Sarcoptic & Demodex

Ear Mites

Also: Lice or Pediculosis

Also: FoxTails & Porcupine Quills
About Mange

There are hundreds of different types of mites.  Mites are in the same scientific order as ticks but are much smaller.  Most of them are microscopic.

There are mites that affect crops, poultry, and hogs.

There are dust mites that cause allergic reactions in sensitive people and pets.

And there are many other different mites that, as far as I know, aren't important to human or veterinary medicine at all.

But there are 3 mites that are a big concern to canine and feline veterinarians and that's what this page will be about: 

Ear Mites
Demodex Mange Mites
and Sarcoptic Mange Mites.

Mange is the common name for skin diseases due to either demodex or sarcoptic parasitic mites. 

And to confuse matters a little, many of my older clients also use the term mange to incorrectly refer to any itchy, scabby, skin disease on their pets.

Ear Mites:  Ear mites aren't usually referred to as "mange" but it is, in fact, our most common mite problem in pets.

Suspect ear mites if your cat has blackish ear wax or is scratching at it's ears. 

Dogs can get ear mites too, but dogs with itchy, irritated ears are more likely to have an infection secondary to allergies than ear mites. 

Ear mites are contagious to other cats, and from cats to dogs, and vice versa, but they are not normally contagious to humans

Ear mites, like fleas have gotten pretty resistant to over the counter pesticides, so don't be surprised if over the counter or home treatment fails. 

But your vet will have no problem in either diagnosing or successfully treating this problem with the new prescription medications available.  At our clinic, treatment consists of cleaning out the ears well, followed by ivermectin drops, followed by an application of Revolution. (Revolution is the flea control product that also cures ear mites, sarcoptic mange, kills intestinal worms, and prevents heartworm disease.)

Demodex Mange
(also known as Red Mange)
Roger Ross, DVM

This article is about the type of mange called Demodex Mange.  Also known as puberty mange, red mange, genetic mange, and juvenile mange.

There are several different sub species of demodex mites, but it doesn't matter too much from a treatment standpoint.  Here's what they look like when we take a skin scraping sample and look under the microscope:

Basic information about demodex:

Demodex mange in not contagious from one dog or cat to another. (Or to people)

Unlike Sarcoptic Mange which usually makes pets itch like crazy, Demodex mange cases may not itch much at all. 

Mild demodex cases simply show up as small patches of hairlessness.  More severe cases, though, often involve secondary bacterial skin infections making the the situation look a lot different; inflamed, pustular, itchy, and quite awful. (like the picture above)

Here's something that surprises a lot of people:
all dogs and cats probably have small quantities of demodex mites living in their skin just like all pets (and humans) have small numbers of skin bacteria.

The trouble is that in dogs (and occasionally cats) with the disease of Demodex Mange, the numbers of mites have multiplied to the point where they start to cause trouble to include localized immune reactions, inflammation, irritation, and stimulation of the sebaceous glands.

The reasons for the huge increase in mite numbers in some pets aren't clearly understood but we know that factors include:

genetics ... certain breeds (pit bulls) seem to be more prone to demodex mange mites than other breeds.  And if one pet in a litter gets demodex ... it's pretty likely that other pets from the same litter or "family" will also turn out to have a demodex problem.

puberty ... demodex mange cases are especially common during puberty

sex hormones... estrogen and testosterone are factors in demodex mange cases.  Females in heat and uncastrated males are more likely to have mange.

immune suppression... from pregnancy, illness, parasitism, or medications (steroids)

Because demodex mange is often associated with the hormones of puberty, this disease is most common in puppies between 4 and 16 months of age. 

The diagnostic technique for detecting demodex mange is the same as for sarcoptic mange; we can usually find it from skin scrapings looked at under a microscope.

Treatment of Demodex:

1.  We look for causes of immune suppression or stimulation of the sebaceous glands.
We make sure the patient isn't infested with worms, other parasites, or on a poor diet.

2.  Since patients with poor immune systems are susceptible to many diseases, we look extra hard for secondary infections, ringworm, and so forth.

3.  Promeris:  Promeris is a new (late 2007) flea and tick control product that happens to kill both demodex and sarcoptic mange well.  Simply apply to the back of the neck every 3 weeks for several times and most cases will be cured.  Prior to Promeris we had to use potent pesticide dips and oral pesticides.
2014 update: Promeris no longer available

4.  High dose ivermectin: this treatment is easy (I have owners give about  1/4-1/2 inch of the ivermectin paste made for horses every day for 5 days. Repeat treatment again 3 weeks later.)  This treatment is easy, cheap, and usually effective.  But it's an off label treatment not approved as safe by the FDA. And occasionally there are adverse side effects, especially in Collie type breeds.

5.  Some vets supplement this treatment with immune stimulants, vitamin and nutritional support, fatty acid supplements, and anti-oxidants. 

Important:  In addition, we need to treat for any secondary bacterial infections, ringworm, etc. 

Note: some cases are mild enough that they are self curing. 
On the other hand, a few cases are incurable. 
The pet responds to treatment, but only for a short period.  This occurs with severe immune system deficiencies. 
Most cases are in the middle; the disease is serious and uncomfortable, as well as ugly and smelly, but quickly gets better with professional treatment.

Sarcoptic Mange
Roger Ross, DVM

Sarcoptic Mange: 

This mite is very contagious from one pet to another.

This mite burrows into the skin to lay eggs and is extremely itchy.  Dogs and cats with this type of mange itch "like crazy" and as a result of both the inflammation caused by the burrowing mites and the itching, the skin is soon very red, raw, and covered with secondary scabs, scales, and infection.  There is usually a lot of hair loss too. 

This type of mange is very contagious to both cats, dogs, and other carnivores, so if you have more than one pet, the other pets in your household or neighborhood may also be affected. 

Humans are only rarely susceptible to these particular mites as a disease except for a possible temporary rash.

Here's the thing:  most people that call me at the clinic to tell me their dog has mange turn out to be wrong!  They phone hoping I'll tell them what to do over the phone so they can avoid the expense and trouble of coming into the clinic, and that's understandable except for one big problem (and several legal ones). 

The problem is that most skin diseases that people mistakenly call the mange turn out to be allergic or bacterial problems which requires a very different treatment than mange. 

And it used to be important to find out which type of mange your pet had because the treatment was quite different.  Now that's not so important because the new treatment Promeris does a good job on both types of mange.  (Note; Promeris as a treatment for mange is not safe in cats)

The treatment for sarcoptic mange is as follows with possible variations by your vet:

1.  Confirm diagnosis with skin scrapings and a microscope. (And veterinary knowledge)

2.  Remove the surface scales and bacteria with a good medicated shampoo.

3. Promeris:  (Dogs Only) This new flea and tick product turns out to be a very effective treatment for sarcoptic as well as demodex mange.  2014 update: Promeris no longer available

4. Revolution (for Dogs or Cats) is another flea product that does a fairly good job at killing sarcoptic mange mites (also ear mites).  Apply every 1-3 weeks for several treatments.
Revolution also does a fair job of killing sarcoptic mites not only on the skin but also a lot of larvae living around the environment.

5.  Speaking of the environment, it's probably not critical to wash all the pet bedding or to saturate the kennel with pesticides.  These mites can only live for about 3 days off a warm body and besides, the larvae are resistant to the pesticides.

6.  Treatment of secondary problems if present.  This often includes antibiotics for infection, and antihistamines to help control the itching. 

7.  Your vet may also recommend higher quality diets, vitamins, and/or fatty acid supplements to improve the general health of your pet's skin and to speed healing.

On This Page:

Introduction: Mite Infestations of skin and ears in dogs and cats

Sarcoptic Mange

Demodex or Red Mange

Ear Mites

Fox Tails and Plant Awns

Porcupine Quills


Skin Problems in Dogs and Cats: Information on other pages:

Introduction to skin problems in pets: What To Expect When You Go To The Vet

Atopy or Allergic Skin Problems


Skin Diseases Associated with bacteria and yeast

The Fox Tail Problem
Roger Ross DVM

Fox Tails is not the name of a "gentleman's club.

Fox Tails are barbed grass awns and a huge problem each summer to pets living in the South West and California.

These barbed little grass awns migrate up into ear canals, noses, throats, between toes, and other body openings leaving infected tracts that cause a lot of irritation and often require surgery to fix.

You can save yourself a lot of money and your pet a lot of discomfort if you’ll inspect and groom your pet’s coat frequently for these awns (they look a lot like wheat shafts) so they can be removed before they penetrate and migrate deeply.

Removal is easily accomplished with a comb or tweezers but ONLY IF you notice the awns before they get deep in the ears, nose, or other tissues and openings.

Once the ear becomes inflammed, or the sneezing becomes severe (often with blood), or you see an abscess, you will need to take your pet to a vet for sedation-light anesthesia and surgical removal.

Additional treatment will also likely include:

Antibiotics to treat the secondary infection

Antihistamines to help reduce the tissue inflammation and irritation

Short term steroids; also to help reduce the tissue inflammation

Topical antibiotics and antiseptic flushes

Some of these cases can be difficult to treat successfully, so be sure to return for a recheck if not improving

About Lice (Pediculosis)

We don't see too many lice cases in our area, but from a medical view point, there are two groups of lice;

those that suck blood and tissue fluids,


those that bite and chew at your tissues. 

Lice spend their whole life cycle on the animals and are generally species specific which means you only get lice from close contact, and except in rare cases, you only get lice from members of your own species. 

For example, if your dog or cat has lice and you share your bed with your pet, you probably WON'T get a case of lice yourself. (however, you may get a rash where the little creatures try to burrow into your skin.)

This has never been a big problem in small animal medicine because any flea shampoo is likely to kill lice...just repeat every couple of days for a few times.

The only reason I mention the problem is that every year we get a few phone calls from anxious parents who have a child infested with lice and they want to make sure the family pet isn't the cause or a carrier. 

The generally correct answer is NO. Remember? Lice are usually species specific.

If you phone a vet asking if your pet has lice... he or she WON'T be able to tell you without an exam.  There are so many OTHER reasons your pet may be itching.

But it's a pretty easy diagnosis if we can examine the pet and check out a sample of hair under the microscope.

Porcupine Quills
more details coming soon, but treatment usually involves removal of the barbed quills under light anesthesia

An interesting and short page about the discovery of antibiotics



Intestinal Parasites


Our Pharmacy Page

Diseases People Get From Pets

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