Dogs get all sorts of skin problems for a variety of different reasons. One of the more common causes of patchy dog hair loss and irritated red skin is demodicosis. This is especially common in puppies. Demodicosis (or “red mange”) is one of the skin problems in dogs that can be easily treated but requires a proper diagnosis.
Demodicosis is an inflammatory disease in dogs caused by various types of the Demodex parasitic mite. These are microscopic critters that naturally live inside of hair follicles and oil glands in your pooch’s skin. The mites cause inflammation in their space (called folliculitis). This leads to weak hair, hair loss, inflammation and patchy bald spots.
These tiny parasites usually cause problems when the population overgrows in puppies that don’t have a fully matured immune system. They can also cause problems in older dogs that have other illness.
Symptoms of Demodicosis
If demodicosis is localized, symptoms are usually mild. Typically mild signs will affect the dog’s face, chest, or legs. The skin will look itchy, appear a reddish-brown or scaly, and may have noticeable thinning of hair.
Generalized demodicosis affects the dog’s entire body, with symptoms that include widespread skin lesions, scales, alopecia (hair loss), erythema (redness of the skin), lethargy, and poor appetite.
An exact cause of mange in dogs is unknown. However, many experts believe a cause may lie in the predisposition due to genetic factors, such as immune system issues. While there are three species of mites identified to cause mange in dogs, the mode of transmission is unknown for two of them.
The mite Demodex canis is most common mite that lives in the skin and hair follicles. This mite can be possibly transferred during nursing from the mother dog to her newborn puppy litter.
Your veterinarian or pet dermatologist can diagnose demodicosis in your dog by doing skin scrapings or plucking hairs from around the affected areas. It’s usually very easy to see the mites under a microscope if the sample is well collected. For older dogs who are affected by skin mites, your vet may want to run some blood work or a urine test. Additional tests such as a “skin cytology” (a sample of the skin’s surface) can help identify any bacterial infections that may try to take advantage of these abnormal skin changes in your dog.
The treatment your veterinarian will provide will be customized to your dog’s needs based on their exam results. In complicated cases, they may decide to have you consult with a veterinary dermatologist, so that smooth recovery can be obtained.
The good news is that some cases of demodicosis in otherwise healthy puppies can resolve on their own. But let your veterinarian decide this course of action. Depending on the signs, straightforward treatment will be essential.
If your veterinarian diagnoses the skin problem as a generalized infection or your dog is in their senior years, oral or topical medication will be needed. Some cases could require additional medications if a secondary bacterial infection has occurred. As with any treatment, regular follow-up exams are necessary for monitoring your dog’s response to the prescribed therapy and treatment.
We’re very lucky that in recent, advancements in treatments for demodicosis have brought greater success in the past few years. Good diagnosis and effective treatments always help in ensuring our four-legged best friends stay happy and healthy.
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Dr. Jangi Bajwa is a Board certified veterinary dermatologist at VetDERM Clinic in Surrey BC. He is also the dermatology feature editor for Canadian Veterinary Journal. Dr. Bajwa’s special interests include otitis and allergic disease in pets; as well as helping improve quality of life of pets and their families.