Sarcoptic mange is a contagious disease, primarily of dogs, that is caused by infestation of the skin with a microscopic, parasitic mite called Sarcoptes scabei. Dogs usually develop the disease after coming into direct contact with an infested animal, but the mites can survive in the environment for a day or two before hopping aboard a new host. Sarcoptic mange is sometimes called scabies and can be transmitted to people and cats, although the resulting disease in not as serious as it is in dogs.
Affected dogs are extremely itchy and develop hair loss and red, scaly skin, typically starting on the ear flaps, elbows, and belly. With time, the dog's entire body may become involved. To diagnose sarcoptic mange, a veterinarian will lightly scrape the surface of the skin in multiple locations and look for the mite under the microscope. In some cases, very few mites are present on the animal's skin and scrapings may be falsely negative. For this reason, veterinarians may chose to treat dogs for sarcoptic mange without a definitive diagnosis.
Several different types of medications are available that effectively kill Sarcoptes mites. Dips, injections, oral drugs, and spot-on treatments may all be used, and determining which is best depends on a dog's breed, health, and other considerations. Every dog in the home should be treated to prevent animals from reinfesting each other after treatment stops. Laundering bedding, collars, and other materials that may harbor large number of mites can also be helpful. With appropriate treatment dogs suffering from sarcoptic mange should recover quickly and uneventfully.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008