Sarcoptic Mange

Sarcoptic mange, or “scabies”, is a contagious skin infestation caused by a microscopic, burrowing mite.  There are two types of mites that cause mange in dogs and they have different causes, concerns, and treatments.  The following information is regarding mange from Sarcoptes scabiei.

What causes sarcoptic mange?

Sarcoptes scabiei is a burrowing skin mite that is seen in dogs.  It is transmitted by direct contact with an infested dog or from a contaminated surface.  Many infected dogs have a recent history of being in an animal shelter, having contact with stray dogs, being at a kennel or visiting the groomer.  Wildlife such as foxes and coyotes are another common source of infection.  The mites burrow in the skin and secrete substances that elicit an intense allergic reaction and itching sensation. 

How is it diagnosed?

Dogs usually present with intense itchiness and will scratch constantly.  They can also have hair loss, crusting, and redness commonly on the ears, elbows, belly, chest, and legs.  A microscopic sample of a deep skin scrape is necessary to confirm the diagnosis, however the mites can sometimes be difficult to find since they burrow in the skin.  Because the substances they secrete cause such an intense allergic reaction, it only takes a few mites to cause significant disease.  A skin biopsy can also be used, but the mites can be missed using this technique as well.   Because the mites are difficult to find, therapy is sometimes initiated based on clinical findings even if skin scrapings are negative.

How is it treated?

Both infested and the dogs they have had contact with should be treated.  There are several medications used to kill the mites.  Many of the topical and oral medications are similar to heartworm preventatives, and dogs need to be heartworm tested before they are used.  There are also certain breed restrictions with these medications and their usage should be discussed with your veterinarian prior to initiating therapy. Follow-up exams and repeat skin scrapings are recommended, especially if there is no improvement after starting treatment.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis is good, and the itchiness can resolve in as little as two weeks.  It may take up to several weeks for clinical signs to fully resolve.

Can I get sarcoptic mange?

Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious to other dogs and to humans.  People may develop itchy lesions that usually resolve.  If you have any concerns or persistent problems, you should contact your physician.


Côté, Etienne. Clinical Veterinary Advisor. St. Louis: Elsevier Mosby, 2011.  Print.

Hnilica, Keith.  Small Animal Dermatology A Color Atlas and Therapeutic Guide. St Louis: Elsevier Mosby, 2011.  Print