Mange is literally the infestation of your dog's skin by tiny
mites that usually results in hair loss and itching. Not all mites
affecting dogs behave in the same way, with individual species of
mite boasting their own unique ill effects on their poor
What are the types of mange mites that affect dogs?
The two main types of mange mites that can affect dogs are
sarcoptic and demodectic, with others like ear mites and seasonal
harvest mites usually causing less severe and more superficial
Sarcoptic mange - otherwise known as 'scabies' - is caused by a
highly contagious mite (Sarcoptic Scabei) that spends its whole
lifecycle burrowed within the outer layers of your dog's skin and
can give rise to characteristic intense itching. This quickly leads
to raw, painful lesions caused by self-inflicted scratching and
chewing - especially at the ear flaps and elbows.
Scabies can be passed from dogs to their unwitting owners
through direct contact, or by contaminated grooming products and
infected bedding. Foxes are a common source of sarcoptic mange too,
with recent rises in urban fox populations being blamed for
particularly nasty outbreaks.
Unlike scabies, demodectic mange, or 'demodex' as it can be
known, behaves very differently, with individual mites (most
commonlyDemodex canis) living within the actual hair follicles of
your dog, and very rarely spreading to us or other dogs. In fact
the only real way it can be passed on is during the first few days
of life from mother to pup via the muzzle.
Dogs with healthy immune systems rarely succumb to full-blown
demodex, as they are able to contain the parasite quickly and
efficiently, stopping it in its tracks from multiplying and
spreading disease. However a small number of dogs, with much weaker
body defence systems, aren't able to overcome these mites so
lesions often develop and the resulting disease spreads locally to
the face and forelimbs; or more commonly across the dog's whole
body, turning affected skin a blue/grey colour due to the presence
of thousands of blackheads or 'comedones'.
Cases of demodex are usually resolved when the puppy's immune
system kicks in at about a year old. But without sufficient immune
control, and depending on which of the three species of demodex is
present, the disease can quickly become very generalised, even
life-threatening, with hair loss, skin reddening, and severe
secondary bacterial and fungal infections.
Most dog owners will have come across an infestation of ear
mites (Otodectes cyanosis) at some point; a disease affecting dogs
but more commonly cats. So if you suspect your dog has an ear
infection make sure you always mention that your dog has a feline
friend, as they may also need treatment to avoid re-infestation.
Ear mites are easily one of the major causes of ear canker (otitis
externa), which can affect all breeds of dog. They differ from
their burrowing relatives by being just visible to the naked eye as
very tiny moving white dots. Treatment is usually quite
straightforward with regular ear cleaning followed by topical,
anti-parasitic ear drops.
Harvest mites, or 'chiggers', are six-legged larvae (Trombicula
autumnalis) frequently picked up by dogs exercised in more rural
areas, especially those with chalky soil. This larval mite can also
affect cats and humans, with textbook signs in your dog of severe
itching (pruritis) of the feet. Harvest mites can be seen with the
naked eye as tiny bright orange or red dots especially between the
toes and lower legs.
Fortunately they aren't as serious as scabies or demodex,
either; however, accurate diagnosis is always necessary with early
treatment to avoid self-mutilation and secondary infection from the
dog scratching the affected area.
Our final type of mite affecting dogs is very descriptively
known by the term 'walking dandruff' or 'Cheyletiellosis'. Another
relatively common canine mite (usuallyCheyletiella yasguri), its
whole lifecycle is spent on the dog's skin surface within the
scales and debris, and it can spread between dogs and other
Unlike most other mite-related conditions, Cheyletiellosis
results in virtually no itching at all; instead most owners
complain about their dog's excessive dandruff or 'scurf'. Cases
seen are usually in puppies from poor backgrounds (e.g. puppy
farms), but there's also a form (Cheyletiella parasitivorax) that
can be caught from infected rabbits.
Diagnosis is relatively straightforward and involves examination
of surface scales with a piece of Sellotape, and observing adult
mites actually walking through the scales of skin - like a form of
How can mite infections be treated?
Usually a few anti-parasitic washes and environmental
decontamination prove curative. Most mite infestations affecting
dogs can be diagnosed by direct identification under the microscope
after skin scrapes or hair plucks. Unfortunately these don't always
reveal the offending creatures, so your vet may start treatment
before any positive identification. These days with effective new
drugs, anti-parasitic shampoos, dips and spot-ons, it usually means
a much quicker response time but occasionally multiple treatments
taking up to six months are necessary.
So as with all diseases, the quicker you visit your vet and get
your dog checked out, the more likely they can be dealt with
efficiently and with least distress to your dog.
Who can I contact for further advice?
The Kennel Club is not a veterinary organisation and is unable
to provide general or case specific veterinary advice. If you
have any questions regarding any of the issues discussed in this
article then please contact your local veterinary practice for
This article was written by Marc Abraham and was originally
published in the Crufts Magazine - www.thecruftsmagazine.com.
Marc Abraham is a vet based in Brighton. He regularly
appears on UK television. For more information about Marc
please visit www.marcthevet.com.