Demodectic Mange vs. Sarcoptic Mange

There are two types of mites that cause two different types of mange. Do you know which one your sheltie has?

Demodectic Mange Etiology

The demodectic mite is usually seen in puppies, and occasionally older dogs. The common name is red mange.

The good news is, that for puppies, it is usually a local and temporary problem which resolves without treatment.

The bad news is, if an adult comes down with demodectic mange it usually is the generalized form of the infestation which is chronic.

How Demodectic Mites Get Out Of Hand

All dogs have demodectic mange mites living on their skin. (Beginning to feel itchy, are we??) Think of this dog mange as the equivalent of the skin mite on humans. (Oh, you didn’t know you had bugs living on you? Hmm, scratching a bit more I see.)

As with most things in nature, there is usually a natural balance to it all. A puppy with a good immune system can keep the number of mites down to a manageable number. In this condition, the dog looks normal to you.

The problem begins when the puppy’s immune system, which is underdeveloped when young, gets knocked for a loop. This allows the mites to multiply uncontrollably and begin to cause symptoms of mild itching and loss of hair. (Ok, now I’m beginning to feel creepy crawlies on me!).

This can happen to a perfectly normal, healthy puppy.

The difficult part for owners (and breeders) is to leave well enough alone. Taking a “wait and see attitude” is tough. Not to mention that if you go to your vet, they figure you want them to do something to fix your pup and so they give you medication.

The reason for taking the “wait and see” attitude is so the owner can tell if this was a transient issue for an otherwise healthy puppy or if it is due to a chronically poor immune system.

In about 90% of all cases, a healthy puppy will rebound from the stress, his immune system will kick back into action within a month or so and the mites go back to their unassuming role on the skin. End of problem.

demodectic mangeDemodectic Mite - Cute isn't he?

What Kind Of Stress Starts Demodectic Mange?

Depending on the puppy’s temperament, simply going to his new home can do it. Shipping a puppy on a plane cross country can, for sure, do it too.

I know first-hand, because a friend of mine had a puppy shipped to her several years ago and he developed hair loss on his face. It took us a while to figure out he wasn’t scratching his muzzle on the bottom of the fence or some piece of furniture.

When he started losing hair around his eyes, we knew what his problem was.


Unfortunately, most skin issues can look pretty much the same with only a few tiny differences that can help with the diagnosis. So you go through the questions: is it trauma, infestation, allergy??? Hard to say a lot of the time.

A vet can do a skin scraping to see if the demodectic mites are found in high numbers. However, not finding mites doesn’t rule it out as the cause. Not very helpful. It's what I would call a "false negative". 

Localized Demodectic Mange

In puppies, you usually see the demodectic mange as bald spots first around the eyes, lips, mouth, or muzzle. Occasionally on the feet.

And it’s usually only a few spots, not too large, maybe an inch or so around. There may be some itching at those spots.

It lasts around a month or two and then disappears as the puppy regains his immune system.

localized mange in dog

Generalized Demodectic Mange

Any dog over the age of 1 year that gets demodectic mange or any dog with more than about 5-6 spots is assumed to have the generalized form. This is because by one year of age, the immune system is fully developed and no stressor should allow the mites to take over.

Any puppy less than 1 year old, whose symptoms do not resolve in about 1 -2 months could be considered having the chronic form of the illness.

What you are seeing is an immune system unable to handle the normal environment. Some lines of dogs seem to have a generally poor immune system and so many in that family develop generalized demodectic mange. An occasional puppy with demodectic mange out of many litters, however, is just a normal part of dogdom.

Treatment For Red Mange

For localized demodectic mange you really don’t have to treat. It will resolve on its own.

However, if you must… one OTC treatment is Goodwinol Ointment. Comes in a tiny container and you smear just a little on the bald spots.

Thing is you can’t get it in the eyes. Good luck with that. Try using a Q-tip to get close but not in the eye. It contains rotenone which is a pesticide, but I guess in small quantities it wouldn’t be too bad to use.

At the point where it is diagnosed as the generalized form of illness, treatment is advised in order to try to manage the mites;

That and boosting the immune system with the best food and nutrients is certainly something I would consider important. Finally, test for other illnesses that may be stressing the dog’s immune system, like hypothyroidism, cancer, etc. which in turn then allows the mites to flourish.

For generalized mange, a common prescription dip from the vet is amitraz. But it is a pretty hefty pesticide. It can cause pretty severe side effects on the dog and to you, if not used properly. Your dog may experience vomiting and sedation for twenty-four to thirty-six hours following each application.

It also carries warnings to wear gloves and have good ventilation when using. And yet…. You are expected to leave the stuff on the dog to dry. UGH! 

Another over the counter medication that I have on hand for a variety of skin issues is a natural cure-all called Lime-Sulfur Dip Concentrate. It kills everything and is generally non-toxic. One really important thing is you can't get it in the eyes!!!  Burns like the dickens. How do I know? I accidentally got a little in my eyes. Hours of burning no matter much I  flushed with water. You can put some eye protectant in your sheltie's eyes, but regardless, avoid the eyes at all cost.

I also tested the results of Lime Sulfur dip  by not using gloves when applying to a dog. Just to see how it felt. Especially since you are supposed to let the dog air dry with it on. I decided if I was going to dip a dog into something that said to wear gloves at the same time saying it was non-toxic, I should see why.

FYI: It has to be diluted before use and it smells like rotten eggs.

The only side effects I experienced was a very drying effect on the skin and the unfortunate discoloration of all my nails to a bright yellow for a week or so. My skin turned pasty white from leaving the solution on my hands as it air dried. That and the smell kept friend and foe away for a few days. 

There is one more treatment I found online that doesn't specify if it is for demodectic mange or sarcoptic, I have listed it under treatments for sarcoptic mange further down the page.

Moving on to the second type of mange...

Symptoms of Sarcoptic Mange

Unlike demodectic mange, sarcoptic mange is intensely itchy, and spreads over much of the body if not eradicated. It is contagious among dogs. It is usually caught from another dog in close proximity. Something as simple as a romp at the dog park, wrestling with other dogs could do it. So don’t assume only dirty dogs or dirty people with dogs get mange. 

Thankfully, while these dog mange mites are contagious between dogs, hopping on a human host will only cause some short term itching and a rash, it doesn’t live long on non-canine hosts. Well, not long objectively, but if you are being the one munched on, it will feel like an eternity.

As an aside, for the record, humans have our very own related mite that does the same thing. It is called scabies.

Being a nurse, I’ve had the dubious honor of being up close and personal with a patient that had scabies. Being a breeder, I’ve been up close and personal with dogs that have had sarcoptic mange. Neither one is a pretty sight.

Ahh, the good life! But I digress...

From time of exposure to symptoms appearing, it takes a week or so for you to notice the itching. It usually begins in the armpits, belly and along the edges of the earsFur begins to come off in clumps and over the weeks the skin becomes thick and leathery. There will be more fur on the floor than on the dog in many places.

Since the mite actually burrows below the skin, bathing with regular shampoo isn’t effective in getting them off the body as it is with fleas.

Diagnosis of Sarcoptic Mange

The vet has to do a deep skin scraping in the hopes of finding the mite. And like demodectic mange, just because the test was negative doesn’t mean they don’t have it. Treatment usually occurs with or without proof of infestation.

Treatment For Sarcoptic Mange

There are three easy cures for sarcoptic mange. The first is the Lime Sulfur dip which was discussed as a treatment for demodectic mange and the second is Selemectin spot on treatment.

Selemectin is a flea, heartworm, ear mite and sarcoptic mange killer. Oddly enough, it doesn’t kill demodectic mites. Treatment once a month for 2 months will usually do the trick. Just be sure your dog doesn’t have the mutant gene, MDR1 or he may have a reaction to the medication. The Revolution brand of selemectin is unfortunately a prescription drug here in the states. 

The third method, I have not tried myself but appears to be effective for quite a few people, so you may want to experiment as it is cheap and over the counter. It is called Ted's Famous Mange Treatment.

For dogs of any size, add 3 heaping tablespoons borax to a clean bucket.  Add 2 cups of hot water. Stir vigorously with your hand to dissolve all the borax granules. Add 2 cups of warm water. Mix again. Add 2 cups of 3% hydrogen peroxide from the drug store. Stir mixture again vigorously and set aside. You will use the mixture after your dog has been bathed and double-rinsed.

Massage the solution very gently into the dog’s skin. Make sure every area is saturated, including the tail and paws. If your dog has any raw or bleeding areas, do not massage the solution into the dog’s skin. Simply apply. Do not rinse off the solution.

  • Week 1:  Give borax bath every other day.
  • Week 2:  Give the borax bath every 3 days.
  • Weeks 3 – 6: Give the borax bath once a week.
  • Weeks 6 – 12: Give the borax bath bi-weekly.

For a little more instruction, they have a handy YouTube video:

The Aftermath

The dog will continue to itch several weeks after the treatment even though the mites are dead but it will slow down and eventually stop after that. Hair will grow back and soon it will be a distant memory, albeit a bad one. 

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