Mange in dogs is a set of skin infections caused by several different species of mites which are closely related to spiders. Mange caused by these mites can occur in other mammals, and one form - known as scabies - can occur in humans.
...As you can imagine, mange isn't much fun for anyone involved.
Because it causes dryness and a loss of hair, mange makes dogs extremely itchy. When dogs with mange relieve the urge to itch, their skin can become damaged, further worsening their condition. Scratching also helps those parasitic little mites spread to other parts of the dog's body.
The two most common types of mange in dogs are demodectic mange and sarcoptic mange. A similar condition - known as cheyletiella - does not usually cause hair loss, so it's not considered a type of mange, per se. Nonetheless, cheyletiella causes painful irritation and itching, and worst of all: it easily spreads to humans.
If you think your furry loved one may have come down with mange, seek veterinary attention immediately!
The symptoms of mange aren't even easy to read about. Dogs who are unlucky enough to come down with this condition are almost always lethargic and depressed. Mange in dogs is usually diagnosed by the presence of at least three of the following symptoms:
A telltale sign of mange is the presence of visible burrows across the skin. When mites make themselves comfortable - usually deep in pores or hair follicles - an immune reaction is initiated, inflaming the local area. If a mite decides its inflamed home has become too hostile, it will burrow under the top layer of skin looking for a new neighborhood to infest. This leaves a visible burrow in the top layer of skin, marking the path of your pet's uninvited guest.
Another easy way to tell that your dog is demonstrating symptoms of mange and not another skin condition, is with the pedal-pinna reflex test. This weird-sounding examination involves gently tickling or manipulating the external flappy part of your dog's ear - called its pinna - and checking for a foot motion in response ('pedal' means foot in latin).
If your dog responds to manipulation of its ear with a repetitive 'scratching' motion in one of its hind legs, the pedal-pinna reflex test was positive. In 4 out of 5 mange cases there are no observed mites, so the 95% accuracy of the pedal-pinna test (crazy, right?!) is almost always used to diagnose mange. This is because essentially every case of mite parasitism in canines affects their ear at some point in its progression.
This one's pretty gross... consider yourself warned.
Mites live on - and in - the skin of every mammal, except for the weird, egg-laying platypus. I don't need to remind you that you and I are NOT platypuses.
That's right: there are over 45,000 species of mites that make their home on the backs, under the limbs, between the crevices, and on the...faces...of all mammals, including humans.
Luckily, most of us have evolved to possess natural defenses that keep these microscopic invaders at bay. Puppies, elderly dogs, and dogs with other conditions are most at risk for mange because their immune systems are either not-yet-formed, or they're compromised. Dogs with abnormally oily coats are also at above-average risk.
When a dog has hypersensitivity to or overabundance of mites, mange can begin to develop. However, the actual symptoms of mange in dogs are triggered by a bacteria which thrives in the presence of excess skin mites. It's unclear if the mites introduce the bacteria in the first place, but these bacteria produce the infection and skin reaction that is typically associated with mange.
Demodectic mange is rarely contagious to humans, but it can be spread between dogs in close quarters. On the other hand, sarcoptic mange is highly contagious to both dogs and humans. Sarcoptic mange is considered to be more contagious in humans because the mites which cause it are more aggressive as well as better-suited for survival in the human system, compared to the mites which cause demodectic mange.
Whether we're talking about demodectic mange or sarcoptic mange, it's important as a pet owner to know the signs and to take action early. Waiting even a few days can allow for the condition to more than double its size, so time is of the essence. Furthermore, frequently bathing your dog and brushing its fur at least weekly can help to reduce the already-low likelihood of a mange outbreak.