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Have you ever wondered where the term “mangy mutt” comes from?  Well, “mange” is the particular skin disease caused by a microscopic parasitic mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. This name might sound familiar because it’s the same mangy mite that causes “scabies” in humans.

Sarcoptic mange affects dogs but can also affect cats, foxes, and humans. There a few other mites that can cause mange (i.e. severely itchy skin disease in dogs), but in this article, we’ll focus on one of the most common, Sarcoptic mange.


How Can A little Mite Do So Much Damage?

The female mite burrows into the skin and makes a tunnel where she lays eggs that hatch and return to the surface. The sensation of the mite burrowing and walking on the skin is the source of the itchiness and allergic inflammatory response.

Adult mites live for 3-4 weeks on the host (i.e. your dog) and only survive off the host for 2-3 days, which means that you do not have to decontaminate your environment if your dog is infected. Sarcoptic mange mites are usually spread by direct contact from host to host. The infection usually starts in hairless areas such as the elbows and pinnae of the ear, then generalizes to other areas like the face and abdomen causing crusting and severe itching.

Sarcoptic Mange Signs:

  • Extreme Itchiness
  • Excoriations on skin from scratching
  • Hair loss
  • Crusting of the pinnae

The main characteristic of this disease is non-seasonal dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) meaning that if it’s winter-time and we can eliminate fleas as the cause, then Sarcoptic mange could be the next differential diagnosis. You’ll see your dog scratching constantly because the mites move around in the skin and, as you can imagine, this is very irritating. As a result of the scratching, your dog’s hair can fall out and his skin can be damaged.

Distribution of hair loss and skin lesions CDC.GOV

Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious and is transmitted by direct contact, grooming instruments, and in kennel environments. Humans can develop itchy lesions in areas of direct contact also. There’s goood news for us though: the mite cannot complete its life cycle on human skin, so any lesions you develop will go away on their own in a few weeks.

A veterinarian can make the diagnosis by performing a skin scraping. Remember, adult mites live in the superficial surface of the skin, so the scrape of the skin should yield a mite or two that can be put on a slide and visualized under a microscope. Sometimes, the mites aren’t collected in the sample because there may not be many on your dog, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t still there causing clinical signs of disease.

Sarcoptic Mange Treatment

There are several medications available in the forms of oral, topical, and dips.

  • The FDA approved medication for sarcoptic mange treatment is Revolution® (Selamectin; Zoetis) a topical spot-on treatment, which is safe and effective and can be prescribed by your veterinarian.
  • Other oral medications that are effective and may be prescribed include common flea medications such as Bravecto® (fluralaner; Merck), NexGard® (afoxolaner; Merial) and SimparicaTM (sarolaner; Zoetis)
  • Ivermectin, which is also found in common flea medications, such as Comfortis® (spinosad; Elanco) is a very effective treatment at higher doses but caution should be taken if already on a flea preventative, especially in certain herding breeds (ex. Collies, Shepherds) to avoid Ivermectin toxicity issues.
  • Lime Sulfur Dip kills Sarcoptes mites and other microorganisms. It also relieves itchiness, so it’s often recommended by veterinarians for treatment. The downside is that it smells like rotten eggs, can stain white fur yellow, and will stain clothes and jewelry—so use carefully.

Sarcoptic Mange Home Treatment


Since treatment can take 3-4 weeks to kill all the mites, your dog will still be very itchy post-treatment. This gives you the opportunity to provide at-home care that can relieve the itchy signs. At home you can:

  1. Clip the fur on a regular basis to allow the antiparasitic shampoos, dips, and topical medications to work
  2. Shampoo with an anti-itch and moisturizing shampoo to remove crusts, soothe itch, and prevent secondary bacterial infections such as:
    • Colloidal Oatmeal Shampoo with Pramoxine: This shampoo has an anti-itch component from the Pramoxine, which is a local anesthetic used to soothe itch.
    • Colloidal Oatmeal Shampoo: Colloidal oatmeal has an unknown method of action but can yield 1-3 days of itch relief. This particular product is also anti-parasitic and anti-seborrheic so it treats the mites and also removes the scales and crusts.
    • Phytosphingosine Containing Products: The Douxo® line of products contain a compound called phytosphingosine, a natural skin biochemical that aids in maintaining the skin’s natural barrier to infection and inflammatory substances. Although this doesn’t kill mites directly, Phytosphingosine is moisturizing, anti-inflammatory, and has antimicrobial properties. Generics are available as well.
  3. Trim your dog’s toenails to minimize the damage done to the skin by scratching.

If your dog continues to be itchy after three weeks of treatment, ask your vet about your shampooing technique, treatment, or the diagnosis. A secondary bacterial infection or yeast infection can also occur during this time and you’ll notice this if your dog suddenly becomes itchier or the treatments for the mange aren’t entirely working. If that happens, the vet will prescribe an antibiotic to treat the secondary bacterial infection.

Your dog will remain contagious to other dogs and humans for 2-4 weeks after treatment has started, so be sure to treat all other dogs in the household to prevent the spread of the disease.

While Sarcoptic mange is a nasty skin disease, it’s not life-threatening and very treatable. With a proper diagnosis, medication, and keeping up with treatments at home, you’ll eliminate the symptoms within weeks and your dog will be grateful to you for it.

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