Sarcoptic mange can be a mite-y big problem
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By Mickey Zeldes  May 24, 2013 12:00 am

We recently got in a little stray poodle-mix puppy with horrible skin. A simple skin scrape revealed she suffered from sarcoptic mange. Ick! I was stunned, as I actually haven’t seen a case of sarcoptic mange in the 20-plus years I’ve lived in California.

We talk a lot about fleas and ticks, probably because they are so prevalent. And everyone, with pets at least, has had some experience with them. A lesser-known external parasite is the mange mite. There are two kinds, demodex, which is more common around Sonoma County, especially in certain susceptible breeds such as pit bulls, and sarcoptic, also known as scabies, which is rare in this area. It is common in other parts of the country as well as in Mexico, and as more dogs are brought in, I guess we’ll be seeing more of it. One of the main differences between the two is that sarcoptic mange is highly contagious to other animals and humans. Of the two, though, it is also the easier one to treat and has a better prognosis.

The mange mite, a microscopic organism, burrows under the skin to lay her eggs, causing intense itching to her host. I came back from a trip to Peru with chiggers (a similar bug – any of you from the deep south may be familiar with) so I have total sympathy with this poor pup; I know how excruciatingly itchy and miserable she is. It explains why someone would have tied baby socks over her back paws to prevent her nails from doing damage as she scratched. Of course, that only treats a symptom and not the cause.

I’ve heard in Mexico the “remedy” is to pour motor oil over the dog to kill the mites. Unfortunately, that treatment also often kills the dog. If they lick any of the oil off it can cause kidney failure and a slow death. The proper treatment is not expensive or difficult, but getting a firm diagnosis can be tricky. The mite may not show up on every scraping, and the symptoms mimic lots of other skin issues, so sometimes treatment is by trial and error. Medicated shampoos and dips can calm the irritated skin and kill the mites, as can injections of ivermectin or prescribed use of Revolution. Treatment needs to be repeated at least twice, if not more, to make sure all emerging young are killed.

Although sarcoptic mange is transferable to humans and other pets, the mites are self-limiting on people as they cannot complete their lifecycle on us – that’s the good news. The bad news is, while infected we can transfer them to other animals and people. So it is important to wear protective garb when handling a potentially infected animal. Treating the environment and pet’s bedding is also important to prevent reoccurrence.

This little pup is getting the care and treatment she needs to make a full recovery and has a great prognosis. Think we might name her Mite-y Mouse. 

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Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at mzeldes@rpcity.org.

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