Demodex and Puppies

The picture above is either Tank or Tucker (they pretty much looked exactly alike at this point) and was taken right after they were rescued from the animal shelter by a local rescue organization called “Its the Pits”. The puppies were just 8 weeks old when they were scheduled to be euthanized because of their skin condition—an absolutely treatable disease with the proper medication and time. Unfortunately, in a shelter setting—where there are always too many animals and too litter space—time is a luxury that cannot be easily granted.

Once Its the Pits was alerted to ht plight of the puppies, they quickly adopted them from the shelter and brought them to a hospital where they could stay while they were being treated. The puppies had lost all of their hair, and their skin was bright red, oozing, and covered in crusts from a skin infection. They looked like little itchy, wrinkly elephants. The picture below is of the puppies huddled together for warmth and security while they were in the shelter.

Tank and Tucker had DEMODECTIC MANGE, also called Demodicosis or “red mange,” caused by an overgrowth of a microscopic mite that lives inside a dog’s hair follicles. Demodex mites are transferred to a puppy from their mother during the first week of life and are considered normal residents of the skin. Dogs are generally able to live with the mites without any problems. But IF the immune system is compromised—because of age, malnutrition, stress, or other disease process—the mites can overproduce and cause a serious skin disease. Once the mites start reproducing, they secrete substances that suppress their host’s immune system further, allowing them to reproduce even more. This is how Demodectic Mange can get so out of control…

The first clinical sign is typically hair loss. The mites live and reproduce in the hair follicle, so when the number of mites increases dramatically they displace the hair (also living in the follicle) and it falls out. This results in scaly bald spots, which usually start around the eyes or on the face but can be found over the entire body. As the disease progresses, secondary skin infections are very common with redness and itching accompanying them.

Demodicosis is NOT considered a contagious disease, unlike Sarcoptic Mange or Scabies. Neither other dogs or humans can catch Demodectic Mange from an infected dog. Mammals, humans included, commonly have mites living in their hair follicles. This is not an issue unless the animal host’s immune system allows the overproduction of the mites. It is usually puppies and young dogs that acquire the condition because their immune systems are immature.

Because Demodicosis can look like other diseases, including Sarcoptic Mange (which we CAN and DO become infected with), a diagnosis is made with a SKIN SCRAPE. A veterinarian uses a scalpel blade to gently scrape off a thin layer of skin (most dogs don’t even notice). The skin sample is then evaluated under a microscope to look for mites. If present in large enough numbers, a diagnosis of Demodectic Mange would be made. This is what an adult Demodex mite looks like:


There are THREE types of Demodicosis:

  1. Localized: With localized Demodicosis, the bald spots are restricted to one or two regions of the body, usually on the face. It can progress to a more generalized form of disease and must be monitored closely by you and your veterinarian. This is considered almost exclusively to be a disease of puppyhood.

  2. Generalized: With generalized Demodectic Mange, the entire dog is affected with hair loss, scaly skin, and usually secondary infection. Because of the skin infection often seen with the disease, the skin can be itchy, smelly, and red.

    Most cases of Demodectic Mange occur in dogs less than 1.5 years of age because of their immature immune systems. When an adult dog is diagnosed with Demodicosis, there is often an underlying condition that is compromising the immune system. Diagnostics are indicated to look for a more serious condition—such as cancer or an immune-suppressive disease—affecting the immune system.

  3. Demodectic Pododermatitis: With this type of Demodicosis the disease occurs only on the paws, but it can be the most difficult form to treat!

The treatment of Demodectic Mange depends on how widespread the disease is and whether or not there is a secondary infection present. Sometimes a topical treatment can be effective, but usually a more systemic treatment is required. IVERMECTIN is the treatment of choice for most dogs. Some breeds are very sensitive to Ivermectin, especially Collies and Shelties, so it is not considered safe for them and alternative treatments are used. Antibiotics may be necessary to treat a skin infection.

Fortunately, the prognosis for Demodicosis in a young dog is typically EXCELLENT with the proper treatment and the patience for a 2-4 month treatment course. Adult-onset generalized Demodicosis is rarely seen and the prognosis is depending on the underlying cause o fate suppression of the immature system.

Tank and Tucker stayed in the hospital for a few weeks for treatment monitoring because they didn’t have a home. But Demodicosis is usually treated at home with regular recheck veterinary visits (with a skin scrape to evaluate the presence/number of mites). They did great—their skin looked better and better everyday! With time and treatment, they grew into healthy, happy, beautiful boys! They were sweet and spunky and loving from the very beginning. And when they looked like the super cute puppies they always were under their elephant skin, they were adopted into loving homes. They had a very treatable disease, but were very close to becoming victims of our pet overpopulation problem. Its the Pits give them a second chance and literally saved their lives!

Its the Pits is a local pit bull rescue group and they are AMAZING! They do so much good in the world, and they do it with heart, intelligence, and passion. Check out their website at: to look for adoptable dogs or to find out how to make a donation and support their wonderful efforts in saving dogs like Tank and Tucker.