Mange is a skin infection caused by mites, and each species causes a different type of disease. Many different types of animals can get mange, although it's most common in dogs. The best treatment depends on the animal, the type of mite, and the location of the infection on the body. Oral and topical medications, injections, and special shampoos and dips are used to treat this condition.
Cheyletiella is a genus of mite that causes the least serious form of mange although it is very contagious. Also known as "walking dandruff," this condition usually manifests itself in itching and light flakes over the animal's head and shoulders. The mite dies soon after leaving the host, so usually bathing the pet in a medicated shampoo is usually all that is necessary for treatment. Some types of flea control insecticides can also treat walking dandruff effectively.
Also known as feline scabies or cat mange, notoedric mange is most common in cats, but can also affect squirrels and other wild animals. It usually infects the head and neck of the animal, causing extreme itching and hair loss, as well as crusty yellow areas. These mites are very contagious and can spread to people and other pets, but cannot reproduce on these other animals.
Most cats respond well to a series of lime-sulfur dips, which combine calcium hydroxide (or slaked lime) and sulfur. When diluted, this mix is very effective at killing many different types of mites, including those that cause notoedric mange. Although generally safe for most cats, it's important for pet owners to take the cat to a veterinarian first for a diagnosis, however, and to follow his or her instructions exactly for treating the pet. Some veterinarians use oral medications as well, but most are not approved for treating cats.
Sarcoptic mange, caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite, is a serious but generally very treatable condition. It is common in dogs, and can be transmitted to humans, in which case it is called scabies, and other animals, including cats and pigs. This condition generally starts with intense itching and some hair loss. The animal will scratch and bite at its skin furiously, and can cause injuries that may become infected. The ears often crust over first, followed by hair loss on the elbows, legs, and face.
The pet will need a trip to the vet's office to confirm the diagnosis and to be treated, and it can be difficult to diagnose, especially if another infection has developed in the injured skin. Cutting back the remaining hair in any affected area is often necessary. The family should be cautious about handling the animal, since this condition is contagious and can spread to other pets as well as people.
Ivermectin is the treatment of choice for sarcoptic mange in dogs, and is usually administered in two doses, two weeks apart. Some breeds are especially sensitive to this medication, however, and should not use it; repeated treatments with certain insecticides like selamectin can also kill mites. Dogs and other animals may also require antibiotics and medicated baths for skin infections and itch relief. As with notoedric mange, lime-sulfur dips can be effective, as can phosmet, an organophosphate insecticide. Pet owners should note that not all dips are safe for all pets — phosmet should not be used on cats or puppies, for example — so a veterinarian should always be consulted before treating any animal.
Demodectic mange, also called red mange, is one of the most severe types. Most dogs have the Demodex mite on their skin, but suppressed immune systems can cause them to reproduce quickly. Young dogs are the most susceptible; puppies receive the mites from their mother. In the localized form, hair loss occurs around the face or eyes and may go away without treatment.
In the generalized form, however, the Demodex mites burrow deep into the skin in other parts of the body, making it irritated and itchy. Sores follow, and secondary skin infection is not uncommon. In some cases, mites can infest the paws very deeply, a condition known as demodectic pododermatitis. A veterinarian will want to take regular skin scrapings to make a correct diagnosis and to monitor the treatment progress. In the case of demodectic pododermatitis, a biopsy may be necessary to identify the mites.
Veterinarians are divided on the best treatment for demodectic mange. Some recommend a small, daily ivermectin dose, along with medicated baths. This works for many dogs, but some, especially those in the herding group, can have a severe reaction to ivermectin.
The other treatment is a medicated benzoyl peroxide shampoo, followed by an amitraz dip. When the pesticide dip is used at least twice a week, at double strength, the results are typically very good. Amitraz can produce a sedative effect, and should not be used on puppies less than four months old or small breeds.
When a dog has demodectic mange, it is crucial to follow through the entire course of treatment, for as long as the vet prescribes. This condition can recur if not eradicated entirely. The vet will want to take a skin scraping about a month after the final treatment, just to make certain the disease has been eliminated.