demodex mange

Most new pet owners expect, or at least hope for, perfect health in their new little pup.

There is hardly anything worse than having to deliver a diagnosis of demodex mange. This is where the phrase “mangy dog” came from. These dogs can look awful in a hurry!

But it doesn’t have to be so upsetting if you understand a few basic points about this potentially serious skin disorder.

Demodex Mange Vs. Sarcoptic Mange

There are two types of mange and the mites that cause them. Understanding the differences between the two will greatly affect what you identify as cause, pursue as treatment and expect for prognosis.

  1. Demodex Mange. Demodectic mites live deep in the skin. A skin scrape is necessary to identify which type is present. Demodex are very easy to pick up on a scraping, so long as the practitioner does a deep scraping. Sometimes more than one scraping is necessary. All skin disorders should be skin-scraped to rule out either of these mites as an underlying cause. Horrifyingly, we all have demodex on us all the time. They look like microscopic alligators. Thankfully, we don’t realize they are present unless there is a body flora imbalance, which allows them to proliferate abnormally. That’s when they begin to do their damage. They’re not contagious.
  2. Sarcoptic Mange. Sarcoptic mange, also called scabies in humans, is contagious. Sarcoptic mites live on the surface of the skin. We don’t carry these around unless we’re exposed to another pet or person who has them – yes, you can get these from your dog. These mites like to chomp on dogs’ ear margins and are very difficult to identify on a skin scraping.


Localized mange consists of small spots of alopecia (hair loss) in one location.

Generalized mange is much more serious and can encompass the entire body. Common symptoms are:

  • Hair loss
  • Redness
  • Oozing
  • Crusts and thickened, even elephant-like skin

These inflammatory changes can become very uncomfortable, to the point that the pruritus (itching) causes the pet to scratch incessantly and excoriate the skin even more.

All this begins with a few mites, too small to see with the naked eye, gone wild.

The Conventional Approach

To speed the healing of localized demodicosis, many vets use a topical insecticide, Goodwinol Ointment, to decrease the parasites in that location.

Generalized demodicosis can be more serious, difficult and expensive to manage. These dogs, especially adults, should be checked for concurrent hormonal disorders such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease.

demodex mangeUsing mite-killing dips too early in the onset of the disorder can lead to mite resistance and a worsened prognosis. Corticosteroids should never be used in dogs with any form of demodex. Steroids suppress the immune system further and this can cause a case of localized disease to become generalized. This is also why veterinarians should never prescribe steroids for an inadequately diagnosed skin condition.

Concurrent staphococcal infections are also considered immunosuppressive in dogs with demodex. Although veterinarians might feel this is a good reason to treat the pet with antibiotics, indiscriminate use of antibiotics and the subsequent development of resistant bacteria only exacerbates the situation.

The Holistic Approach

A holistic vet’s regime of essential oils, immune balancing herbals and promotion of gut flora balance is a much more common sense approach than dips and antibiotics. For more serious cases, I sometimes prescribe intense, repetitive full body essential oil detoxifying soaks on a daily basis. My practice wouldn’t survive without Nature’s Rich soap, which aids in the dispersal of the essential oils in the soak water. Most soaps are too harsh and drying for the irritated skin of a mange condition. Nature’s Rich soap contains very pure ingredients including soothing and antimicrobial coconut oil. It is so gentle it can even be used on open wounds.

[Related: Safety is really important when you use essential oils on your dog. Click here to see what to do!]

Topical Spray

You can also make a topical spray to apply between baths.

  • Fill an 8 ounce spray bottle with spring water or distilled water
  • Add a few drops of Castile soap
  • Add approximately 20 drops of lavender and 2 drops of peppermint (cooling and anti-itching)

Herbal Formula

A Chinese herbal formula called Xiao Yao San is known to help against demodicosis. Also called “Rambling Ease Powder,” it is intended to bring balance when the Chinese medicine diagnosis is blood deficiency. Blood deficiency may be related to an emotional stressor or circulatory disorder, which may be the root of the problem.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids or other nutrient deficiencies can contribute to inadequate skin health, making it susceptible to the overgrowth of the mites.

Just remember: this doesn’t mean fish oil. Fish oil is extremely vulnerable to oxidative damage. It may also contain harsh toxins, even radiation, and the harvesting of the fish used for fish oil is killing our oceans.

A better alternative is Phytoplankton. Phytoplankton is tiny little bundles of algae and bacteria that sustain the entire ocean. It can be grown in filtered water in farms, so you don’t have to worry about heavy metals, radiation and toxins. This also makes better for sustainability and the health of our oceans.

[Related: Phytoplankton’s really good for your dog’s overall health. Find out the 5 reasons to feed it to your dog here]


Finally, the diet must be considered. Probiotics, prebiotics, a fresh food source of enzymes, a starch-free diet, and a species-appropriate raw diet should all round out the holistic approach to successfully managing this potentially serious disorder.

From the May/June 2014 DNM Issue