Scabies, aka Sarcoptic Mange or Sarcoptic Mites, are tiny spiderlike parasites that cause intense itching in dogs. The itching is caused by the female mites burrowing a few millimeters under the dog’s skin to lay eggs.
Scabies in dogs are highly contagious and can spread to and from other dogs and house pets. The mites are also transferable to people. They are spread by direct contact with an infected animal and by sharing contaminated bedding, grooming equipment, etc.
The life cycle of the sarcoptic mites is about 17 to 21 days. The whole cycle occurs on the skin of an infected dog.
Female mites lay eggs a few millimeters under the skin of the dog. The eggs hatch in 3 to 10 days and mature into adults. They then mate and lay eggs thus repeating the whole cycle.
As you can imagine, scabies can spread quickly and easily out of control in a very short period of time!
Symptoms of Scabies in Dogs
Sarcoptic mites usually attack the skin of a dog’s ears, the elbows and the hocks, as well as the face and the underside of the chest.
The hallmark symptom of scabies in dogs is intense itching resulting in scratching, biting, chewing, and licking.
Because of the discomfort caused by intense itching, the dog understandably will get increasingly irritated and may lose interest in things that he normally enjoys, such as food, games, walks, etc.
Another typical symptom of scabies in dogs is crusty ear tips.
Without treatment, the itch-scratch-itch cycle can quickly result in self trauma and hair loss. The skin in the affected areas will become inflamed and crusty lesions will form.
In serious cases, the dog can lose his hair in large areas of his body. The skin will become thick, scaly, and be covered with crusts and scabs.
Did you know that you can do a simple test (called the “Pedal-Pinna Reflex” Test) to see if your dog has scabies?
Simply rub or scratch your dog’s ear flap (pinna) between your fingers and, if your dog has scabies, he will almost always by reflex scratch on the same ear!
Diagnosis and Treatment of Scabies in Dogs
If you suspect that your dog has scabies, be sure to get him to the vet for a proper diagnosis. The vet will make the diagnosis by examining skin scrapings under a microscope.
Unfortunately, it is not easy to find sarcoptic mites. Many vets misdiagnose dogs with scabies as having atopic dermatitis.
If the vet cannot find any mites but the symptoms strongly suggest scabies, sometimes he will give a trial treatment of Ivermectin medication to the dog. A positive response to the treatment confirms the diagnosis of scabies.
In the past, the most common conventional treatment of scabies was the use of dips (such as amitraz and lime-sulfur dips). However, scabies mites have developed resistance to quite a few chemical dips. In addition, dips can be toxic to humans as well as to dogs.
Newer conventional medications for scabies include the use of some flea control medications (such as Revolution® and Frontline Plus®) that are also effective against mites.
Oral ivermectin is an off-label (i.e. not FDA approved) medicine for treatment of scabies.
If your dog is a Collie, Sheepdog, or other herding breeds and their crosses, DO NOT use Ivermectin because it may cause potential toxic effects in these dog breeds.
As there are various types of treatments available to treat scabies, be sure to consult with your veterinarian who can best decide the most appropriate treatment for your dog.
Whatever the treatment chosen, you need to treat all pets in the household or who have been in contact with the infected dog.
Besides treating the infected dog and other household pets, you also need to treat the home environment to prevent re-infestation. All bedding should be washed in hot soapy water.
Carpets and upholstery should be vacuumed and if possible washed.
The house should be sprayed with a residual insecticide used for killing adult fleas. The spraying should be repeated every 2 weeks during the treatment period.