A: The first step is to visit your veterinarian to confirm that the symptoms you notice are really caused by mange. The term mange is used to describe skin and fur changes brought on by infection with one of two mites – Sarcoptes or Demodex. Similar symptoms can occur with other types of parasites as well as bacterial, fungal, hormonal, allergic, and autoimmune conditions. Of course, these other conditions are treated very differently than mite infestations.
Once the diagnosis of mange is confirmed, your veterinarian will discuss a specific treatment plan depending on the species of mite involved, severity of infestation, secondary infections, and your dog’s general health. Traditionally, these infections were treated using frequent applications of harsh chemicals in the form of a “dip.” Today, modern medicine offers so many alternatives that I have not needed to use a mange dip on any of my patients in over eight years.
An adult dog with Sarcoptes can often be easily treated with a spot-on product, like Revolution. A puppy with localized Demodex infection may need only medicated shampoos or even no treatment at all. Other infections are more persistent and require more aggressive treatment.
Almost all dogs with mite infestations will benefit from medicated shampoo. Benzyl peroxide formulas help to flush Demodex mites from inside hair follicles. Anti-bacterial or anti-itch shampoos are commonly prescribed for patients suffering from Sarcoptes mites.
Very frequently, antibiotics will be used to treat secondary bacterial infections and to remove “distractions” for the immune system, allowing it to focus on the mites. Sometimes topical creams are used for localized lesions. Steroids, either by mouth or by injection, are almost always contraindicated. These medications suppress the immune system and help the parasites survive.
Some infections may be treated with “off-label” use of anti-parasite medications designed for farm animals. The side effects from these medications can be serious and they should not be used at all in certain breeds. The bottom line is that all treatment for mange should be guided by a veterinarian.