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Published: Jul 10, 2012

Mange in dogs actually refers to two separate conditions caused by small parasitic mites, which latch onto dogs' skin and hair. A dog afflicted with mange typically takes on a shaggy appearance and may begin to lose hair in bunches.

Demodectic mange is the most common form of mange in dogs, and refers to mites that reside in the animal's hair follicles. This condition is also called demodex, or "red mange." Just about all dogs have some Demodex canis parasites in their hair, but the animal's immune system keeps the organisms from causing problem. Thus, demodectic mange is typically seen in puppies whose immune systems are not yet fully developed. Mange may also occur in dogs with defective immune systems caused by other conditions.

Mange is usually characterized by hair loss in the places where the parasite resides. Depending on the extent of the problem, this may be just one area of the body (localized mange) or all over (generalized). This will ultimately affect the veterinarian's treatment of the problem. Localized mange is typically managed with topical medication, which contains the insecticide amitraz, reports VCA Animal Hospitals. Amitraz may cause vomiting in dogs for 24 to 36 hours after it is used. Dogs with generalized mange need more aggressive and long-term treatment, which may include shampoos, dips and oral medication.

The second type of mange is called sarcoptic mange, sometimes referred to as scabies. This occurs when a parasite burrows into the skin itself and is a less common, but more severe condition. Unlike demodectic mange, the dog will itch severely when this happens. This typically results in the loss of hair and may even damage the skin.

In the event of sarcoptic mange, owners should wash the dog's bedding in hot water with bleach, or consider discarding it entirely. Humans must be very careful around a dog with scabies, as the mites are highly contagious. Although the mite cannot complete its life cycle attached to a human, it will cause severe itching for a few days.

The treatments for sarcoptic mange are similar to demodectic - a mix of shampoos, oral medications and possibly even injections. However, the specific products used will differ between the two conditions. Thus, it is important to bring your dog to the veterinarian to determine whether the suspected mange is demodectic or sarcoptic. Typically, this is done by taking skin scrapings from the dog and examining them for signs of either type of mite.