If your dog’s scratching away at herself … you might think she’s got allergies or fleas.
But another reason for a really itchy dog is mange.
There are several types of mange … and sarcoptic mange is one of the most frequent ones.
All kinds of mange are parasitic skin diseases. The most common one in dogs is demodectic mange. But sarcoptic mange comes in second. And it’s also the one that’s most contagious.
So, just in case … you’ll want to know how to recognize it and what to do about it.
What Is Sarcoptic Mange?
Dogs of any age and breed can get sarcoptic mange … or scabies.
It’s an infestation of Sarcoptes scabiei skin mites that burrow into your dog’s skin.
The adult mites are round shaped and 0.2–0.6 mm long. They have 4 pairs of legs and they’re covered with tiny triangular spines. Females are almost twice as large as males.
How Mange Spreads
Once they’re on your dog, the mites will mate. The females burrow tunnels in the outer layer of the skin to lay eggs, which take 3-10 days to hatch. The mites spend their entire 17-21 day life cycle on your dog.
Dogs infected with these mites can be intensely itchy. And they can easily pass them on to other dogs … through direct or indirect contact. So your dog could catch it anywhere another dog with sarcoptic mange has been.
Because it’s so contagious, that could happen anywhere. The dog park, the groomer, the vet’s office, daycare or boarding, or at a shelter.
Symptoms may not show up for 10 days to 8 weeks after infection. Dogs can be asymptomatic carriers too. So if your dog catches sarcoptic mange, it could be hard to figure out where she got it.
Can Your Cat Catch Sarcoptic Mange From Your Dog?
It’s unlikely. Cats get a different type of scabies, called Notoedric mange. It’s caused by Notoedres cati mites, which are similar to sarcoptic mites. It’s extremely itchy … and highly contagious. So other animals and humans can get it from cats. But luckily, it’s also quite rare.
Sarcoptic Vs Demodectic Mange
Demodectic mange is a little different from sarcoptic mange. Demodex mites live deeper in the skin than sarcoptic mites.
Demodectic mange is usually due to a compromised immune system. Occasionally hereditary factors may be to blame.
Puppies can be more susceptible because of their immature immune systems. In fact, they may get them from their mothers during nursing … usually within 72 hours of birth.
Most dogs develop immunity to demoted mites … but in some dogs the immune system is too weak to combat them.
The other big difference is that demodex is not contagious.
So … getting back to sarcoptic mange. How do you know that’s why your dog is scratching so much?
Symptoms Of Sarcoptic Mange
Itching may be the first sign that your dog might have sarcoptic mange. So … if your dog is scratching herself a lot, check for some other symptoms.
Mites like areas without too much hair. So pay special attention to elbows, armpits, chest, ear flaps, belly and groin, and look for …
- Hair loss
- Crusty or scaly skin
- Little bumps on the skin (where the mites have burrowed)
- Sores (often from scratching)
With more advanced mange, you might also see …
- Weight loss
- Reduced appetite
- Fatigue (if itchiness stops your dog from sleeping!)
Sarcoptic mange mites can also spread around your dog’s body. Secondary bacterial and yeast infections can occur. There may be thickened skin or seborrhea (dandruff).
The Merck Veterinary Manual also describes Scabies incognito. This can appear on well-groomed dogs who’ve been bathed a lot. Bathing can remove the skin crust or scales. So it’s harder to diagnose because skin scraping may not produce a sample with mites.
Diagnosis of Sarcoptic Mange
You may need your vet’s help to confirm a sarcoptic mange diagnosis.
The first step is usually a skin scraping. Mites in the sample should show up under a microscope. But false negative tests often happen … because the mites move fast and are hard to catch in the scraping!
So your vet may do several different scrapings to reveal mites or eggs.
There’s also an antibody test that may help confirm the diagnosis.
And scabies often gets confused with allergic dermatitis. So there are a couple of other tests your vet may try.
Other Diagnostic Methods
Another scabies test is the Pedal-Pinna Reflex Test. The vet will hold your dog’s ear flap (pinna) and scratch the underside of the flap.
If your dog’s reflex is to scratch with his back leg … that usually confirms sarcoptic mange. Dogs without scabes won’t usually respond like this, but infected dogs almost always do!
And there’s yet another way some vets test for scabies. They give your dog Ivermectin (the heartworm drug).
If mange symptoms ease, that means your dog likely has mange, not allergic dermatitis.
But I wouldn’t recommend Ivermectin as a diagnostic tool. You’re giving your dog a risky drug … that he may not even need! (More about Ivermectin below.)
Vets sometimes use Ivermectin another way. If they suspect allergic dermatitis, than use it to rule out sarcoptic mange. Cortisone is the usual treatment for allergic dermatitis. But this drug can accelerate growth of scabies mites. So they need to know which your dog has.
One telltale sign of scabes is if other dogs in your home are also itching. Then it’s likely sarcoptic mange … because it’s so contagious.
By the way, if you’re feeling a bit itchy yourself (and have a purple rash) … you might have it too.
If only one dog has sarcoptic mange … it’s a good idea to separate him so everyone else doesn’t catch it.
So … if your dog does have sarcoptic mange, what now? Let’s start with what your vet will recommend. Then I’ll suggest some natural options instead.
Your vet may prescribe oral or topical treatments – or both. Here are some of the more common ones,.
Yes, that one again. The heartworm medication (it’s the one that’s in Heartgard and other heartworm drugs.
Conventional vets think Ivermectin is safe … but it really isn’t. Dosing for mange treatment will be higher than for heartworm prevention. So just that fact means higher risk.
Here are a couple of other things you need to know about it.
#1 It’s A Neurotoxin
Heartworm and other anti-parasite drugs work by paralyzing the parasite or insect’s nervous system. And that means the drug can also be dangerous for your dog’s nervous system.
Ivermectin can cause a wide range of side effects, including …
- Trembling or seizures
- Lack of coordination
- Inability to stand
- Slow heartbeat
- Lack of appetite
- Breathing problems
- Dilated pupils
If your dog is a herding breed (especially with white feet), there’s another important problem.
#2 MDR1 Gene Mutation
Ivermectin is especially dangerous for some breeds. Dogs who have the MDR1 gene mutation shouldn’t take Ivermectin … or other drugs in the macrocyclic lactone class.
It’s especially likely to cause neurotoxic side effects in these breeds. Side effects like seizures, tremors, even death. Your vet can test for this gene, but it’s most common in herding breeds like …
- Australian shepherds
- Border collies
- English or Old English sheepdogs
- German shepherds
- Skye terriers
- Long-haired whippets
- Silken windhounds
- Mixed breeds with herding breed heritage
Here’s another interesting side note about Ivermectin. There was recently a preliminary study suggesting Ivermectin might control the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It was only done in vitro, with no further testing yet. So the FDA issued a warning … telling people not to self-medicate for COVID-19 using this veterinary drug.
This is another heartworm drug, sold under the brand Interceptor. But using it to treat mites is an “off-label” use … meaning the FDA hasn’t approved it for this purpose.
Like other heartworm drugs, it can have serious side effects for your dog’s nervous system. These include …
- Stumbling or collapse
- Lack of energy
- Dilated pupils
- Excessive drooling
And breeds with the MDR1 gene mutation can be sensitive to this drug too.
This is a spot-on treatment that’s often used to kill parasites like fleas and ticks. It works like the other drugs … by paralyzing the parasites. And vets may prescribe it to get rid of sarcoptic mange.
So again, it can have similar side effects for your dog. Here are some of the known adverse effects.
- Hair loss at the application site
- Skin irritation at the application site
- Digestive upset, including vomiting and diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Muscle tremors
Once again, there are safer ways to deal with your dog’s scabies.
Your vet may also recommend other topical treatments, like:
“Anti-“ drugs all suppress your dog’s symptoms. That means they may offer temporary relief … but they can also drive the disease deeper.
When that happens, it will likely come back … often in a worse form.
Don’t use “anti-“ medications if you can avoid them. And you can, in this case.
Lime Sulphur Dips
These corrosive treatments can cause chemical burns on your dog’s skin. They can harm the respiratory tract. And they can irritate or damage the eyes. And if your dog drinks any of it, it can kill him.
Sulphur also smells awful!
This is a mange treatment for dogs and other pets. It’s often used for demodectic mange … but vets will also prescribe it for sarcoptic mange.
Side effects of this topical drug (given as a bath or dip) include …
- Slow heart rate
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Low body temperature
- Temporary high blood sugar.
- Seizures (though rare)
- Swelling, redness, and itchiness of the skin at the application site
As you can see … these conventional options are risky. So … how can you help your dog safely?
Natural Remedies For Sarcoptic Mange
The risky (and neurotoxic) drugs I listed are not the only choices for sarcoptic mange. You can work with your holistic vet on some natural options … or use the remedies below.
The first step is to make sure your dog is in robust overall health.
Healthy dogs with well-functioning immunity are much better able to resist parasitic infections.
According to homeopathic veterinarian Dee Blanco DVM, it’s all about the immune system.
“It’s really about supporting the immune system. This means giving things like mushrooms, DMG (Dimethylglycine) and vitamins (C, D, A). Of course, homeopathy and even echinacea or other herbs like golden seal as well. It’s not an easy one, but mange is all about immune failure.”
Some people suggest borax and hydrogen peroxide as a treatment option. Here’s Dr Dee’s take on this:
“I wouldn’t put borax on the skin (it’s too harsh). And you’d have to experiment with peroxide, as it’s also harsh and could discolor the hair.”
Use These 4 Anti-Parasitic Herbs
Canine Herbalist Rita Hogan shared her natural remedies for sarcoptic mange. Here are her favorites.
1. Barbados Nut Oil (Jatropha cruces)
I really like Barbados nut oil for sarcoptic mange. It’s insecticidal, anti-parasitic and anti-fungal.
It’s also good for other skin parasites. It’s effective against sarcoptic mange … especially mixed with niaouli essential oil.
Note: Read labels carefully when you shop for niaouli. It’s not the same as neroli!
Barbados nut oil is for external use only. Niaouli is a relative of tea tree oil, but it’s not as harsh.
- Mix 15 drops of niaouli essential oil into 1 ounce of Barbados nut oil.
- Apply the mixture topically 2-3 times daily.
2. Neem And Essential Oil Blend
Palmarosa and geranium are 2 more essential oils for sarcoptic mange.
When diluted, these are safe oils for topical use with dogs.
Caution: Some people suggest tea tree or clove oil, but these are toxic to dogs and I would never recommend them.
Neem oil (Azadirachta indica) is from the seeds of the neem plant. It’s another effective oil for sarcoptic mange.
Note: I’m not talking about neem essential oil. Don’t use that for this purpose.
Neem oil suffocates nymphs on the surface of the skin. It also forces mites to come to the surface (where it then kills them).
Neem oil is anti-parasitic, bacterial and antifungal. Neem also stops the mite’s reproductive cycle.
Neem shampoos are good for bathing dogs with sarcoptic mange. Saturating their skin with neem oil can also be really helpful.
- Mix 7 drops of palmarosa and 7 drops of geranium essential oil into 1 ounce of neem oil.
- Or … use neem leaf infusions as a rinse. Take 3 Tbsp of neem leaf and infuse it in 16 ounces of water.
Apply twice daily.
You can also mix neem leaf with turmeric root for added benefits. Make sure to test patch your dog in case he’s sensitive to external use of turmeric.
3. Turmeric And Neem Oil Infusion
- Use 1 small turmeric root per 8 ounces of water.
- Slice turmeric root and place in a small pan over low heat for 30 minutes with water.
- Mix this with the leaf infusion and apply as a rinse for your dog.
Apply twice daily and let dry. Do this for 14 days.
You can also use neem herbal tincture as a substitute. Mix 30ml of tincture per 1 ounce of water as a rinse.
4. Karanja Oil Option
Karanja oil is a good replacement for neem oil. It’s a great anti-parasitic oil. Just use it instead of neem in the above recipes.
And … Rita agrees with Dr Dee (not surprisingly) …
“For prevention, and of course to help eliminate mange, protecting and boosting your dog’s immune system is key.”
Get Rid Of Scabies
To help get rid of sarcoptic mange, here are some additional steps:
- Add dietary supplements to help relieve itching and support your dog’s immune system. Colostrum, omega-3 fatty acids, MCT oil and probiotics are helpful. Extra vitamin C, D and A will help boost immunity.
- Massage may help reduce your dog’s anxiety from itchiness, and keep her comfortable.
- Mites that cause sarcoptic mange can survive for several days in your home. Wash your dog’s bedding thoroughly. You might even consider replacing it once the mange is cleared up.
- Clean your house: floors, curtains, your own beds and upholstered furniture. Steaming your carpets and upholstery can help kill all the mites. Vacuum all rugs and drapes. When you change the vacuum bag or empty the vacuum, do it outside. Wash the vacuum. This will prevent the mites from re-infecting your dog.
- Sprinkle food grade (not pool grade) diatomaceous earth (DE) in places where you can’t vacuum. DE is a non-toxic powder that kills insects by dehydrating them. Allow the dust to settle before letting your dog or anyone else in the area. You can also sprinkle DE in your car or in the yard.
- It’s also a good idea to replace your dog’s collar and leash once she’s rid of the mites.
Ask your vet to do another skin scraping after you think mange has cleared up.
All the symptoms must be gone before you consider your dog free of mange. Her skin should be clear. There should be no more hair loss.
A Few More Things
Make sure your home is totally decontaminated. Otherwise you could get a reinfestation.
Also you may want to give the same herbal remedies to all your dogs … even if others in the home aren’t itching yet.
Even though cats don’t get the same kind of mange … you might consider keeping cats and other pets separated from your dogs until the mites are gone.
Don’t treat your home before your dog is mite-free. Clean one room in the home to use as your clean room.
Then keep your (now mite-free) dog in this room while you treat the rest of the house.
Sarcoptic mange in dogs can be hard to manage … but you can do it with persistence and the right remedies!