demodectic mange is suspected but which fail to show the mites on a skin scraping, a skin biopsy can be done which will reveal the mites in the hair follicles.

The second type of mange is called sarcoptic mange in dogs or notoedric mange in cats. Both of these types of mange are caused by a different type of mite. It can occur in pets of any age and is not associated with suppression of the immune system or inherited from the mother.

Unlike demodectic mange, sarcoptic and notoedric mange are very itchy to the pet. Both sarcoptic and notoedric mange are transmissible to other pets and people via close contact with infected pets and anything that has contacted the infected pet (bedding, brushes, etc.)

Diagnosis is also made by microscopic evaluation of a skin scraping, but the sarcoptic mites in particular are much harder to detect than demodectic mites (up to 50% of infected pets may not show mites on multiple skin scrapings.) Treatment is often begun based upon clinical suspicion of the disease if the clinical signs (itchy, scaly skin) are seen even if the mites are not detected microscopically. When in doubt, seeing the mites on a skin biopsy or seeing a positive response to therapy in the treated pet are useful diagnostic tools.

All three types of mange respond very well to conventional therapies. There are different therapies for each type of mange. These dips must be properly prepared and the person applying the dip should wear protective clothing to minimize contact with the dip. The pet should be carefully monitored for the occurrence of rare side effects (lethargy, bloating, tremors, vomiting or diarrhea) for about 8 hours following the dip. While I prefer not to dip pets except those with severe generalized disease, in most cases the dips can be safely applied and are quite effective.

For pets with demodectic mange, a potent dip with the chemical amitraz is applied every 1 to 2 weeks for 6 to 12 treatments, or until the mange mites are no longer seen on to success of skin scrapings. While most pets respond to this regimen the, some fail to do so. For these pets, other therapies such as ivermectin or milbemycin are administered for 6 to 12 months are longer.

A word of caution is important regarding dipping pets with mange. These dips must be properly prepared and the person applying the dip should wear protective clothing to minimize contact with the dip. The pet should be carefully monitored for the occurrence of rare side effects (lethargy, bloating, tremors, vomiting or diarrhea) for about 8 hours following the dip. While I prefer not to dip pets except those with severe generalized disease, in most cases the dips can be safely applied and are quite effective.

Sarcoptic and notoedric mange can be treated with several of the new topical insecticides use to control fleas and ticks in pets, with Lyme-Sulfur dips, or with ivermectin. These types of mange can usually be cured within 1 to 2 months of starting therapy.

To minimize the number of dips needed to successfully treat mange, I always like to combine the dipping with several supplements to help the pet heal as quickly as possible. Some of my favorite natural remedies include echinacea, arabinogalactans, astragalus, and homeopathic sulfur, all of which are administered orally. Using supplements such as echinacea, arabinogalactans and homeopathic sulfur (good for many skin disorders) to boost the immune system is helpful in reducing the number of dips needed to treat the mange.

Topical aloe vera, vitamin E, and tea tree oil can be used for pets with mild disease; these topical remedies are applied to localized lesions on the pet. Since the true oil can be toxic to many animals, only approved product should be used for this species being treated, and label directions must be followed closely.

While sarcoptic and notoedric mange can be prevented by minimizing exposure to infected pets, demodectic mange cannot be prevented in this way. All puppies and kittens acquire demodectic mites from their mothers within hours of being born. All pets (and people) have these mites living normally within their hair follicles, and most of the time these mites (normal inhabitants of the skin) do not cause problems. Pets with immune system deficiencies can develop demodectic mange when these mites reproduce and excessively colonize the skin. The only good way to try and prevent this condition is to keep your pet as healthy as possible, and to avoid breeding pets that have developed demodectic mange.

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