Itchin’ and Scratchin’

We see a lot of itchy dogs. Commonly our itchy dogs have some type of allergy, either to something in the environment or sometimes to an ingredient in their food. We see skin infections from bacteria as well as yeast and occasionally an autoimmune disease that causes itchy skin.

Today I wanted to talk about the skin disease that makes our skin crawl even thinking about it; those creepy microscopic bugs called mites.

We have had a couple of recent cases that involved skin mites or mange. The more common type of mange is called Demodex and it usually affects young, immature dogs. Most often we see small patches of hair loss however sometimes this can be more widespread or “generalized”. Demodex tends not to make the dogs itchy however they will frequently get secondary bacterial infections in the inflamed skin and hair follicles which causes them to scratch. Demodex is not contagious, and most mature animals have a strong enough immune system to prevent the mites from getting established and causing symptoms of dermatitis. However if we ever have a young dog (less than 1 or 2 years) with patches of hair loss, crusting dander, and occasional itching we need to perform a skin scrape to look for the mites under the microscope.

Treatment for demodex mites can be a simple as a topical ointment applied to a few small lesions, or in more extensive cases oral antibiotics, medicated shampoos, and systemic insecticide medications taken either by mouth or applied as a dip. Often when found in young dogs, the condition is controlled as the immune system matures. Some of the most difficult cases involve older animals who have developed serious illness that compromises their immune system and allows the mites to cause widespread damage. In these cases we not only treat the mites, but we need to correct any underlying systemic disease as well.

Susan was treating a newly adopted puppy a few weeks ago who was very itchy and had crusty patches of hair loss on the top of his head and along his back and shoulders. She expected to find Demodex mites on the skin scrape. The puppy did have Demodex, but she also found Scabies mites as well. Scabies (also known as Sarcoptic mange) are a contagious type of mite that can affect people for and easily can be transferred to other pets in the same environment. While Scabies sounds more serious because of its potential to affect people, it is usually more responsive to treatment than adult onset Demodex. We use some of the same medications but we can usually eliminate the mites with shorter treatments and lower doses. Scabies mites can be picked up from stray dogs or wildlife that come in close contact with your dog or your dog’s back yard. In our neighborhood, I have suspected coyotes and other wild life may be bringing these mites into our back yards.

The only prevention for Demodex is to keep your dog in optimal health, with great nutrition, exercise, and working with your vet to detect and correct any illness that could compromise your dogs overall immune defenses. The best way to prevent Scabies is protect your pet from animals that could be spreading the disease. Revolution is a topical heartworm, flea and tick preventative that also has been labeled to treat and control Scabies. For many dogs this is a convenient option, and especially here in Arizona where we see all of the above we find we are using this product more commonly. If you see itchy skin, hair loss or crusting have your pet evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

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