Scabies mites, tiny microscopic parasites, cause a very itchy and contagious skin condition called sarcoptic mange (dogs) or notoedric mange (cats). The parasites are transmitted mainly through direct contact with other animals and through contaminated grooming equipment and bedding. The mites tunnel into the skin, causing an intensely itchy sensation, forcing your dog or cat to scratch and bite their skin incessantly. The mites then proceed to lay eggs in the skin, which hatch, develop into adults and start to lay eggs of their own. The whole cycle takes just under 3 weeks.
Scabies generally attacks the skin on the ears, elbows, hocks and the underside of the face and chest. Symptoms can appear quite rapidly, with hairless and red patches appearing. Crusty areas on the tip of the ears are characteristic for scabies. The intense scratching can cause the areas to bleed and become infected. The classic test for scabies is to rub the tip of the ear between your fingers – if your animal starts to scratch himself on that same side the possibility of scabies is high. If the animal is left untreated, the affected areas become thick, crusty and pigmented (dark).
The mites can be diagnosed by examining a skin scraping with a microscope, but the parasite is not always seen and sometimes treatment has to be started based on the symptoms. The diagnosis of scabies is confirmed by a positive response to the treatment. Treatment consists of either injections, medicated dips, creams or tablets, depending on the severity, response and breed of the animal. Sometimes other medication is added to relieve the severe itching or to treat infected skin.
Dog mites do not normally infect (or at least multiply in) cats and vice versa, but can still cause an itchy, albeit short-term infection. Scabies can also affect humans, causing an itchy rash, but the parasite does not live on human skin longer than a few weeks and the infection should clear on its own. Although, if your pet is not treated, re-infection can occur continuously.
As part of the treatment protocol, bedding, brushes and other equipment should also be cleaned. Prevention consists of avoiding other animals with obvious lesions and keeping your pets healthy as poor condition, stress or a bad diet can predispose animals to mange.
Article by Dr. Laura Wessman