Although my time for pleasure reading is limited, I’ve been following a good blog since April (if you’re interested in dog rescue, it’s www.the-abandoned-dog.blogspot.com, and they’re on Facebook as well, with many wonderful photographs). In short, it’s the experiences of a Texas veterinary technician who rescued a severely malnourished and skin-infected hound who probably wouldn’t have lasted more than another week or two had she not stepped in to help. She named him “Tad” (The Abandoned Dog).
One of the problems this woman has been facing with Tad has been a stubborn case of mange—two kinds of it in the beginning. Even though the worst of it is gone now, a spot still remains, and she’s doing her best to keep it under control.
Mange is nothing to fool with for several reasons. First of all, it is torturous for the infected animal. The red bumps itch mercilessly and can form a crust or scale; it causes hair loss and the constant scratching can lead to open lesions and secondary infections that then need treatment. But in addition, one of the types of mange is also contagious, and it could end up infecting a good many others who come in contact with the infected dog.
Anyone familiar with human scabies will immediately understand the nature of mange. It is caused by microscopic mites that burrow into the skin or hair follicles and set up home there. This can happen anywhere on the animal, and it will spread quickly. According to petmed.com, symptoms will occur any time from two to six weeks after exposure.
Veterinarians recognize two primary types of mange. The first, demodetic, is caused by a common parasite that many puppies are born with, having acquired them from the mother. Normal, functioning immune systems in healthy dogs can usually keep these mites under control with few or no symptoms, so most severe cases are seen in young animals and older or sick animals with weakened immune systems. Demodetic mange is not contagious.
Vets can usually determine this type of mange by taking a skin scraping of an affected area and examining it under the microscope for the tiny cigar-shape parasites. However, this is not always an effective means of diagnosis, because often the dog’s scratching and chewing removes the mites but leaves the itchy toxins that they produce.
Treatment for demodetic mange varies with the animal. For less invasive cases in younger animals, often the immune system will take care of the problem on its own; dog-health-guide.org suggests giving it six to eight weeks or even longer.
More severe cases, or those in older or ill animals, however, can be tricky. Several types of shampoos or dips are available, but they may require a few treatments and can take up to six weeks for complete healing. Because these dips are insecticides, you’ll need to take precautions when you’re applying them. Make sure you’re in a place with good ventilation, and protect your own skin by wearing gloves as you’re applying it. Depending on the medication, you may need to reapply it every two weeks.
Sarcoptic mange, also known as dog scabies, is the more serious of the two, and it is indeed infectious to both other dogs and humans (although the site www.canismajor.com says that these mites cannot complete their life cycle on human skin), so any animal showing this type of mange should be handled carefully and kept from other animals during treatment.
This type of parasite burrows under the dog’s skin to lay eggs, and the newly hatched can begin laying their own eggs within three weeks, so careful attention to treatment is critical. Usually a few doses of Ivermectin given several weeks apart can take care of the mites, although the secondary skin problems may take longer to heal.
Steroids will help with the itching, but it could take up to several months to heal the lesions. Dogs, of course, have a fascination with these spots, and we all know what it’s like to keep a dog from constantly licking or biting.
Identifying problems like mange can be particularly difficult in places like animal shelters, where large numbers of dogs regularly move in and out, and strays come in with unknown problems that may not show up immediately. Responsible shelters like the Lawrence Humane Society keep an eye out for problems, and they do their best to keep the animals separated until their health status can be determined.
Nevertheless, as with any health problem, treatments are most effective if we start them immediately, and that requires us to be attentive to changes in our animals’ health. Please be a good health advocate for your dog, and keep an eye out for problems. You’ll be rewarded with a much happier, healthier pet.