Managing Mange

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Treatment Plans that Speed Relief

by Dr. Matthew J. Heller

“Mangy mutt” may seem a benign enough term for a sorry-looking pooch, but behind the poor appearance can lie a troublesome health condition that causes many species of domestic animals, including cats, discomfort if not properly treated.

Mange is typically caused by tiny, parasitic mites that feed upon the pet for nutrition, compromising the host’s health. Some burrow under the skin to lay eggs, which hatch and restart the mite’s life cycle; others stay on the skin’s surface and feed on pet dandruff.

Common Types of Mange

Various types of mange share common symptoms: In infected areas, hair loss, redness, itching, irritation and scabs typically occur; more seriously, a pet’s skin may harden to a scaly condition. If untreated, mange can transform a dog’s skin into an uncomfortable, leathery and brittle organ. Stay alert to such appearances and act quickly.

Sarcoptic scabies mange results from microscopic, oval-shaped, light-colored mites that migrate easily between hosts. Prime real estate includes a pet’s ears, elbows, thighs, face and underside of the chest. Symptoms include severe itching and scratching that creates red bumps amidst crusty, thick skin, weight loss, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes. It takes about one week after a pet has been exposed to them for symptoms to appear. Unlike demodectic mange, sarcoptic mange can be transmitted to humans, causing a red rash similar to an insect bite.

Pets that suffer from demodectic mange typically already have a weakened or compromised immune system, sometimes because of immaturity (such as puppies), malnourishment, stress associated with another illness, or even a hereditary issue. Under a microscope, demodex mites appear cigar-shaped. Common symptoms include hair loss, balding, scabbing and sores. Dogs are more susceptible to both types than cats.

Localized demodectic mange usually occurs in puppies when mites migrate from mother to pup during early nurturing. In puppies, the mange often appears on the face, creating a patchy, polka-dotted, balding appearance. Generally, pets will heal from this type of mange without treatment. Generalized demodectic mange presents a greater challenge, because it is spread across large areas of the skin. The pet may emit a horrid odor from secondary bacterial skin infections.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If a pet shows symptoms of mange, consult a holistic veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment. Once diagnosed, it is vital to implement a full treatment. For cases of sarcoptic mange, this entails replacing the pet’s bedding and collar, plus treating all animals with which the pet has been in contact.

Conventional treatment options vary. The irritating toxicity of most antiparasitic medications, such as ivermectin or selamectin-based products, makes them effective in destroying mites over several months but also creates problems for the pet if used improperly. Thus, a vet may also prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication; a natural option is plant-derived sterols such as beta-sitosterol, which acts like a cortisone steroid, without the immune-suppressing side effects.

Antibiotics also are often prescribed to treat the secondary skin infections and ease itching. Natural antibiotics such as amoxicillin/clavulanate offer a more gentle choice than synthetics.

Natural herbal ingredients further provide a safe and effective alternative to harsh chemicals. Garlic is popular for its natural repellent and antibacterial properties. Other natural insecticides, including wormwood, neem and lemongrass, help soothe irritated skin. A holistic veterinarian will address the underlying causes of poor health, especially in the case of demodectic mange. Key elements in restoring optimal wellness include propler nutrition via a well-crafted natural diet and immune-boosting probiotics, plus supplements to meet the individual pet’s needs.

From a holistic standpoint, bolstering the immune system with vitamins (like Vitamin C and general skin and immune-supportive pet neutracueticals) and herbs (such as Astragalus) help. Supplementing the pet’s diets with foods or supplements high in omega-3 and omega-6 also helps; sources of both include salmon and flaxseed.

As with other types of parasitic diseases, it is critical that the owner comply with a veterinarian’s treatment instructions. If the pet is prescribed an antiparasitic medication for 90 days, for example, use it for the entire period, regardless of improvements. An incomplete treatment may interrupt the mite’s life cycle but fail to sufficiently destroy the entire population to prevent re-infestation.

Dr. Matthew J. Heller is an integrative veterinarian and owner of All About PetCare, in Middletown, OH.

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